Professional Advice: So you want to be a Counsellor…. Part 1

In this new series, counsellors share with ACA their professional journeys and the things they have learnt along the way. As featured in the Counselling Australia Journal Spring 2022, Volume 23 Number 3.

Janina King, counsellor, clinical transport officer and crisis support worker, tells ACA what she wishes she knew in the prelude to her career.

Tell us about your work. Do you love your work? Why? How do you describe the work that you do?

I have multiple roles across several platforms. They all are about uplifting others. I get a kick out of caring for, and supporting, people in crisis. I bring my healing presence to the situation, along with extensive life experience, and I listen and provide. I look at things from a broad perspective, knowing that by the time a crisis has arrived, there are many components at play that led a person to that point.

I am trauma-informed. Most people seeking support are traumatised somehow, and I believe in always ‘being there’ for a person. So many people have been left to feel abandoned and that no one is listening. Listening deeply is profoundly important and such a gift. Trauma training allows me to function as a catalyst to reduce another’s distress. I aim to ensure every person feels I am ‘there’ for them and will not abandon them. This is more important than knowing things. I operate from the belief that all people have their own answers for themselves. I am simply the catalyst for exploration, discovery and change.

In my ambulance role, even though it is a ‘physical’ response to medical events, heart rates can lower with just comfort and care. I have seen cardiac arrests caused by a stressful, scary event. I believe that really caring about another can cause huge positive change. Humans can feel if you care. As I am trained in the medical sphere, as well as exercise physiology, I bring this knowledge into the space when I am counselling someone. It allows me to view a person’s presentation from a holistic perspective.

I have ended up – purely by default – becoming something of a specialist in the WorkCover space. I have had to design my own processes for this, and to combine my counselling skills and my knowledge of the WorkCover system and health issues with an expert caring legal team for great outcomes for clients. I am still carving out my place in this space as it is unchartered territory.

Looking back to your final year as a student (before starting your counselling career), what are the top three pieces of advice you would give?

I would say: always keep learning, forever. Every person you will ever meet is an opportunity to learn about how people are unique, different and mysterious. Be kind, be gentle – including to yourself. Approach everyone with curiosity and interest. If you care, and engage authentically, you are off to a great start.

We may have an idea in our mind of where we are going, but life may offer you other opportunities of which you had never thought. It turns out I am effective in the medico-legal space, and that was never on my radar as something of interest.

Work on yourself always. Apply what you learn to yourself. See what you discover. Get to know yourself and keep growing. Find supports who believe in you.

Imagine yourself entering your first counselling session as a qualified counsellor. What is the knowledge or advice you wish you had had?

Have a basic structure of what you would like to explore. For example, in my couples counselling I follow the Gottman template for gathering a baseline of information to get an overview. In my individual counselling, I collect mental, physical, medical and social information to gain as complete a picture as I can to work from. Be curious, interested and always care for you first – you can’t provide diligent care if you are not caring for you. Check in with yourself before and after work, every time.

Would you change your decision to become a counsellor or psychotherapist? Why?

I have taken many years and a journey to get to this point. For me, it’s a natural progression to be here. I follow what I find intriguing and engaging, and I go where what I bring is wanted. There is endless scope in this field, so the sky is the limit.

What is your definition of counselling?

Well, I don’t like to define things too definitively as I find it limiting. But, if I had to, I might say something like, it is about bringing oneself as a healing presence to a conversation with a person, caring about them, and exploring what’s going on. It is about listening deeply, exploring difficulties and the human experience, and being a catalyst for peace and insight. Ultimately, we all want to feel good.

Clearhead: Latest EAP Provider to Partner with ACA

We are excited to introduce Clearhead as the latest EAP provider to have partnered with the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).

About Clearhead

Clearhead are a growing EAP provider that has recently launched in Australia. They offer a platform where employees can book appointments with providers like you through their website or app. Clearhead was co-founded by medical doctor, Angela Lim, who realised that mental health support in the workplace needed to be informed, personalised, and most importantly, accessible to everyone.

