Did you know you can now renew online?

ACA Members who have met the requirements for Supervision and Ongoing Professional Development can now renew online!

Online renewals can be completed during the final month of your current membership period.

5 Steps to Renew Online:

  1. Log into the ACA Membership Portal.
  2. You will be redirected to the your Account Page.
  3. Ensure you have completed the annual requirements for Supervision and Ongoing Professional Development.
  4. View the menu on the left-hand side and click on the green ‘Renew My Membership’ button.
  5. Follow the prompts to renew.

Below are online tutorials to assist members in uploading Supervision and OPD requirements online.

“How to upload your supervision hours” instructional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKD7zxJ7i4E

“How to upload your OPD points” instructional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUqth3b2IaE&t=2s

Professional Advice: So you want to be a Counsellor…. Part 3

So You Want To Be A Counsellor is a multi-part advice series where 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.

Michelle Sparkes, Supervising Counsellor at the Butterfly Foundation, shares her professional journey and tips for new professionals.

Tell us about your work.

I work with individuals, 16 years and older (and their families, carers and partners, as appropriate), to help them recover from the grip of disordered eating and body image concerns. Ultimately, these issues reflect a way of coping with challenging self and life experiences. I love this work and have been helping individuals recover from disordered eating for over 25 years. I take a holistic, whole-person approach to these challenging health and life-consuming problems, drawing on my professional experience as a physical and mental health clinician, and my lived experience of anorexia, eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) (now called OSFED – other specified feeding and eating disorders) and binge eating in my teen and early adult years. I also work as a supervising counsellor for the Butterfly National Helpline (Australia’s national charity for  eating disorders), providing oversight, training and supervision to helpline counsellors and working directly with consumers to provide information, support, guidance and referrals.

Do you love your work? Why?

My work at Butterfly gives me the opportunity to provide in the moment support to consumers and to invest in the training, upskilling and supervising of new/ er counsellors. My private work gives me the opportunity to work with individuals in a deeper, more substantial way and to witness their transformation over time. It is a pleasure and a privilege to do this work.

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

1. There are no stupid questions. Glean as much as you can from the practitioners you are learning from – your questions and their answers will help everyone.

2. Value the relationships and the different perspectives and life experience of your teachers and colleagues. You are members of the counselling body, and we are all richer for our diversity of insight, understanding and experience.

3. Volunteer for role-plays – these are rich opportunities for learning. Hearing and feeling yourself respond to a counsellor’s presence, tone, attitude and questions are incredibly valuable and you may never have a better opportunity to do this.

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

Relax, you don’t need to know everything. Put your training and expectations to one side and focus on the person in front of you. Your capacity to connect with this person, to understand their needs and concerns and their hopes and desires is the most important thing for you to focus on right now. Be present, be warm, be relaxed, listen, listen, listen, never assume, observe, reflect, respond and let this process gently unfold and guide you.

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

I love being a counsellor in the eating disorder space – it’s a bit of an umbrella term, but it allows me the opportunity to provide the support that is right for the person I’m working with. A frustration for me is that, despite being registered as a counsellor since 2006 and amassing a huge amount of clinical experience and further training, I can’t offer my clients the benefit of a Medicare rebate under the Eating Disorder Plan, while a psychologist with the eating disorder credential can. Nor can I (based on my current ACA level) offer my clients much in the way of health fund rebates. It’s a frustration for me and a disadvantage for my clients. I am a credentialed eating disorder clinician, I‘ve worked in the eating disorder recovery space for over 25 years, I’ve authored books and developed eating disorder recovery programs and training, I’ve supervised counsellors on the Butterfly Helpline for the past three years and I’ve helped hundreds of people recover from disordered eating in private practice. This Medicare rebate regulation doesn’t feel like a match or true reflection of my accumulated training, knowledge, skills and experience.

What is your definition of counselling?

