Cape Town - If you are studying to become a clinical psychologist in the Western Cape and you are single, you are unlikely to get an internship locally because the provincial Health Department’s criteria for placements gives preference to married students.

This has left a Cape Town psychology trainee with no place do the year-long community service, which is required of Master’s students before they can work as fully fledged psychologists.

Saabierah Towfie of Athlone, who has epilepsy, said not only did the department discriminate against her based on her marital status, but it also failed to take her health problems seriously when it refused to find a suitable placement for her.

The department offered to place her in Gauteng – away from her support structures, such as her specialist doctors and family. Last year she was offered a place in a prison in Porterville, 140km from Cape Town, but her medical team said such a stressful environment could trigger seizures.

Department spokeswoman Emerantia Cupido denied that Towfie had been overlooked for two years, saying her application was only received by the province after allocations for last year were finalised.

She confirmed that the department gave preference to married people, although bursary students too were favoured, while some were given placements for “humanitarian reasons”.

Intern placements were driven nationally and Towfie’s application had been only forwarded to the department last year since the Western Cape was her first choice.

Towfie, who completed her Master’s degree in psychology in 2011, said her hopes were shattered for the second time this year after nine out of only 10 community service posts in the province went to married individuals.

“I feel stuck... in fact I feel like I’m being held hostage. I can’t move forward with my life. The department’s disregard for assisting me in completing my community service without putting my health at risk means that I cannot do any other work...”

Despite numerous letters from her medical team advising against her relocation, the department had offered her a place in Joburg where she would be required to drive to several clinics, despite not being allowed to do so owing to frequent seizures.

In a letter to Towfie in September, the department said Towfie had fallen out of the selection criteria.

But, Cupido said Towfie still stood a chance of working in the province, since there were three application rounds. She “must apply directly to the national government.”

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Cape Argus