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Can I call myself a coaching psychologist?

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Following my colleague Gary Buxton's post on LinkedIn describing the squirminess he feels about calling himself a coaching psychologist, I thought I'd share my thoughts on this topic.

Spoiler alert - I don't have the answer!!

Although I'm the Chief Assessor for the Professional Recognition Route in Coaching Psychology for the British Psychological Society (BPS), these are my own views and do not necessarily represent the views of the BPS - although they are informed by my work with the BPS over the past 5 years.

The question of whether we can use the term 'Coaching Psychologist' to describe our professional practice is one that many of us have grappled with. This is a nuanced debate, perhaps made more complex by the recent establishment of the BPS' Division of Coaching Psychology, and their associated routes to Chartered Membership as a Coaching Psychologist.

There are some important legal, ethical and moral elements that need to be considered.

Firstly, 'coaching psychologist' is not a legally protected title, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The Health & Care Professions Council regulate Practitioner Psychologists, and there are 9 psychology titles that are protected by law which means that professionals must be registered with the HCPC in order to use them. But coaching psychologist isn't one of them.

Indeed, the term 'psychologist' isn't legally protected either!

So from a legal perspective, anyone can call themselves a coaching psychologist, although it is against the law to misrepresent qualifications, or deceive or fraudulently represent ourselves in any way.

In addition to the question of whether the title we use accurately represents our qualifications, training and experience, there is an ethical and moral decision that each of us needs to make.

The BPS, who are the organisation for overseeing psychology and psychologists in the UK, don't issue guidelines on who can call themselves a psychologist to the best of my knowledge. But I think it's safe to assume that they would prefer this term to be reserved for Chartered Members (remember, these views are my own!).

But prior to November 2021, the BPS didn't have a route to becoming a Chartered Coaching Psychologist. That doesn't mean coaching psychologists didn't exist though. Those who called themselves coaching psychologists were often chartered psychologists who coached, graduates of Masters programmes in coaching psychology, or coaches who felt that they had sufficient knowledge and/or training in psychology to confidently use this term to describe their practice.

So where does that leave us?

For some, the BPS' new professional recognition route in coaching psychology provides an opportunity to demonstrate their training and experience in coaching psychology, and become a Chartered Coaching Psychologist. You can find out more here. There is a requirement that you are a graduate member of the BPS, have at least 3 years full time (or part time equivalent) training and experience in coaching psychology, and can demonstrate that you meet the Standards for Coaching Psychology.

For others, this might not be an option, through choice or design. And this is where personal ethical and moral decision making will come in. Some will feel that their experience and training justifies the use of the term coaching psychologist, whilst others may choose to use an alternative title, such as psychologically informed coach (snappy, I know!).

Being transparent and clear with service users about your qualifications, accreditation and experience is really important. As is ensuring that you are working within your own professional boundaries, not putting anyone at risk of harm and ensuring that you are utilising referral systems where appropriate.

For those (like my colleague Gary) who are preparing to apply for the BPS professional recognition (or accelerated) route, you will need to demonstrate your competence as a coaching psychologist, and evidence that you have been working as such for number of years. Remember, this isn't a training route, it's recognition of your years of professional practice.

So I'm curious. What else would you call yourself?

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