I like this definition: Professional counselling is a safe and confidential collaboration between qualified counsellors and clients to promote mental health and wellbeing, enhance self-understanding and resolve identified concerns. Clients are active participants in the counselling process at every stage. ■

Changes to Provisional Membership July 2023

What is ACA Provisional Membership?

Provisional is an ACA Membership open to graduates who had completed a non-ACA accredited Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) Level 5 Diploma of Counselling that is Nationally Accredited and listed under the National Training Package.

ACA has intentionally not included this membership level within the Scope of Practice as the Scope is defined against skill levels that ACA is aware of.

Due to Provisional Membership being open for graduates of non-ACA accredited diplomas (AQF Level 5) this scope is unable to define against the ACA accreditation process what skills these graduates have.

Provisional is a non-voting ACA member level.

Provisional Membership will no longer be available to new applicants as of 1 July 2023

Any Diploma of Counselling (CHC51015) that is not an ACA accredited course and not complete by 30 June 2023, will no longer be eligible for ACA Provisional Membership, as Provisional Membership will cease as of 1 July 2023.

If you have completed and graduated from a non- ACA accredited Diploma of Counselling by 30 June 2023, you can apply for Provisional Membership until 30 June 2023.

This will mean that new ACA Members applying from 1 July 2023 will be required to have completed an ACA-accredited course in Counselling. In instances where an applicant has used recognition of prior learning (RPL) to gain credit towards their qualification, ACA will accept a maximum of 40% RPL otherwise the qualification will not be recognised.

What does this mean for current Provisional Members?

As a current ACA Provisional Members, will have two years to upgrade to Level 1 Membership, which requires having completed 25 hours of documented Supervision and be more than 12 months post-qualification in supervised practice.

Why is Provisional Membership being ceased?

This category of membership enables graduates from Diploma of Counselling (CHC51015) from a non-ACA accredited provider to gain ACA Membership. ACA is closing this membership category to strengthen industry standards and ensure consistent ACA educational standards for practising levels.

ACA is the only Nationally recognised registration body that accepts and recognises the Diploma of Counselling for membership.

If my course is not listed as ACA-accredited, can I ask ACA to accredit it?

Any non-ACA accredited Diploma of Counselling will no longer be eligible for ACA membership unless the course provider chooses to have their course accredited with ACA. A student cannot have a course accredited only the training provider can apply for accreditation.

How do I know if my course is ACA-Accredited?

Click here to view ACA-accredited courses. You must apply by the 30 June 2023 deadline to ensure you obtain ACA Provisional Membership.

If my course is not listed as ACA-Approved, can I ask ACA to accredit it?

Only training providers can seek course accreditation with ACA. For example, training providers of the Diploma of Counselling (CHC51015) must apply for accreditation to ACA via our formal process. Students are not able to directly engage with ACA to seek course accreditation.

What happens if I graduate from a non-ACA accredited course after 1 July 2023?

ACA will only accept graduates from the Diploma of Counselling (CHC51015) courses that also meet industry standards, and ACA criteria for Level 1 Membership.

In instances where an applicant has used recognition of prior learning (RPL)to gain credit towards their qualification, ACA will accept a maximum of 40% RPL otherwise the qualification will not be recognised.

Climate hope from listening to the young

By Philip Armstrong

As we go about our daily lives at work and at home, it has become near impossible to avoid thinking about, or indeed observing, climate change and the impacts it is having on people around the world. While the science and research that has been accumulating for more than half a century may still not be fully understood by many, especially given the efforts of powerful influencers to dismiss it, the reality is nonetheless right there in front of us. The increasingly extreme weather events that we have been warned about for decades are happening.

This challenges us in ways that can be difficult to articulate. It clouds almost every imagining about our future, our children’s futures and the world’s future. It adds another layer of complexity to modern living, and to the role of professional counsellors and psychotherapists in helping people navigate through this challenge and change. The differentiating factor, perhaps, with climate change is that it affects everyone. No one is facing this alone, so it becomes a community conversation – an intergenerational conversation.

