Medicare referrals isolate counsellors
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.’’
Potential problem: Philip Armstrong says the lower fees of counsellors could stretch Medicare funds