We are becoming increasingly aware of the growing mental health crisis in Australia. Awareness is a good thing. The increasing crisis, not so much.
When you find yourself struggling with your mental health, struggling to feel hope for the future, struggling with life’s challenges, what options do you have to get the help you need? Where do you turn for help and support?
How can I get help with my mental health?
If you are anything like most Australians, your first port of call when you have a mental health problem is typically to visit your GP for a Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP). This has some advantages.
Firstly, you are checking in with your doctor who hopefully knows you fairly well, and has a broad skill set to use in picking up any issues of concern that may extend beyond the primary issue.
You are likely to walk away with a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP) that will allow you to claim Medicare rebates for a limited number of sessions with a limited range of mental health professionals. The allowable number of sessions is usually only 6-10, which is rarely sufficient to resolve a problem comprehensively, although during the pandemic you can access up to 20 sessions.
The MHTP allows you to claim a rebate to help cover the cost of therapy sessions, although it can be difficult to find a Medicare-funded therapist who “bulk bills” and has availability, leaving you with a gap fee payable. The current recommended fee for psychology sessions as set by the Australian Psychological Society is $267 for 46-60 minutes and the rebate ranges from $77 to $128. The recommended fee to see an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (AMHSW) is $240.
Session fees will vary, of course, depending on the practitioner. If you wish to continue seeing your psychologist or AMHSW after completing the allowable number of rebated sessions, you will need to pay the full fee.
It is also important to note that Medicare rebates are only for people with a diagnosable mental illness and do not cover couple’s counselling.
To obtain an MHTP, you begin by booking a long session with your GP for a mental health assessment. If it is determined that you have a diagnosable mental health disorder, your GP will then refer you to a psychologist, mental health social worker, occupational therapist, or mental health nurse, and you will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for a certain number of sessions.
Does it surprise you that counsellors are not on the list? To clarify, when I say Counsellor, I am referring to therapists who are trained in the discipline of counselling. The term is not protected in Australia, is often used by other therapists who are trained in disciplines such as psychology and social work, and even occupational therapy and nursing.
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, and the Australian Counselling Association, have been advocating for many years, without success, to have Registered Counsellors included in the Better Access for Mental Health Scheme, which is the government program behind the MHTP’s, although not all counsellors wish to work under the Medicare system. Some of those reasons include:
- Limited number of rebateable sessions
- Limited number of treatment options eligible for Medicare
- Report writing to the referring GP
- Working within the medical model
As a person with a mental health challenge or difficult life situation, it is important for you to be able to access the therapist and therapeutic approach that is most helpful for you. You are not restricted to seeing a mental health professional within the Medicare system.
Outside of the Medicare system lies another option…
Registered Counsellors are university-trained mental health professionals who are equipped to work therapeutically with a wide range of issues. We are experienced professionals who are trained in a variety of counselling theories and approaches and well equipped to help you with your mental health problems and life challenges. We are a valid option for anyone looking for therapeutic counselling and mental health support.
Some counsellors have chosen the path of vocational training and life experience, rather than academic study. It is important to choose the counsellor that is right for you, which may involve checking their training standards and association membership. All counsellors who are members of either the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia or the Australian Counselling Association are required to undertake significant hours of professional development and supervision.
In 2020, a white paper was released by Converge International, which investigated “Counselling Proficiency Between Professions” in the delivery of EAP counselling by counsellors, social workers, and psychologists. The research interrogated 60,000 hours of counselling provided to 5,000 clients via contracted EAP counselling to 1,000 companies across a 12-month period in 2019. Comparing the results for the 3 different types of professionals, counsellors received half as many complaints as psychologists and social workers. In terms of satisfaction and the therapeutic relationship, the study found that:
- Counsellors were significantly better at establishing rapport than psychologists
- Counsellors were significantly better at understanding the issue than psychologists
- Counsellors were significantly better at helping with an issue than psychologists
Even if you have visited your GP and been given a Mental Health Care Plan, you can still choose to see a Registered Counsellor. You will not be able to claim a Medicare Rebate, although you may be able to access health insurance rebates depending on your insurance cover. Your counsellor may use a variety of evidence-informed approaches not yet authorised under the Medicare system but with plenty of research to demonstrate their effectiveness. The most important thing is that therapy works for you, and that has a lot to do with the rapport and connection between you and your therapist. A Registered Counsellor is well-equipped to help you with your mental health challenges and difficult life situations.
Counsellors are the hidden gem of mental health care
Benefits of Seeing a Counsellor for Your Mental Health
One of the most important things you can do to help yourself when facing life difficulties is to see a therapist before the problems escalate, causing more significant mental health problems. You can access preventative mental health care with a counsellor before your situation escalates to this level. The time for stigma has passed.