In the Autumn issue of Counselling Australia journal, we examine the mounting mental health impacts of climate change, especially on young people. These can be impacts caused not only by scenes of climate disaster consuming more and more of the daily news cycle, but also the angry nature of the debate. Most young people find this unfathomable, especially when you consider the hundreds of communities across Australia that have, in recent times, been traumatised directly by devastating fires, floods and storms.

The CA community is on the frontline of these weather crises, and everybody is feeling the intensity of what is unfolding. It is very close to home at the Australian Counselling Association, which suffered tremendous losses in March last year when our offices were deluged by an unprecedented rain event and subsequent flooding in Brisbane. We are still managing repairs and the fear of another such calamity.

In the meantime, we all wrestle with the challenge of conquering uncertainty, and shining light onto avenues of hope – onto the many ways people around the world are responding. From a climate scientist’s perspective, it might not be fast enough, but when I look at all of this through the eyes of my youngest son, Kiernan, I am given hope and confidence. His generation will not ‘mess about’ as ours has. His generation is our hope.

As a 10-year-old, he is more present and concerned about how action and inaction will really affect us. Through him, I observe how climate change is creating intergenerational trauma that is colouring how we see and judge ourselves and others.

The other week, Kiernan was clearly troubled when he watched a news story about recycling in Brisbane. He said the story was not telling the whole truth. He was informed. He had already researched how much of the recycling in Brisbane goes to landfill, and how industry and governments are missing opportunities by not embracing sustainability principles such as the circular economy. He explained the lifecycle of recycling and how it is so poorly done in Australia, how it is neither efficient, effective or sustainable and, in the end, actually creates more waste and pollution. More disturbingly, he spoke of his distrust of adults and their ability to address the issue because of their readiness to manipulate truth. He is 10 years old and he investigates these issues. He is informed about the complex interactions and consequences of unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources, and the impacts on wildlife and food chains.

Kiernan will also talk to anyone about his concerns and what people – adults – could be doing that would make a difference to our future. He pushes me to do better, to learn more. That’s why I hope the edition of our journal captures the spirit of the generations to come. As health professionals, it is imperative that we all reflect on the challenge, our own feelings about it and how we can start to make a difference, in many small ways, in our own lives. These will be the seeds of hope and rebuilt trust between our generation and those that follow.

To subscribe to the CA Journal, visit: https://www.theaca.net.au/subscribe-journal.php.

Professional Advice: So you want to be a Counsellor…. Part 2

So You Want To Be A Counsellor is a multi-part advice series where 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.

Marc de Bruin, Counsellor and life coach shares his advice and top tips to job hunting.


How do you describe the work that you do?

As an ‘elevator pitch’, I tell people that I assist businesses and individuals in working through and finding solutions for topics that affect people’s mental health.

More to the point, I have been working as a life coach, counsellor and educator in private practice since 2005 (after first forging a career as barrister and solicitor in the Netherlands for nearly 10 years). To me, in contrast to practising law, counselling and mental health work only contains win-win scenarios. No-one ever ‘loses’ anything by talking to a counsellor (other than ineffective behavioural and thinking habits!). Most of my work on a day-to-day basis revolves around seeing clients (anywhere between 25 and 35 per week) in my office and via telephone or video sessions.

I also teach at the University of the Sunshine Coast and other vocational and tertiary education institutions. I have been running workshops and seminars, and I also write articles for online magazines and my blog. The clients I see have either sourced me privately or came to me via Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers. I am registered with about eight of them and, between them and my private practice, they keep my calendar filled! Because I have been in the profession long enough, I now also practice as a counselling supervisor for registered counsellors and psychotherapists.

Do you love your work? Why?

