Australia’s Mental Health Crisis: Unlocking a qualified and ready workforce

By Philip Armstrong

I recently read an article from The Conversation (click here to read) about Australia’s mental health crisis, titled: We can’t solve Australia’s mental health emergency if we don’t train enough psychologists.

While I certainly agree there is a severe shortage of mental health practitioners in Australia, I must disagree that training more psychologists is the only solution to this crisis.

None of the measures put forward in The Conversation article address the most urgent issue facing the mental health sector today: how can we provide access to mental health services for Australians who need immediate support?

Currently the challenge for mental health providers is how to cope with this surge in demand and ensure that support is provided when and where it is most urgently needed.

So what does this mean in real terms for everyday Australians? And what options are available to help alleviate the pressure?

Unlocking an overlooked workforce

One potential and swift solution to our mental health crisis involves making better use of the thousands of Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists employed right across Australia today.

Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists are a qualified, highly trained sector of the mental health workforce, but are currently under-utilised. As counselling specialists, Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists could significantly reduce the burden on the system, freeing up psychologists to focus on more advanced cases and lowering wait times across the board.

As expert communicators and relational practitioners, Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists are strong compliments to multidisciplinary teams and should be utilised broadly throughout the workforce.

What’s more, this is a workforce that can be accessed immediately: right now, the Australian Counselling Association has a membership of over 11,500 Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists that can make a difference.

Safeguarding Australian’s mental health

While there are multiple external factors contributing to Australia’s current mental health crisis, many of which are outside of our control, right now there is an opportunity to alleviate and potentially even reverse the declining mental health of our nation.

It is the strong recommendation of the Australian Counselling Association that Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists are added to the list of allied health professions in the Health Insurance (Allied Health Services) Determination 2014, which provide Focussed Psychological Strategies under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Better Access Initiative (BAI).

There are at least 4,000 Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists who meet the current criteria for the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), while a further 1,000 could be eligible to register within six months.

Including Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists into the MBS will significantly increase access to bulk billing services, especially for our nation’s most vulnerable. In the absence of a viable solution from the Government, it presents an appropriate, cost-effective and immediate solution that would ultimately help save lives.