Medi­care re­fer­rals iso­late coun­sel­lors

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

From Health cover wait­ing up to 16 to 20 weeks. If peo­ple with an emerg­ing prob­lem have to wait 16 weeks, it’s go­ing to de­velop into a chronic prob­lem. The chances of hav­ing to wait to see a coun­sel­lor are pretty slim.’’

There are about 17,000 coun­sel­lors in Aus­tralia and only about 1200 reg­is­tered clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gists, Arm­strong says. He ar­gues the Gov­ern­ment could re­duce costs by in­tro­duc­ing a re­bate for coun­sel­lors.

‘‘ Coun­sel­lors charge be­tween about $60 to $100 an hour, de­pend­ing on where they are based. In Queens­land we’ve had a re­gional coun­selling ser­vice that’s been charg­ing $40 an hour, par­tic­u­larly in rural and re­gional ar­eas where there is a higher sui­cide rate.

‘‘ Psy­chol­o­gists charge $130 to $150 an hour, or more.’’

How­ever, Aus­tralian Gen­eral Prac­tice Net­work chair­man Tony Hobbs says GPs are not re­fer­ring pa­tients with mi­nor men­tal health prob­lems to psy­chol­o­gists.

‘‘ I — and I be­lieve most gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers — would re­fer to a psy­chol­o­gist peo­ple who re­quire psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment such as cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy, that sort of level of care,’’ Hobbs said.

‘‘ I would not re­fer pa­tients to a psy­chol­o­gist who re­quire re­la­tion­ship coun­selling or that sort of thing. There is a real need for coun­sel­lors in the com­mu­nity, but that’s a dif­fer­ent need than for psy­chol­o­gists.’’

Aus­tralian Psy­cho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety’s man­ager of pro­fes­sional is­sues, David Stokes, says the de­cline in vis­its to coun­sel­lors may sim­ply high­light that some peo­ple were pre­vi­ously see­ing coun­sel­lors when they should have been see­ing psy­chol­o­gists.

‘‘ In the past, some peo­ple with men­tal disor­ders would have sought out a range of ser­vices in the com­mu­nity, some of which might be highly ap­pro­pri­ate and some that might not.

‘‘ It is pos­si­ble that peo­ple were go­ing to see coun­sel­lors for life adjustment is­sues but ac­tu­ally had a men­tal health dis­or­der who are now, through their GP, ac­cess­ing those psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vice, de­flect­ing busi­ness away from coun­sel­lors.

‘‘ De­pres­sion and anx­i­ety are the two main men­tal health prob­lems that re­quire treat­ment, and that re­quires psy­cho­log­i­cal train­ing to treat’’. Tony Hobbs agrees. ‘‘ In the past, es­pe­cially in some rural ar­eas, we may have re­ferred peo­ple to coun­sel­lors be­cause there may have not been a psy­chol­o­gist avail­able. How­ever, Bet­ter Ac­cess has de­liv­ered ac­cess to psy­chol­o­gists for a greater range of peo­ple, and that’s ob­vi­ously a good thing.’’

Pic­ture: David Sproule

Po­ten­tial prob­lem: Philip Arm­strong says the lower fees of coun­sel­lors could stretch Medi­care funds

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