What the National Education Policy Means for the MPhil in Clinical Psychology

A clinical psychologist is required to hold such an MPhil to practice as a licensed clinical psychologist in India.

On July 29, 2020, the Union cabinet approved the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP). The policy represents a major overhauling of pedagogical and systemic processes in Indian education, from the pre-primary level through to higher education. Among several proposed changes, such as emphasising a multidisciplinary and multilingual approach, one provision stands out: the discontinuation of the MPhil programme.

In India, a Master of Philosophy, or MPhil, can be enrolled in after completing a master’s degree such as an MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science). It is typically a two-year course intended for those students who may not seek to pursue a PhD but still seek further knowledge development in a particular discipline, with special emphasis on research. Earlier, the MPhil programme could also serve as a bridge between master’s level courses and a PhD; however, the NEP 2020 does away with the programme, instead suggesting greater flexibility in postgraduate education. However, what does this mean for more practice-based MPhils like an MPhil in clinical psychology?

Given that the NEP document has few details on the decision to do away with MPhil degrees, we aren’t quite sure. The MPhil in clinical psychology is a programme regulated by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and offered at RCI-recognised institutions across the country. It is a two-year course that focuses on theoretical principles of clinical psychology as well as ensures experience with patients/clients in clinical setups. As per the Mental Healthcare Act (MHA, 2017), a clinical psychologist is required to hold such an MPhil to practice as a licensed clinical psychologist in India. This profile is different as compared to a psychiatrist, who is a medical professional with an MD degree specialising in psychiatry.

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However, the NEP does not specifically state this as an exception to the discontinuation of MPhil programmes, leaving tremendous uncertainty for future clinical psychologists in India. There may be an opportunity here that can benefit the supply-side of mental health professionals in a country with nearly 170 million people requiring mental health care. Indeed, as the WHO data suggests, there are only 0.07 psychologists per lakh individuals in India – a number that tells much not just about the reluctance of people to seek mental health care treatment but also the lack of trained professionals in this domain.

If the NEP provision applies to all MPhil programmes, regardless of a researcher or practitioner focus, there are important implications for future clinical psychologists. The RCI may choose to widen or constrict the bottleneck that permits practitioners to  refer to themselves as clinical psychologists (which does not have a one-to-one correspondence between psychologists who practice in clinical settings either way).

Initial measures have been taken by offering a Professional Diploma in Clinical Psychology (a one year course that permits the title Clinical Psychologist – Associate) as well as a PsyD in Clinical Psychology (a practice-based and hands-on doctoral programme). However, in a given year there are approximately 285 seats available for MPhils in clinical psychology at RCI-recognised institutions, making this a highly restricted cohort. Moreover, there is no publicly available information on whether those registered as clinical psychologists continue to pursue practice, potentially making the treatment gap even wider.

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Although there remains uncertainty in terms of the MPhil provision, the NEP provides an initial step toward improving and streamlining higher education practices and policies, which may include those in more practice-oriented professions. The significance of providing adequate mental health care by well-trained and ideally licensed mental health practitioners is apparent, with the MHA mandating insurance coverage for mental illnesses. However, as with that mandate, issues in implementation can set back the best of policy intentions. Clarity on the MPhil in clinical psychology will come with time – till then, we should collectively consider whether that will be enough to groom early career psychologists for a population teeming with mental health concerns.

Hansika Kapoor, PhD, is a Research Author at the Department of Psychology, Monk Prayogshala. She is also a practicing psychologist (clinical).