Psychology with Honors

Psyched Out

BÖP President Ulla Konrad addresses an assembly gathered to honor 12 psychiatrists for their standard-setting work in the profession | Photo: Aleksandra Kawka

To most people, mentioning the words “Vienna” and “psychology” in one sentence quickly leads to a conversation about Sigmund Freud, or perhaps Alfred Adler, C.G. Jung, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein or Viktor Frankl, or even the assiduous work of Karl and Charlotte Bühler between the wars.

Today, there are over 7,000 Clinical Psychologists in Austria and another 2,000 working in related areas – a flowering of the profession that would not have been possible without the passage of a Psychologists Act in 1991, a law protecting the professional title of “psychologist” and specifying the education, training and certification that ensured quality care to the public.

Now, twenty years later, staged in the Ministry of Health’s Ceremonial Hall where most of the heated debates had taken place at the time, Health Minister Alois Stöger awarded 12 psychologists the Republic of Austria’s highest civilian honors on Apr. 8, the grand and gold orders of merit for services to the public.

Under the leadership of the Professional Association of Austrian Psychologists (BÖP), the Psychologists’ Act had brought to a close a historical 30 year-battle, which also established psychological assessments as a service covered by the national health insurance, a wage agreement between insurance companies and psychologists, the right of patients to psychological consultations during a hospital stay and changes in the Narcotics’ Act.

The twelve psychologists – Christine Butschek, Senta Feselmayer, Urs Baumann, Josef W. Egger, Helmuth P. Huber, Heinz Karlusch, Ilse Kryspin-Exner, Harald Mathé, Rudolf Schoberberger, Thomas Schweitzer, Beate Wimmer-Puchinger and Wolf-Dietrich Zuzan – were all either directly involved in the development of the Psychologists’ Act, or indirectly supported it through their research in evidence based treatment.

Mag. Ulla Konrad, Dr. Christine Butschek, BM Alois Stöger | Photo: Aleksandra Kawka

“The whole atmosphere here today is so different from when we met 20 years ago,” said former BÖP President Christine Butschek in her acceptance speech. “Here in this very room, events were often filled with tension and uncertainty. A fight – what do we do, what will we receive? Will our concerns and demands be accepted?” Twenty years ago, she related, anyone regardless of education or training could claim to be a psychologist.

“These awards,” she said, “show the significance of psychology today.”

In fascinating detail, Butschek painted for her listeners the “psycho-scene” of a generation ago. The only psychological treatment was psychotherapy, and lay in the hands of medical doctors and the Austrian Medical Chamber. It was what she called a “treatment monopoly.” After 30 years of fighting, with the help of then Chancellor Franz Vranitzky and Minister of Interior Franz Löschnak, adaptations were made, with separate enabling legislation for psychologists and psychotherapists.

Since then, there have been changes in the education system, which necessitate amendments: “We now have the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and the first few colleagues with a Masters’ degree which are not accounted for in the act,” said BÖP President Ulla Konrad. In addition, asserted Konrad, it is essential that the Psychologists’ Act include: changes in post-graduate internships, rules for obligatory documentation, and health care coverage for psychological consultations and treatment in private practices.

Psychology currently covers all age groups (from childhood education to improved quality of life for the elderly) and nearly all areas of life (from economic to sexual behavior). The laws, these experts say, need to reflect these developments to insure the best possible care.

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