PACFA Advocacy Update: Recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in the Mental Health Workforce

While this year has brought many challenges, it has also presented great opportunity for PACFA to make significant progress towards our most important advocacy priority: increasing national recognition of the skills and qualifications of our members.

PACFA frequently receives inquiries from both current and potential members interested in our advocacy priorities, particularly in relation to recognition as providers under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). Members also frequently raise the issues of GST exemption, the inclusion of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in state and territory funded initiatives and in government funded support for telehealth services.

All of these issues are underpinned by the absence of Counsellors and Psychotherapists from national, state and territory legislation defining the professions which sit within Australia’s mental health workforce.

This omission of Counselling and Psychotherapy from the Mental Health Workforce has many and varied flow on effects. Counsellors and Psychotherapists are absent from core national workforce datasets and are often overlooked as potential providers of care, not only for MBS funded services but also under state and territory-based initiatives such as workers compensation, victims support, school counselling and hospital services.

The exclusion of Counsellors and Psychotherapists from the mental health workforce not only creates barriers to access, but also perpetuates a lack of attention to and understanding of the skills and competencies of counsellors and psychotherapists.

Earlier this year, PACFA’s submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health made a number of recommendations aimed at addressing these issues.The key theme throughout our submission was creating a systems-level, nationally consistent approach to more comprehensive recognition and inclusion of Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists as part of the Australian mental health workforce.

PACFA has long recognised that that bringing about structural reforms to include Counsellors and Psychotherapists in Australia’s mental health workforce will require the direct involvement of our profession in the development of key national strategies.

Such an opportunity has now presented itself, with the appointment of PACFA President Dr Di Stow to an independent Taskforce which is currently developing key recommendations for Australia’s next National Mental Health Workforce Strategy.

Dr Stow has been appointed as a representative of the Counselling and Psychotherapy professions in her role as a Director of the Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapist (ARCAP), a collaborative initiative of PACFA and the ACA.

The Taskforce has identified five key priority areas for reforms and has developed several working groups to focus on key areas for reform. More information about the Taskforce, including its Terms of Reference and Communiqués from previous meetings, is available from the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Direct participation in the Taskforce, which will develop key recommendations of the remainder of this year, presents an unprecedented opportunity to advocate for nationally consistent inclusion and recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists as members of the mental health workforce. PACFA hopes that involvement in the Taskforce will also foster an improved understanding of the diverse roles and skills sets held by Counsellors and Psychotherapists and facilitate improved professional collaboration. PACFA will keep members regularly informed of the outcomes of the Taskforce’s work.