Closure raises doubts over university clinic treatment

The University of Oslo has closed down the outpatient clinic in psychology at its institute of psychology, where patients were treated by psychology students under supervision of their professors, a system that has been functioning well for more than 40 years.

The closure was carried out overnight on 10 October after a long discussion on the status of the clinic in the treatment of patients in Norway, allegedly under the suspicion that the treatment of patients was not in compliance with the law.

The closure was implemented against the recommendations of Emeritus Law Professor Aslak Syse at the University of Oslo, who had concluded that the practice at the clinic was in accordance with Norwegian law. The university’s leadership has hired the law company Kluge to examine the regulations for the clinics.

The new rector of the University of Oslo, who took office on 1 August this year, took the decision without any formal discussion in any of the university committees or the board.

The decision has led to the outpatient clinics in the other universities in Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø asking whether their praxis might be illegal.

The case was first raised by the student newspaper Universitas, but has since been widely covered in the universities’ press.

“We feel this as a war against clinical psychology. We are under attack,” Jon Trygve Monsen, a professor in clinical psychology, said to Universitas, the University of Oslo student magazine.

The move led to strong protest by the students, notably against the undemocratic process behind the closure, and led to a member of parliament for the Centre Party, Emilie Enger Mehl, asking the acting minister of education, Henrik Asheim, how he will secure an open and democratic process when further investigating the closure.

Students say that the hasty way the decision was made is undemocratic.

Secretary of State in the Ministry of Education and Research Bjørn Haugstad said that he expected the University of Oslo to sort out this case.

Health services or education?

Per Morten Sandset, vice-rector at the University of Oslo, said a decision was made to move the clinic to the specialist health services because providing health services is not a part of the university’s mission.

“Over time we do not want the university to be offering services that fall under the mandate of the Ministry of Health. It has been a process within the institute over a period, and the top leadership at the university do think that it is not correct to do health services at the university, since this is not one of our primary objectives. Our primary task is to give good teaching, and continue with the good studies we have," Sandset told Khrono, the web-based newsletter of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.

The Norwegian Psychological Association or NPA, representing 9,000 psychologists, criticised the decision in a press statement. The association thinks it is best that the responsibility for the treatment of patients remains with the institute of psychology and the teachers with relevant competence.

The NPA said: “It is difficult to see how it shall be possible for the staff at the university to have the responsibility for the therapy teaching of students when the responsibility is transferred to the specialist health services at the hospital.

“Principally, the responsibility for patient treatment and the intake of patients should be with the university and staff at the institute of psychology.

“It is important to distinguish the mandate of the university to educate psychologists from the health services mandate in the treatment of patients.”

In a letter to a student representative, it added that “if the responsibility for patient treatment in the student clinics shall be with the specialist health services, one will be forced to use their supervisors and their regulations for patients’ treatment. This is not necessarily in line with the theories and methods student therapists have to learn.”

It said: “Universities are managers of new knowledge and hence are mandated to transfer these to new generations of psychologists. If you integrate the specialist health services with the students’ clinical praxis, you are at risk of programming the clinical praxis away from cutting-edge research.”

Student protests

Students at a mass meeting at the University of Oslo protested last week with black tape over their mouths as a symbol of their voice not being heard by either the institute or the university, Universitas reported.

Eir Torvik, a representative of the students in clinical training at the University of Oslo, told University World News: “We are in shock over the completely undemocratic processes that have led to both moving the clinics and the urgent closing down of the student clinics.”

She said the university leaders are intervening directly in the content of their psychology education “without listening to juridical judgements that do not fit with what they want to achieve, and without opening up discussion on the principal academic questions the case is raising”.

She said that the university’s argument that the teaching at the clinics will remain exactly as it is today is unrealistic because the clinics will be governed by more comprehensive regulations as a part of the specialist health services.

“The clinics will lose their autonomy, with the danger that bureaucratic procedures will be governing the treatment at the expense of psychotherapy research and the objective of educating the best possible psychologists at the University of Oslo.”

She said psychology students should not only be educated to fit directly into the specialist health services, but be enabled to execute good psychotherapy independently of system regulations, and also to be “system critics, and system innovators”.