Clearhead provides:

  • The ability to set your own rates.
  • Low cost EAP referrals.
  • Free non-EAP referrals
  • No obligation or tie-ins and the option to manage your locations, screening questions, and availability at the click of a button.
  • A digital library of mental health resources for its users to access 24/7, e.g., for when therapists are unavailable.
  • Payment within 10 days of invoicing Clearhead.
  • The ability to set your own areas of expertise, meaning you’ll be approached by people who seek the specific skills you offer, creating a rewarding wellbeing experience for everyone involved.



Clearhead is free to join! The only requirements to sign up are that you are currently a Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 member.

Sign up:

If you’d like to sign up, register here!

You can also email if you have any questions


Keen to learn more? Join a webinar with Dr. Angela Lim, Clearhead CEO, Philip Armstrong, ACA CEO, and Jodie McKenzie, ACA Deputy CEO to discuss this new opportunity. The session will cover eligibility and work streams possible for ACA Members.

Webinar Details:
Thursday, 23rd March 2023, 6pm AEST via Zoom.
The information session will be recorded for members who cannot attend. Only registered members will receive the link to the Zoom session.


You are what you eat – exploring the relationship between food and mood

As featured in the Counselling Australia Journal Summer 2023, Vol 23 No 1.

By Melissa Marino

Healthy diet is now established as a key pillar of mental health. We spoke with Alfred Deakin Professor Felice Jacka OAM, the founder and driving force of ‘nutritional psychiatry’, about the role this growing field of scientific research can play in counselling and psychotherapy to improve the quality and length of people’s lives.

When Professor Felice Jacka embarked on her PhD – the first study of its kind investigating the link between diet quality with clinical depressive and anxiety disorders – it raised a few eyebrows.

“Everyone thought I was a bit barmy because it was just not considered credible or worth looking at,” she says.

But little more than a decade after her research was published with great acclaim on the cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry, her conviction has been vindicated many times over. “I always knew there was something in it, so it’s very satisfying to be able to say, ‘I told you so’,” laughs Professor Jacka, who in 2021 received an OAM for her extensive body of work.

Today, Professor Jacka sits at the helm of nutritional psychiatry – a burgeoning field that she is widely credited with founding and that is now setting health agendas in Australia and internationally, influencing World Health Organization and other global influential policy documents and informing clinical guidelines to improve mental health through diet.

In the first recommendation of its kind, for example, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ (RANZCP) latest clinical guidelines place lifestyle change, including diet, at the ‘foundation’ of treatment for mood disorders.

This came as no surprise to Professor Jacka, who has led dozens of influential studies in the field and is co-director of the world-leading Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, where more than 50 researchers are working to understand the way diet influences our brain, mood and mental health.

“We’ve known for a long time that people’s mental health affects their physical health, but our research shows their physical health also affects their mental health,” she says. “So if you get the physical health basics right at the foundation, other forms of treatment are more likely to work.”

Professor Jacka believes the relatively new discipline of nutritional psychology has gained so much traction in such a short timeframe because it puts the power of transformation in people’s hands. Unlike static risk factors for mental health disorders, such as early life trauma or genetics, people can take control and change their diets. “So for people to understand that they have some agency in modifying this risk factor is very powerful and it’s of great interest,” she says.

Evidence base

Supporting the elevation of diet (along with other lifestyle factors such as physical activity, sleep and substance cessation) into mental health policies and guidelines is a growing amount of clinical research pointing to the critical role food plays in our mental wellbeing.

“It used to be that psychiatry and psychology thought about the mind and body as being separate, but we now know we are one complex, highly integrated system,” Professor Jacka says. There is now a comprehensive evidence base linking the quality of people’s diets to their risk for depression, she says. This begins from the very start of life – from diet in utero to childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

When multiple studies are combined it appears that, on average, people who have a healthier diet reduce their risk of developing depression by 30 to 35 per cent, she says, and this is independent of important factors such as education, income and body weight. Importantly, the research also shows that diet is not only a predictor of mental ill-health, but also is proven as a treatment for mood disorders such as depression.

And this holds great promise for health professionals in informing their own practice and providing options as waiting lists for therapy blow-out. “Clinicians won’t do their patients a disservice if they refer them to a dietitian while they’re waiting see a counsellor,” she says.

