Help us help Australians by providing Medicare rebates, PACFA President tells committee

PACFA president Di Stow told the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention that Medicare rebates for counsellors and psychotherapists would enable them to provide greater mental health help to Australians.

The House of Representatives committee, due to report by 1 November 2021, is looking at various reviews into Australia’s mental health system and the capacity of the mental health workforce in the wake of the 2019-20 bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Stow said inclusion in the Better Access rebate program would make referral to counsellors and psychotherapists more straightforward for clients.

She told the committee about PACFA’s survey of members, where respondents reported that 62% could see a new client within two weeks and 23% could see a new client within 48 hours.

As well as having greater availability than psychologists generally, counsellors and psychotherapists were also more readily accessible to people living in rural and regional areas, Dr Stow told the committee.

PACFA’s workforce study found that 33% of the counselling and psychotherapy workforce are located outside metropolitan areas, as opposed to 16% of psychologists and 15% of psychiatrists.

‘It's probably obvious to you, the difference this could make in the life of someone grappling with mental health concerns,’ Dr Stow said.

‘Getting immediate access to a counsellor can reduce a person's distress and begin the process of supporting the development of coping strategies.’

Asked about evidence for counsellors’ efficacy, Dr Stow referred the committee members to a Converge International White Paper, Counselling Efficacy between Professions: a comparison between counsellors, psychologists and social workers delivering employee assistance programs.

This study considered 60,000 hours of counselling provided through contracted EAP services to over 1000 companies during 2019.

Counsellors rated higher than both psychologists and social workers in clients’ ratings for rapport and understanding, and lowest of the three professions for complaints per service hours.

Counsellors rated higher than psychologists for help with the clients’ issue, with 81% of clients giving counsellors a 4 or 5 star rating compared with 75% for psychologists.

Asked by the committee chair, clinical psychologist Dr Fiona Martin, about the position of counsellors and psychotherapists in the mental health sectors of other OECD countries, Dr Stow said that as a board member of the International Association of Counselling, she could attest that counsellors and psychotherapists ‘are standing alongside’ psychologists internationally.

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