To make a start at dealing with the staggering shortage of clinical psychologists in the State, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) is planning to start an M.Phil course in clinical psychology.

The two-year programme, which may take in about four students initially, will be the first of its kind in the government sector in Tamil Nadu.

“The initiative is still in the planning stage. Once it is approved, we can begin, hopefully by the next academic year,” said a senior official at IMH.

Only three private institutions in the State offer clinical psychology at present, with a total of 20 seats. According to the Union ministry of health and family welfare, there should be 1.5 clinical psychologists for every 1,00,000 people. However, it is estimated there are less than 100 clinical psychologists in the State, while the number required is over 13,000.

Clinical psychologists play a vital role in diagnosis and counselling of mentally ill patients, says C. Ramasubramanian, State nodal officer for the District Mental Health programme. “They can identify illnesses at an early stage and ensure that treatment is given immediately. This can prevent a minor mental illness from progressing. Psychologists are also essential in the recovery process as they provide necessary counselling,” he said.

The guidelines for the proposed IMH course have been sent to Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University and approval is currently pending from the State health department, said E. Sabitha, associate professor at IMH.

The course will be open to those who have completed a master’s degree in psychology and will train them in diagnosis and treatment of those with mental illnesses and mental retardation, she said. “Many institutes offer psychology but clinical psychology is different as you deal directly with patients during their illness and recovery. For instance, once a patient is treated by a psychiatrist, cognitive behavioural therapy can be effectively guided by a clinical psychologist,” she said.

Three-day national conference

The Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists is organising its 40** national annual conference at SRM University from February 28 to March 2.The three-day conference themed ‘Clinical psychology, At Cross Roads’ will explore advances in neurosciences as well as in therapies. “Issues including those of women and mental health, learning disabilities, senior citizens’ health and marital conflicts will be discussed,” said Preethi Krishnan, professor and head of the clinical psychology department at SRM.Around 300 participants from across the country are expected to participate.