The Food & Mood Centre’s internationally recognised SMILEs trial – the first randomised controlled trial looking at dietary improvement as a treatment for depression – found diet had a significant impact on mental health. The trial, published in BMS Medicine, found that when supported by a clinical dietitian, one third of participants (all who were diagnosed with moderate or severe clinical depression) went on to achieve full remission.

“It’s very powerful for people who are experiencing a major depressive disorder that we saw very large changes in people’s mental health from dietary change,” Professor Jacka says. Importantly, this did not arise from weight loss or other potential explanations. This finding has now been replicated in three other randomised controlled trials.


Real-world impact

Findings of this nature are important because people’s lives are at stake, she says.

Poor diet is the leading cause of early death around the world, she says. And on top of that, there is a startling 20-year mortality gap between people with and without a mental health disorder.

“And that’s not because of suicide,” she says. “It’s because of poorer cardiometabolic health related to medications, and the fact that they are often treated as if they are just a brain on legs and their physical health is not considered to be particularly clinically relevant. And often they do not have the support to choose healthy foods or get moving.

“Clinical practices are traditionally some of the worst offenders, she says. In-patient clinics provide sweet muffins as snacks, fast food is ordered in and there are smoking areas and a lack of physical exercise programs. But, she says, with appropriate support, improvements can be swift and significant.

In Sydney, the Keeping the Body in Mind group showed that with minimal intervention (a student dietitian, exercise physiologist and second-hand gym equipment), people commencing anti-psychotic treatment, who would usually be expected to gain between seven and 20 kilograms, maintained a stable weight.

Professor Jacka’s research has also shown that using mental health as a goal has a more profound effect on people’s eating habits than using weight loss or heart health as a motivator.

“Body weight is a silly thing to focus on because it’s very difficult to change. People give up and feel stigmatised. So focussing on the fact that people’s mental health could be affected very quickly based on dietary change seems to prompt changes in dietary behaviours,” she says.

In line with the understanding that changes in diet can improve gut health quickly, benefits to mental health can be seen in as little as three weeks, she says.

How it works

Professor Jacka explains that our mental health is affected by diet through a number of physiological mechanisms that researchers are continuing to work to understand.

Diet influences the hippocampus – the ‘plastic’ part of the brain responsible for learning and memory as well mental health – and serotonin levels, mitochondrial function that enables stress adaptation, the expression of genes, oxidative stress and inflammation.

Linking all these factors and profoundly influenced by what we eat, she says, is our gut microbiota. In breaking down the food we eat, our unique gut microbiota release thousands of molecules that drive physiological processes in our bodies, including those related to our mental and brain health. So a healthy gut microbiota appears essential to our mental health.

A healthy gut microbiota requires a higher intake of plants, whole foods, quality fats and proteins and some fermented foods, and lower intake of ultra-processed foods.

And the key, Professor Jacka says, is diversity. People can develop a diverse gut microbiota by eating 30 different types of plants per week. They don’t have to be exotic, she says, just wide in a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.

Myth-busting a common misconception, Professor Jacka says a healthy diet does not have to be expensive. A cost analysis showed that in the SMILEs trials, healthy but accessible foods such as frozen vegetables, tinned beans and fish were cheaper than junk food-heavy diets participants had been consuming.

“So even though the brain and the gut microbiota are very complex, what you need to do to have a healthy gut microbiota is actually pretty simple,” she says.

New paradigm

The function of gut microbiota in relation to mental health is now under the microscope at the Food & Mood Centre.

Researchers are investigating the impact of fermented dairy on the brain; future research hopes to investigate nuts, mushrooms, herbs and other fermented food such as kombucha and sauerkraut that contain components that could be important in psychiatric disease.

Other research at the centre is comparing diet and exercise programs with cognitive behaviour therapies and the role of apps to treat depression through dietary education and improve diets in pregnancy and childhood.

The centre has also just published the first set of international guidelines for therapists using lifestyle-based care in treatment for depression, based on three years of research by the global taskforce it led.

Professor Jacka’s team is at the forefront of translation working with RANZCP to develop Nutri-Psyche – the world’s first accredited training program in nutritional psychiatry. Launched in October 2022, it follows a free online course available on the Food & Mood Centre website that has been accessed by more than 78,000 people globally.

