Update on COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria – Roadmap to Reopening

With the easing of restrictions in Victoria, Third Step restrictions now apply throughout regional Victoria and Second Step restrictions apply in metropolitan Melbourne.

For counsellors and psychotherapists living in regional Victoria, there are no restrictions on the reasons to leave home so you may resume face to face services with clients. However, you must ensure you have a COVIDSafe Plan for your workplace and continue to meet safety requirements which include wearing a face covering when you leave home and keeping at least 1.5 metres from others.

In Melbourne, significant numbers of people are allowed to return to work this week but the restrictions relating to counsellors and psychotherapists have not changed. Some clarification has been provided by Victoria’s Chief Allied Health Officer on the application of the requirements to our profession.

Industry Guidelines for Allied Health were released on Monday, 28th September. These provide detailed information on how the Roadmap applies to Allied Health.

For details of the permitted industries  that may operate in Melbourne during the Second Step Restrictions, please see the DHHS website.  Counselling and Psychotherapy are not specifically listed as a permitted industry so the following section applies:

Any other health worker providing services required under a Chronic Disease Management Plan, a care plan endorsed by NDIS (including self-managed plans), TAC, Workcover or DVA – if care is required to prevent a significant change/deterioration in functional independence necessitating escalation of care (e.g. an increase in frequency of treatment needed, an increased need for prescription medication due to a significant increase in pain, requirement for specialist input or review, an increase in care needs, and/or a substantial increase to anticipated recovery time associated with a delay in receiving services).

Counselling and Psychotherapy may also come under the definition of “Mental Health Services” however the latest advice from the Chief Allied Health Officer is that a Mental Health Services would generally refer to a specific mental health setting such as a mental health NGO (Headspace or similar), even if that service is ultimately provided at home rather than in a mental health setting. However, it has to be in the context of formal mental health services, i.e. funded through a mental health program. This leaves the significant gap of privately paid services in counselling and psychotherapy which, it is suggested, are not within the definition of Mental Health Services.

Based on all of the available advice, counsellors and psychotherapists in private practice in Melbourne should continue to provide services via telehealth. If you are employed in a funded mental health service, you will require a Permitted Worker Permit to travel to work.

Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA) continues to advocate on our behalf for the specific inclusion of private counselling and psychotherapy services as Mental Health Services.

We hope the next round of announcements on 19 October will enable counsellors and psychotherapists in Melbourne to resume face to face services for clients.