PACFA welcomes Select Committee’s national minimum standards recommendation

PACFA welcomes the Select Committee into Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s recommendation that the Australian Government review counselling and psychotherapy standards to determine national minimum standards for the profession.

In its final report released on 2 November 2021, the committee acknowledged that registered counsellors provide valuable support, are already used by NDIS and other support services, and have the potential to provide a larger contribution to the mental health and suicide prevention workforce.

PACFA’s President Dr Di Stow and CEO Johanna de Wever presented to the committee on 13 August 2021, with Dr Stow stating that Medicare rebates for counsellors and psychotherapists would enable them to provide greater mental health help to Australians.

However, the committee in its final report noted the counselling peak bodies’ differences in academic and experience requirements for registration.

The committee, headed by clinical psychologist Dr Fiona Martin, said that if counsellors were to be ‘leveraged to relieve the pressure on existing mental health services’, effective regulation would require consensus on national minimum standards for education, supervision, CPD and oversight.

Before it could make further recommendations on inclusion of counsellors in the Medicare Benefits Scheme, the regulatory framework would need to be addressed, the committee said.

The report noted PACFA’s recommendation of a policy environment where counsellors could assist more people and complement the work of psychologists, social workers and mental health nurses in supporting the Australian community.

It also noted PACFA’s statement that counsellors and psychotherapists had greater availability than psychologists to support an Australian community who were struggling with Covid-related mental health issues.

A workforce study of PACFA members carried out in October and November 2020, published in the Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia, found that 62 per cent could see a new client within two weeks     and 23 per cent could see a new client within 48 hours.

The committee’s report also noted PACFA’s assertion that having immediate access to a counsellor can provide   both early intervention and a triage opportunity, particularly for people with suicidal ideation.

Dr Stow told the committee that internationally, counsellors and psychotherapists had a similar standing to psychologists and that prior to the Medicare Better Access initiative, GPs would more commonly refer patients to counsellors and psychotherapists.

Among the committee’s 44 recommendations, the committee recommended that the Australian Government appoint a House Standing Committee on Mental Health, Suicide Prevention, and Social and Emotional Wellbeing.

The committee also recommended the Australian Government invest in research to determine the long-term mental health impacts of compounding trauma and successive disasters, including extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Read the full Select Committee report.