To enhance cooperation, Professor Jacka, as the founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, also sits on the World Economic Forum’s new nutrition initiative designed to counter the global industrialised food system that costs the economy $11 trillion a year in health impacts.

It has been a relentless workload, and not without personal cost. Professor Jacka has battled two bouts of breast cancer and is now actively trying to say ‘no’ to more – “which is hard when you’re the face of nutritional psychiatry,” she says. Professor Jacka’s work has graced the cover of TIMEmagazine, among others, and she has featured in international documentaries, as well as ABC TV programs Catalyst and Magda’s Big National Health Check.

She’s the first to admit she has not always prioritised her own mental health but is now addressing that by prioritising sleep, walking near her coastal home and easing her workload as she focuses in the “important things” – mentoring and getting new ideas off the ground.

Above all, she says the challenges have been worth it. “Not many people get to say that they achieved what they set out to do in their career, and I did. And I hope it’s going to help a lot of people.”


1. Chen, Y., Xu, J., & Chen, Y. Regulation of neurotransmitters by the gut microbiota and effects on cognition in neurological disorders. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 19;13(6):2099.

2. Stephen, A.M., & Cummings, J.H. The microbial contribution to human faecal mass. Journal of Medical Microbiology. 1980 Feb 1;13(1):45-56.

3. O’Grady, J., O’Connor, E.M., & Shanahan, F. Dietary fibre in the era of microbiome science. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics. 2019 Mar;49(5):506-15.

4. Young, V.B. The role of the microbiome in human health and disease: an introduction for clinicians. Bmj. 2017 Mar 15;356.

5. Mohajeri, M.H., Brummer, R.J., Rastall, R.A., Weersma, R.K., Harmsen, H.J., Faas, M., & Eggersdorfer, M. The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications. European journal of nutrition. 2018 May;57(1):1-4.

6. Martyniak, A., Medyńska-Przęczek, A., Wędrychowicz, A., Skoczeń, S., & Tomasik, P.J. Prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, paraprobiotics and postbiotic compounds in IBD. Biomolecules. 2021 Dec 18;11(12):1903.

7. Bonaz, B., Bazin, T., & Pellissier, S. The vagus nerve at the interface of the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Frontiers in neuroscience. 2018 Feb 7;12:49.

Meet ACA’s New Deputy CEO, Jodie McKenzie

We are excited to introduce Jodie McKenzie who has joined the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) as Deputy CEO. Jodie brings a wealth of experience to the role including her former experience as a Registered Counsellor. Her diverse professional experience, business leadership and extensive practical skills will help CEO Philip Armstrong and the ACA Team in continuing the advancement of the Counselling and Psychotherapy profession in Australia.

Jodie holds a Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Counselling) and was a Registered Member of the Australian Counselling Association approximately 15 years ago. During her time as a Counsellor, she was a Board approved counselling practitioner at a Private Hospital in Brisbane and worked in the niche area of pregnancy loss.

She also volunteered her time with multiple support foundations, facilitated monthly support groups and worked with the foundation leadership on building awareness and driving initiatives within the community and State bodies.

After the birth of her fourth child, Jodie took a pause from counselling to raise her then small children. Upon returning to the workforce in a non-counselling role, Jodie’s career fast tracked to Program/Project Management and People Leadership positions within large corporate environments. It is through these opportunities that she has gained experience in Planning, Stakeholder Engagement, Change Management, and Risk and Issues Management that will bring benefits to her role as Deputy CEO.

A thought leader and strategic thinker, Jodie will spearhead State and Territory advocacy, with special focus on the NDIS. ACA Members will also have the opportunity to speak with Jodie, who is keen to drive member engagement. Keep an eye on ACA communications to get involved!

“I’m excited to be part of the ACA community once again and continue the journey of strengthening the Counselling and Psychotherapy profession.”

Counselling Perspectives: Challenges no obstacle to Dee’s can-do attitude

As featured in the Counselling Australia Journal, Vol 23 No 2 Winter 2022.

In this feature, we interview a counsellor and ACA member about their profession, their journey and what they’ve learned along the way.