I absolutely love what I do. It’s an amazing ongoing realisation that I can work with fellow human beings and help them with their mental health questions so they can improve their situation. It is the most fulfilling work I have done so far in my career. I often say to clients – and I mean it – that is a great honour to have them share their personal stories with me and have them put their trust in our working relationship. It is also very humbling to hear people speak about their life, to ask me for help and assistance, and to realise that we all have a story to tell. Strangely enough, I often end my day feeling more energetic than when I started it in the morning. That to me means I must be doing something right. My simple life philosophy tells me, if the work I do gives me energy, I’m onto something good.

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?

Well, this depends on whether we take my law career or counselling career as a starting point. If we go with counselling, I would have to say:

1. Be proud to wear your ‘counsellor’ badge. No, we’re not psychologists, and no, we’re not social workers. We are counsellors, with a very specific skillset that is very much needed in our society. Counsellors are trained communicators and ‘professional listeners’, on top of being therapists – skills not everyone possesses.

2. Don’t trip yourself up by thinking that there are no jobs for counsellors. This may have been the case many, many years ago (when psychologists and social workers were the preferred choice), but this has very much changed. Adequately trained counsellors are wanted more and more in the workforce because of their specific skillset. And my hunch is that this will only continue.

3. Be bold enough to profile yourself wherever you think a work opportunity exists, even if it initially seems beyond your reach or where a psychologist or social worker seems to be preferred. As a counselling supervisor, I always challenge my supervisees to keep knocking on the door. Many organisations are unaware of what counsellors can offer, and would happily hire one, if they were educated on this. There is a fair bit of ignorance in the field, still, and a good way to reduce that ignorance is to get out there and get noticed! As a Dutch saying goes: ‘no’ you have, ‘yes’ you can get (along the lines of: nothing ventured is nothing gained); the more you try, the more ‘yeses’ you will most likely attract.

If you’re looking for a counselling job, I suggest doing the following:

■ Go for any ‘counsellor’ position you think would suit you. Explain that you are a qualified professional, and that you are willing to learn and upskill on the job. Obviously, do this within reason; don’t go for a role where a minimum of 10 years’ experience is required, or a specific degree that you don’t have. Many positions advertised as ‘counsellor’ require a psychology or social work degree and membership of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency or the Australian Association of Social Workers. On the other hand, I have applied for roles where initially psychologists were wanted, but – after some psycho-education from me – the employer was willing to hire a counsellor instead. I have never let a job description stop me from applying (unless it was totally out of my reach). You will get a few more ‘no, sorry’ replies if you work this way, but your chances of landing that first paid job go up quite dramatically.

■ Have a great resume and LinkedIn profile! These are your business card to the potential employer. Maximise your transferrable skills. Even if you have experience in a totally unrelated field (lawyer, in my case), you will have picked up many, many skills that you can use in counselling. Highlight those! Interpersonal communication, critical thinking, sound administration and compliance skills, problem solving, working with challenging personalities, eye for detail, good communication skills, etc., etc. And if counselling is the first job you’ve sought, highlight the fact that your knowledge is up to date with the latest developments, that you are still fresh and unbiased, that you’re eager to learn, and that you have stacks of energy to apply to the role.

■ Network, and network some more. Write to GPs; contact local community organisations; volunteer in mental health-related fields; become a member of your local Chamber of Commerce or other local networking groups (Business Network International, privately run business network groups); contact and form relationships with Allied Health professionals for mutual referrals, etc.

■ Keep adding new knowledge and practice to your skillset, even at your own expense (if you don’t have a job yet). The more knowledgeable and experienced you are, the more employable you will become.

■ I often jokingly say that the older and greyer you get, the more valuable you become in this industry. Add experience and knowledge on top of this, and I am very hopeful that you will ultimately carve out a great counsellor position for yourself, which will last you as long as choose to remain involved in the industry.

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.

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.

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.

Defining Counselling: Part 3

Defining Counselling: Part 3 of 3, as featured in Vol 23 No 3 Spring 2022 of the Counselling Australia Journal.

