All Professional Bodies, National Associations (e.g. Mental Health, School, Guidance, Addiction, Faith-based etc.) and Accrediting Organisations.
Chinese Association of Mental Health (CAMH)
- Organization Size: Approximately 30000 members
Universities and Other Education and Training Institutes
Counselling Agencies, Services, Group Practices, Counselling Centres
Background & Context
Therapy and healing have deep roots in China dating back 2,500 years; records show that traditional Chinese medical practitioners used various methods to treat emotional and behavioral problems. However, the Western concept of counselling psychology was introduced to China comparatively recently, in the 1980s. The counselling profession is growing in China as the incidence of emotional and behavioral problems is increasing as a result of the modernization of society.
According to Huang (2015), there is a relationship between the rapid growth of the counselling profession and the rise of popular media. For instance, the famous daily late-night show, Psychological Interviews, which features psychological experts who discuss mental health issues in an anecdotal and forum approach, gained popularity since its first airing in 2004. Its massive following has encouraged the emergence of Pop Psychology where psychological experts use social media platforms such as WeChat to promote online counselling. The 2004 program was cited to be one out of three factors that paved the way for the flourishing of the counselling profession in the country. The other two factors include the state’s promotion of psychological aid during the Sichuan’s 2008 earthquake disaster as well as the introduction of certifications for counsellors, run by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, which made training far more accessible than before.
In China, mental health services are separated into two categories. The first category is services for patients with severe conditions, who often need medical attention and medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. An example in this category would be the services provided by Wenzhou Kangning Hospital, China’s largest private mental health care hospital, which combines psychiatric treatments with psychological counselling. In the second category are services that provide for those with relatively mild symptoms, who may require only psychological counselling. These services can be accessed in schools, corporations, communities, and private practices.
Current Regulatory Status / Level of Recognition:
The Chinese Ministry of Labor and Social Security Affairs (CMLSS) is in charge of the license of professional psychological counsellors. There is a health-related law, named “the Mental Health Law of the People’s Republic of China,” which has been effective since May 2013. It is aimed to promote the well-being of the public and protect the rights of patients.
The law stated that psychological counsellors are not authorized to perform psychotherapy nor engage in the diagnosis or treatment of mental disorders. Psychological counsellors can only provide counselling services, while psychotherapy and diagnosis or treatment of mental disorders are the responsibilities of psychological therapists and psychiatrists.
The Chinese government has also established regulations regarding institution eligibility to provide psychological counselling services. The majority of the jurisdictions require psychological counsellors to practice in registered institutions. Institutions that are not registered under the Administration for Industry and Commerce or the Administration of Civil Affairs are not permitted to offer counselling services.
For example, in both Beijing and Shanghai, profit-seeking psychological counselling institutions must apply to the Administration for Industry and Commerce for registration and obtain a business license. Not-for-profit institutions must apply to the Department of Civil Affairs for registration and must obtain a certificate of registration as a private non-enterprise unit.
Most known practice settings are as follows:
- Private Practices
- Schools and Universities
- Social Media Platforms (online counselling)
- Non-profit & Non-governmental Organizations
Challenges & Trends
The main challenges to the counselling profession in China are the social stigma of mental illness, a different view on counselling, and the lack of the number of professionals employed in this industry.
Unless it is necessary, Chinese people would prefer to not go for a counselling session, as in the past there was a stigma attached to people who sought help for mental problems. Even though people who live in the cities no longer feel this stigma, they still prefer to ask family or friends for help with life stresses rather than approach strangers for help.
Another difficulty would be putting Western counselling techniques into practice in China. In the West, the aim of counsellors is to try to help clients to help themselves, and also try to avoid imposing their own values on their clients. While in China, the clients more often rely on their counsellors. The clients tend to look for direct and immediate suggestions to help solve their mental health problems. Also, the cost of counselling services in China is high and the treatment is not being covered by health insurance. A single one-on-one counselling session on average costs between RMB 300 (US$47) and RMB 700 (US$110), fees that are considered high by most people.
The number of people holding a national second or third-level certificate in psychological counselling increased exponentially from 2009 to 2017, from 160,000 to an estimated 1 million. However, only 40,000 certificate holders provide psychological counselling on either a full or part-time basis, according to a 2017 report from the China Higher Education Society. China is known as the country with the largest population (1.44 billion) in the World. Thus, the number of counsellors is not enough for the demands of the nation.
Additional Information & References
For a deeper exploration of the counselling profession in the country, interested readers are recommended to read the following journal & website articles:
- David, M., & Zhang, Y.F. (2019, November 20). Through the eyes of a psychological therapist in China: How important is it to understand the psychology of the Chinese consumer in order to develop a business in the Middle Kingdom. [Audio podcast transcript]. In China paradigm. Daxue Consulting. https://daxueconsulting.com/understand-psychology-chinese-consumers/
- Higgins, L.T., Davey, G., Gao, X.X., Zheng, R., Ni, Z., & Lang, L. (2008). Counselling in China: Past, present, and future. Psychology & Developing Societies., 20(1), 99-109. https://doi.org/10.1177/097133360702000105
- Lin, I.T.S. (2018, June 12). The mental healthcare industry in China. China Briefing. https://www.china-briefing.com/news/mental-healthcare-industry-china/