Words Nicole Baxter, Photos Corrina Ridgway

When Dee McCulloch’s three boys were diagnosed with autism, she was determined to give them the best start in life. Back in 2001, there was no National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and support services for autistic children and their parents were thin on the ground.

To learn all she could about autism, Dee amassed an extensive library on the subject that she says was Australia’s most comprehensive at that time. Her boys’ toy collection was also extensive, so while she was a chief executive officer with a degree in commercial law and experience as a stockbroker, real estate agent and vocational trainer, she also opened a toy and reference library.

This later became a full early intervention centre for children aged zero to seven years. Dee estimates she raised about A$10 million to run the charity Friends of Autism to support the centre from 2005 to 2014.


Turning point

It was no easy task. Accordingly, as a mum trying to homeschool her three boys and run the charity, as well as two other family businesses in real estate and training, Dee reached out to psychologists and counsellors for support.

“The divorce rate among couples with one autistic child is 87 per cent,” she says. “As I’m a mum with special needs children, psychologists and counsellors would tell me to take some time for me, have a massage and meditate, and I thought, ‘seriously, is that all you have?’” she says.

It was not great advice for a single mum but it prompted her to secure counselling qualifications. Dee completed a diploma in professional counselling through the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. Since 2007, as part of the charity she set up, she has offered individual, group and marital counselling for parents of children with autism, which, over the years, won several awards for service excellence.

Not long after Dee’s boys were diagnosed with autism, her ex-husband was also diagnosed with autism.

Work rewards

Dee says the biggest reward of her work as a professional counsellor is connecting with people and making a difference in their lives where they feel understood.

A big part of her work involves group therapy where others feel supported, and the language around what a lousy day means is appreciated. For example, the worst day where everything goes wrong was coined a ‘Dee’ day. “A parent of a child with special needs generally tries to overcompensate, which puts the parent under more pressure,” she says.

“You are trying to achieve acceptance for your child and yourself – in a school setting, for example. “Many parents put on a front to show they are coping, but the effort it takes to engage other mums and children so they don’t judge you or your child can be exhausting.

“When you’re in a group therapy session with other parents who understand, there is instant relief when you can say ‘this is hard’, and there is peer support so you no longer feel alone.”

Work challenges

When it comes to the biggest challenges in her work as a counsellor, Dee says she struggles with clients who refuse to drop their victim armour and let people see the real them and be vulnerable to start the work.

“There are ways to move forward if people are willing to give them a go,” she says. “But it’s also the most rewarding part of the job when people decide they can have a happy life despite their challenges.”

Dee joined the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) in 2018 as a Level 2 member. She is also a member of the College of Supervisors.

She loves the credibility ACA membership offers and that members are held accountable. “It is disappointing when anybody can call themselves a counsellor in Australia without having the methodology and training to go with the title,” she says. “The NDIS recommends 20 hours minimum a year of professional development and supervision.”

Every week, Dee spends about 25 hours counselling clients and supervisees, plus running her training courses. She also does about 20 hours of pro-bono work. Her training courses to hone the knowledge and skills needed to provide services to clients through the NDIS are accessible through ACA.

Conflict resolution

Also offered through her business are mediation and dispute resolution services for high-conflict divorce cases. Most of these cases involve a child or partner who has issues with mental health or special needs.

She and two of her sons have a rare genetic disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which means battling chronic pain. She reminds herself daily with zebras (the symbol of EDS) placed around her home that everything will be okay.

Dee’s three boys live at home, where she juggles her work with structuring their days. Her sons are doing well. Andrew, 21, has a significant intellectual disability and lives a life he enjoys. Jordon, 19, studies criminology and justice. Her youngest Lachlan, 17, also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and significant learning disabilities. He is homeschooled. Dee designs a program to suit his needs and interests in pet studies and marine biology.

Lessons learned

To those starting in counselling, Dee encourages humility. “You can learn as much from your clients as they can from you,” she says. “You shouldn’t be directing anybody’s life, but just helping them on their journey at their pace.” She encourages her peers to remain open to learning and to never judge.

As a champion for the NDIS, Dee says her work involves a lot of research.

“People who do my courses think they’re in for an easy ride,” she says. “I usually hear deathly silence once I explain how it is and what they should be doing.”