In the third and final installment of the Defining Counselling project, we asked Counsellors how they would define counselling. Some of their responses are below.

Thank you to all Counsellors who contributed to this project.


Defining Counselling Part 2: A Practitioner’s Approach

Defining Counselling: Part 2 of 3, as featured in Vol 23 No 2 Winter 2022 of the Counselling Australia Journal.

In this second instalment, we talk to doctor-turned-counsellor Vicky Dawes about the importance of counsellors and its distinction from the medical field.


By Larissa Dubecki

After seven years of working as a doctor in emergency medicine, Vicky Dawes had reached burnout. “It’s a really common phenomenon,” she says. “But it’s only recently been spoken about more openly. It’s related to the work environment – very stressful, high pressure, little room for taking a break. Then you can add to that the fact that medicine does attract these high achievers who throw themselves into their careers. The telling thing is that burnout does happen to a massive number of doctors.”

Now a clinical counsellor, Vicky can look back and see certain augurs had anticipated her shift to counselling: “While I was in medicine, I always loved seeing people who essentially needed counselling. The other doctors would say, ‘Vicky, can you go and see this person because I don’t know how to handle this’ – because they didn’t know how to handle it. It’s undervalued how important it is, often with people who are quite distressed.”

Taking the leap from emergency medicine to counselling – with a short-lived stint of psychiatrist training in between – has proven a fortuitous one for Vicky. A graduate of the University of Queensland with a Master of Counselling, she spent five years as counsellor and educator for a not-for-profit doctors’ health service, supporting doctors and medical students with their own mental health and wellbeing.

Now in private practice, Vicky specialises in bespoke therapy for doctors, professionals and university students. “Going from medicine, which is socially held up on a pedestal, to counselling – which in many ways isn’t – has been interesting. But I absolutely love it,” she says. “Giving patients the permission to be vulnerable and responding to shame with empathy is enormously powerful. I really do think that counselling proves, in bucketloads, the importance of the therapeutic relationship.”

Defining Counselling Part 2: A Practitioner's Approach

From doctor to counsellor:  a cultural shift

Vicky observes from her real-life experience that medicine and counselling are seen in vastly divergent ways, even though both are patient based. “In my former career as a doctor, I had been taught how to efficiently take a history from a patient, examine their body for signs and symptoms, come up with a diagnosis and differentials, and start treatment – based off the best evidence available at the time,” she says.

“As a medical practitioner I was often positioned as expert. Moving into counselling was a complete shift in both mindset and approach. While both roles encourage the doctor or counsellor to approach the patient or client from a position of curiosity and not knowing, in counselling I learned the immense value of deep empathic listening, of recognising the client as expert in their own lives, and of the power of walking alongside someone in their time of need rather than telling them what was ‘wrong’ or jumping in to ‘fix it’. While ‘bedside manner’ is touched upon in medical training, counselling recognises the profound importance of the therapeutic alliance underpinning whatever therapeutic approach is taken.”

Her own professional shift revealed the cultural weight applied to the hierarchies apportioned to the health industry.

Vicky says she was seen to ‘abandon’ the more culturally valued field of medicine. “It was culturally unacceptable, especially to doctors of a certain age who would say things like ‘oh, that’s a shame’ when they found out I was leaving – or to tell me they thought I was throwing it all away.

“Your identity as a doctor is so entwined in your sense of self. While colleagues were generally incredibly supportive, it did reveal to me that there is shame attached.”

Vicky remains active in a Facebook group for medics looking for an alternative route through the profession. “It has thousands of members. Almost daily there’s an anonymous post from someone reporting their experience and saying ‘I don’t know what to do’, and I’ll jump in and say I’m very happy to talk. Without fail I’ll get four or five messages from other people saying, ‘I saw your post, can I please speak to you.’ The number of people getting in touch is staggering.”

