WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Law and behold. By Gail Ilagan

At the outset, let me state that any law that regulates the practice of any profession could only be beneficial to all concerned, as standards of expertise are set and clients are protected from unethical practices. In that sense, we have no quarrel with RA 9258.
To carry out the provisions of RA 9258, the Professional Regulation Commission approved the promulgation of implementing rules and regulations issued by the Professional Regulatory Board of Guidance and Counseling in late 2007. The RR of RA 9258 (or RRGCA) had the effect of a major shakeup in the working relations among helping professionals.

Suffice it to say that we were all confused. It didn’t matter whether one was a guidance counselor or a psychologist or a social worker or a priest. In seeking to regulate the practice of guidance counseling, RA 9258 seemed to have an overreaching implication into the regulation of the practice of psychologists, social workers, priests, rehab personnel, and other professionals in the fields of mental health and human resource development.

Maybe it couldn’t be helped. There has always been a lot of overlapping in the functions performed by professionals in mental health and human resource development. But until RA 9258 came along, everyone had a well-defined concept of the tasks within their capabilities, as well as the qualifications required for undertaking these.

Counseling, as defined in RRGCA, is “a face-to-face helping relationship” which, according to RA 9258, could only be delivered by a licensed guidance counselor. Now, everyone knows that “a face-to-face helping relationship” is not the sole domain of guidance counselors. Priests, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and personnel managers, to name a few, all engage in face-to-face helping relationships every day of their lives.

But now, RA 9258 quite clearly states its prohibition against anyone who is not a licensed guidance counselor to engage in counseling. Is this about cease-and-desist for the rest of us? That is the question.

Psychologists are most especially hard hit by this perceived exclusion because the bulk of what we do involves face-to-face helping relationships. And what is worse is that psychological testing, the most highly guarded tool of our profession, shows up in RA 9258 to be among the defined functions of guidance counselors.

By virtue of our discipline perhaps, psychologists in the Philippines have been policing our ranks all these years, and we have been doing so with not much problem. On the matter of psychological testing, in particular, we all adhere to standard requirements for qualification to administer and interpret psychological tests. That means that psychologists vary in their entitlement and expertise to use certain instruments.

But RA 9258 is a law that qualifies a practitioner in another field to have a right to our tools, and since we can’t quarrel with the law when it is a law, that’s like we have no choice but to give up our most guarded possession. If that is not discrimination, I don’t know what is. All I know is that we need a forum to demand our right to equal protection under the law.

Earlier, when people asked me how I saw RA 9258, I would reply that I had the least interest to be licensed as a guidance counselor. If they asked me whether I’d go to jail for counseling my clients despite the fact that I don’t have a license to be a guidance counselor and had no intention to acquire one, I’d haughtily reply that I didn’t do guidance counseling. What I do, I said, is to render psychological services. And were I to subject my clients to psychological tests, I would be doing psychological assessment. I am not a guidance counselor, okay?

The bad thing about splitting hair on nomenclature is that it does not really address the problem of overlaps between guidance counseling and psychology when the former has a law that defines and legalizes its right to tasks that were traditionally shared. The latter is put at a disadvantage, and never mind whether such were the intent of the law or not.

That being said, this is a call to psychologists in the Philippines to rally behind the move to professionalize our ranks through the passage of the Psychology Bill. That way, we too would have the law to protect us. We could quarrel no end with the RRGCA, but all the perceived disadvantages of RA 9258 would disappear were we to have a law that similarly defines the functions, scope, and qualifications of psychologists.

The passage of the Psychology Bill is long overdue. Now is the time to generate the clamor for it. We can talk about it among ourselves, or we can sign up and leave it up to our professional organizations to do the lobbying, or we can be actively part of the process that pushes this matter for the attention and appropriate action of legislators.

Psychologists have long been entrenched in many domains of public life such that were we to raise our concern in a public forum, people will actually listen. Our expertise serves the judicial process, education, social services, industry, police, military, government, health care services, ad infinitum. Our practice cannot be compromised because it would entail a major overhaul of systems already in place in courts, schools, public offices, private offices, ad infinitum. Our practice should not be rendered criminal just because guidance counselors need to professionalize their ranks.

Please write or email your congressmen and the senators so that they will be informed that there is such a thing as a Psychology Bill and that there are people they are representing who would be most interested to see it passed. For that matter, write to every congressman you know – never mind if you are his constituent or not. The important thing is that the bill gets pushed for a vote and that when it does, our legislators would have gotten the message: that the time has come for the Psychology Bill to be passed.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says).