Nonetheless, she says her students are thankful after completing her NDIS courses by truly understanding the system and obtaining outcomes. In the future, Dee is keen to expand her clinical supervision, live webinars and self-paced learning modules.

“All I can do is make a difference one life at a time,” she says.

Safer Internet Day 2023: Scamwatch Tools and Resources

Safer Internet Day is a global event that brings together communities, families, schools and organisations from more than 200 countries to help create safer online spaces.

This worldwide initiative is celebrating 20 years in 2023, making it a great time to reflect as well as look forward.

ACA asked Scamwatch to share with us educational resources to help stop scamming. Scammers are continually developing new ways to catch people out. We need to increase our vigilance in checking for those little clues that can alert us that something is a scam. Scams cost Australian consumers and businesses, and the economy, hundreds of millions of dollars each year and cause serious emotional harm to victims and their families. In 2021, Australians made more than 286,600 reports to Scamwatch and reported losses of around A$324 million. By the end of August 2022, Australians had lost even more, with reported losses of over A$381 million. As alarming as these numbers are, we know that around one-third of people who are scammed never tell anyone, so the true numbers are likely much higher.

Scamwatch tools and resources

The Scamwatch and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission websites contain a range of tools and resources about scams:

■ Scamwatch Report Form: if you’ve come across a scam, you can report it using this form (;

■ Scamwatch reporting statistics: provides up-to-date statistics on scams reported by Australians (;

■ Targeting scams reports: yearly report on scam trends and statistics (;

■ Helping a friend or family member who is a victim to a scam: useful information if someone close to you has been scammed (;

■ Be safe, be alert online: information on organisations who may be able to help when someone has been scammed (;

■ Where else to get help: other organisations who might be able to help when someone has fallen victim to a scam (; and

■ The little black book of scams: information on identifying a scam, available digitally in a range of languages (

Australia’s Mental Health Battle: Pressures in the Workplace

Many Australians have recently returning to work for a new year. An ACA report has revealed the toll the last two years – Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters – has had on Australians, particularly in the workplace.


Jugging act: For 17% of Australians, the pressure of juggling work and home responsibilities has fuelled a decline in their mental health.

Mental toll of workplace stress: Over a third of Australians (36%) say business or workplace stress negatively impacted their mental health over the past two years of pandemic life.

Pandemic pressures: More than one in five Australians (21%) sought professional help to deal with business or workplace pressures over the past two years.

Declining job security: For more than a quarter (26%) of Australians, declining job security throughout this time negatively impacted their mental health.

Impact of adapting: Close to a third (30%) of Australians attribute ‘adapting’ how they did their job or delivered services to a decline in their mental health.

Workplace loss: For 14%, losing their job or being made redundant fuelled a decline in their mental health.

Essential workers: For one in five (20%) of Australians, being an essential worker on the front lines of the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.

Pandemic resignation: One in five (20%) Australians quit their jobs due to the elevated stressors and pressures of the past two years; for 15% the whole experience negatively impacted their mental health.

This data has been released as part of the National Regional Check In, which canvasses the perspectives and experiences of Australians across each State and Territory. Research was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of the Australian Counselling Association in 2022. The research surveyed 2009 Australians aged 18+ with an equal representation of those living in metro and non-metro (rural, regional and remote) areas.

New Private Health Fund: Teachers Union Health

We are pleased to announce Teachers Union Health have commenced paying rebates for counselling services, as of 1 January 2023.

If you already hold an ARHG provider number (previously referred to as Police Health Fund number) you don’t need to do anything – you already hold a provider number for this fund.

If you are unsure if you hold a provider number with ARHG, please email

What is the eligibility criteria to become a Techers Union Health / ARHG provider?

  • Level 2, 3 or 4 ACA Membership
  • Current professional indemnity & public liability insurance ($2,000,000 professional indemnity cover & $20,000,000 public liability cover)
  • Current full First Aid Certificate (HLTAID011)
  • Current CPR Certificate (HLTAID009)

How do I apply?
Simply complete this Private Health Fund Provider Number Application Form. Please ensure you read and review the eligibility criteria carefully.

