In the lead-up to the 2022 federal election, Australia’s premier peak body for counsellors and psychotherapists has set out a strategic roadmap for helping millions of Australians to access under-utilised mental health support.
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia has released its Federal Election Statement urging major parties and independent candidates to commit to policy steps that better integrate counsellors and psychotherapists into the allied and mental health workforce.
Key to providing support is extending Medicare access rebate availability to Registered Clinical Counsellors/Psychotherapists. These are highly experienced practitioners with baseline qualifications of a Bachelor degree or above, and a minimum of 750 client contact hours’ experience.
The scope of practice for counsellors includes supporting clients’ recovery from mild to moderate mental health concerns.
Counsellors and psychotherapists with advanced training also work with clients presenting with complex issues/histories such as trauma and eating disorders.
Mental health services needed more than ever
A February 2022 survey found that 82% of young Australians and half of Australians aged 25 and over had experienced mental health issues over the past two years.
During the COVID pandemic, Australians’ demand for mental health services via GP referral to psychologists has led to frustration and despair, as 1 in 3 psychologists are unable to see new clients (Australian Psychological Society website).
Meanwhile, according to a study of PACFA counsellors and psychotherapists, 27% want more work.
An estimated 100,000 hours of potentially subsidised therapy sessions per week with Registered Clinical Counsellors and Registered Clinical Psychotherapists are going begging because these practitioners cannot register with the Medicare Better Access rebate initiative.
Other policy steps to a better mental health system
PACFA’s strategic roadmap for a better mental health system includes:
- establishing national minimum standards for counselling and psychotherapy in Australia, based on PACFA’s rigorous Training Standards.
- Promoting better utilisation of registered counsellors and psychotherapists by the 31 federally-funded Primary Health Networks.
- Provide funding for a project utilising Indigenous Healing Practitioners in a region of high need.
- Build the evidence base for utilising counsellors and psychotherapists in schools.
- PACFA recommends federal funding for a pilot program utilising Registered Clinical Counsellors/Psychotherapists and Certified Practising Counsellors in school counselling services.
- Build the evidence base for better utilisation of counsellors and psychotherapists in regional and rural areas.
PACFA’s President Dr Di Stow said, ‘For more than two years, many Australians have not been able to access therapy while a highly-trained, highly-skilled workforce of counsellors and psychotherapists has been available but under-utilised.
‘Opening up access to counsellors and psychotherapists simply makes sense,’ she said.