A shared experience

In 2016, Vicky graduated from UQ with her master’s degree – where her thesis became the basis for the university’s student-based Mental Health Strategy – and she was struck by the “absolute brain shift” in moving from the medical model.

“You take information, you’re refining it, trying to come up with a differential diagnosis, you’re very much positioned as the expert. It’s a real brain shift to realise it’s not just about the information that you’re getting, it’s not that you’re the expert, because you’re very much not, but it’s just as much the process and the immediacy of what’s happening between you. It’s such a deeply respectful, shared experience. It’s amazing and such a privilege to be able to do that with people.”

Her approach to counselling involves first gauging the individual patient’s needs, and their hopes as to what counselling will provide.

“I often ask people if they have an idea of what they’re looking for. Sometimes they’re looking for strategies, sometimes they just want to talk and other times they want to figure out why they think the way they do,” Vicky says.

“There’s the solution-focused counselling approach, but I think it’s the deep respect for walking alongside someone in the knowledge you’re not there to come up with all the answers. I’m not the expert on their life but I’m facilitating them on their path of exploration.

“When we think about the contrast with medicine, we know that doctors whose patients like them are far less likely to be sued and, if you delve into that, it’s really about people wanting a personal connection. It’s not the person who prescribing antibiotics, it’s the person who makes you feel safe and heard. That’s the power of the interpersonal therapeutic alliance.”

Defining Counselling Part 2: A Practitioner's Approach

The pedestal effect

Originally from the UK (she completed her medical degree at the University of Birmingham) and then moving to Australia, Vicky has seen a notable difference in attitudes towards counselling between the two countries.

“Sadly, counselling is often undervalued in Australia – potentially due to its unregulated nature, potentially due to psychology positioning itself as expert, and potentially as Australia does not have such a rich and respected history of counselling and psychotherapy – unlike places like the UK, Europe or the US.”

One of the fractures in the way counsellors are seen stems from it being an unregulated profession.

That said, any step to raise the profile of counselling should be taken with careful consideration. She says there are both advantages and disadvantages to trying to get counsellors eligible for Medicare rebates – for instance: “I know many of my doctor clients are deeply suspicious of Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency–registered practitioners, due to the fear of mandatory reporting by treating practitioners.”

Nor is Vicky an advocate of counsellors moving into the area of other allied health professionals by performing diagnostic tests, for instance. “Absolutely we need to be more formalised as allied health professionals,” she says.

“But while the more formalised assessment processes used by psychologists are often positioned as a strength of psychology, counselling’s strength really relies on there being nowhere to hide. We are not reliant on trying to define someone’s experience according to their responses to assessment, but rather on seeing the person as a whole and helping the individual to explore that themselves, taking into consideration all the complex influences that make each individual who they are. We’re less about labelling and reductionist thinking and [more about] seeing the messy, complex whole of a person. I don’t believe counsellors do want to be performing diagnostic tests. There is a risk if you go too far down the traditional diagnostic route that it takes away the power of what counselling is all about.”

The unregulated nature of counselling in Australia creates something of a grey area that can only be policed by individuals. “Legally, ethically and morally, counsellors should not be practicing beyond their area of expertise,” says Vicky. “While some situations will be standardised – for example, legal requirements – others are likely to differ according to the individual counsellor’s experience and training.”

A long and winding road

Vicky uses the concept of ‘planned happenstance’ to describe her unexpected – and entirely rewarding – journey from medicine to counselling. A term used in careers counselling, it counters the traditional narrative of a career as a linear arc, starting at A and winding up at B.

“Particularly when you’re younger you think you need to know where you’re going and what your goal is. But planned happenstance is the idea that there’s real benefit to taking a meandering route, because not only will you gain experience along the way but also you’ll wind up at a place you could never have anticipated at the outset,” she says. “Me as an 18-year-old at med school in the UK could never have anticipated living in Brisbane in my 40s as a counsellor. All of my experiences have been really helpful, and I feel like I’m in the right place now.”