ACA Conferences Return

We are pleased to announce the return of ACA Conferences in 2023, to be held in Sydney, New South Wales from Friday, 29 September to Sunday, 1 October 2023.

This event will showcase leading mental health research from Australia’s foremost educational institutions and best practice applications from local experts before an expected audience of around 400 domestic and international delegates; it is a highly anticipated event for 2023.

Objectives and outcomes: The conference aims to build the professional capacity of front-line mental health providers, academics, researchers and private practitioners, by providing insight into the delivery of mental health services at all levels.

Theme: The theme for this conference is Resilience. We welcome all interpretations including and not limited to community trauma, climate anxiety, neurodiversity, drugs and alcohol, human centred design and innovation, etc.

To submit an abstract: Mental health professionals, researchers, students, community workers, teachers, academics, policy and project officers and other interested parties are invited to submit theoretical and empirical research abstracts related to the conference theme, Resilience, to Abstracts must directly explain the relevance of the chosen topic, the research question, theoretical background and the contribution that research makes to the development of mental health service delivery. Empirical papers should provide an overview of their methodology, analysis and main findings. Ultimately, the conference paper will comprise 3,000 words maximum.

Submission procedure: Abstracts are subject to blind review by an independent reviewer to ensure selection is based on merit. Please insert your name and membership number, where applicable, for both categories (paper and alternative), in Microsoft Word or PDF format with double-spaced, 12pt Arial font and numbered pages. Please email to

Alternate Format Submissions (Symposia, Panels, etc.): 
We also welcome submissions for alternative types of sessions, including symposia, interactive panel discussions, workshops, and other innovative formats (feel free to be creative!). These submissions should include a title page with the names, affiliations, and roles of people who will be leading, presenting, or speaking in the session. Alternate format submissions should be no longer than 3,000 words (including title page, abstract, figures, references, etc). Successful submissions will typically be assigned a 1.5-hour session within the conference program, there is, however, limited capacity for alternative session formats; allocation will be based on merit.

Deadline: 18 January 2023 4pm AEST

Further Information: Further conference information will be announced in due course.
Alternatively, please contact if you have any questions about submitting an abstract.

The Australian Counselling Association thank you for your submissions and look forward to reading your work!

ACA supports Medicare Better Access review

By Philip Armstrong, ACA CEO

This week we saw the Minister for Health, Mark Butler and the Assistant Minister for Mental Health, Emma McBride make the courageous, and in my opinion correct decision, not to extend the amount of sessions psychologists can offer clients under Medicare’s Better Access scheme.

In doing so, they sent a clear signal that the mental health system is at a tipping point and that we need to do better, for all Australians.

So why is this the correct decision? Our mental health care system is in crisis and one of the primary reasons is because psychologists are by and large only servicing inner-city, mostly affluent Australians. This was evidenced by the Review into the Better Access Scheme.

Nearly three-quarters of private psychology practices are situated in inner-city suburbs around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with a splattering in Perth. If you live anywhere else, good luck trying to get an appointment, and budgeting for the massive gap payment that is applied on top of the Medicare rebate.

So yes, Australians who can afford the gap fee and have services available in their suburbs will be the hardest hit.

For the rest of the country, it’s just business as usual. Expanding sessions would have no impact on the lack of current services or high gap fees. That’s if you can find a psychologist in the first place.

In fact, it would have quite the opposite effect. Overstretched services will have fewer sessions available for new clients.

So what’s the solution? I’ve long advocated to expand entry into Medicare for counsellors, addressing the critical issue of access and cost while lowering the burden on GPs and psychologists.

Having counsellors included in Medicare would alleviate the workforce shortage of psychologists and allow counsellors to offer services in low socio-economic and rural and regional areas where psychologists in private practice are rare.

As the head of the Australian Counselling Association, I know counsellors can be found in abundance and where GPs are burning out.

Medicare was created to ensure universal medical and mental health services for all Australians, regardless of income or where they lived. So let’s use Medicare to get better outcomes by including counselling services.

The research is clear, counsellors get equal outcomes for patients, so there is no danger of lowering of standards or outcomes for Australians, just more services at a lower cost.

Let’s get this argument on track; the average Australian is not paying taxes to ensure only inner-city Australians can have access to mental health services at their expense.