Counselling is a gift you can give yourself, providing the best possible chance to work through problems, recover, and thrive again.
And you are not limited to a Medicare-funded psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist or mental health nurse! All of those professions are valuable and important for the right person, at the right time, and for the right problem, but they are not the only option.
Some of the benefits of seeing a Registered Counsellor include:
- Unlimited number of sessions
- No loss of Medicare funding after a certain number of sessions
- You do not have to visit your GP for a referral
- Your counsellor will not have to submit reports to your GP about your progress
- You do not need a mental health diagnosis to access help
- You will not have a mental health disorder on your Medicare records
- A preference to work outside of the medical model
- Your counsellor can draw on a wide variety of evidence-informed approaches not limited to those approved for use in Medicare-funded sessions
The government determines which modalities are eligible for Medicare-funded mental health treatment. These are:
- Psycho-education (including motivational interviewing)
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy including:
- Behavioural interventions
- Behavioural modification
- Exposure techniques
- Activity scheduling
- Cognitive interventions
- Cognitive therapy
- Relaxation Strategies:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Controlled breathing
- Skills training
- Problem-solving skills and training
- Anger management
- Social skills training
- Communication training
- Stress management
- Parent management training
- Interpersonal therapy
- Eye-Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR)
Counsellors are able to use all of the above approaches and many more. We are not restricted to these modalities and do not have to use them at all if they are not the most suitable for you. We have the freedom to draw from a wide range of skills and techniques, integrating the most suitable options into a boutique approach designed just for you.
But Wait, There’s More!
There is so much more that is wonderful about seeing a counsellor for your mental health difficulties.
Counselling is non-diagnostic. You are not seen as a problem to fix, or a disorder to diagnose. In fact, it is not really about “treatment” and fixing at all, but about hope, healing, wellness and possibility. We may look backwards to help you move forwards; we may look within to help you step out into a better life; we will work together to help you remember that you have what it takes to recover and thrive again.
You are not “the problem”. You are a person who is struggling with a problem. You are finding life difficult and needing insight into underlying issues. You are needing help to find your internal source of hope; to find resources you can draw on to navigate your way through the challenges you are facing.
When I was deciding what I wanted to study, I was drawn to counselling because of its focus on the therapeutic relationship; because of the way that it honours your innate capacity to heal and flourish. I was drawn to the focus on helping you look within to solve the problems outside of you. I was drawn to the emphasis on working with your strengths and coming alongside you without judgment or sitting in an “expert” one-up position.
I work primarily with grief, trauma and relationships, and I know from my own experience that when you are going through struggles like these, you need someone who sees your strength when you are finding it difficult to see it in yourself; you need someone who can hold the torch of hope when you are struggling to believe it exists, and you need someone who can sit alongside you in your suffering with deep empathy and compassion.
Counselling is a cocoon in which you can take all the time you need to heal and grow.
Lived Experience Counselling
Many Counsellors are drawn to this work due to their own life experiences, which adds an element of passion and empathy that goes far beyond textbooks and university programs. This is certainly the case for me. My experiences of missing persons, neonatal loss, parental death from cancer, separation and divorce, and more, have led me to this work and inspire me to keep going because I know something of what it is like to suffer and to grieve. And I know how it feels to get through the struggles and find hope for a better tomorrow.
Counsellors are trained to work with our internal awareness and personal insights in a way that benefits you, without assuming that our experience defines or describes yours in any way. Your experience is unique to you; you are the expert in your own life. We are highly trained in counselling skills and theories and have the capacity to use our lived experience to add depth and insight to our work, while always privileging your personal, unique situation.
We may never explicitly speak of our own experience, as it may not be helpful for you, but even without being explicitly addressed, it adds a powerful, unspoken, “I get you” that typically leaves you feeling seen, heard and acknowledged.
The Counselling Relationship
The relationship between you and your counsellor is central. You bring your own particular insights and awareness to the relationship, and your counsellor brings their skills and who they are as a person, too. Your capacity to thrive is seen, even if you cannot yet see it yourself.
Unlike most relationships, your relationship with your counsellor is one in which it is always about you. Your needs, thoughts, feelings and experience are the most important thing. It is an opportunity for you to experience security and “heldness” (I may have just invented a new word) even if the rest of your life is feeling chaotic, out of control and “too much”. You will not be too much for your counsellor, and where necessary, other supports and services can be drawn on to provide any extra care that may be needed.
Your regular counselling hour is a special time of the week in which your needs are front and centre. Counselling is your time for you; a time in the week to exhale the stress and challenges of life, and to breathe in hope and courage to face whatever lies ahead.
The time to get help for your struggles is now. You do not have to suffer in silence or be isolated in your pain. There is help available. And it may be available this week or very soon if you are willing to see a counsellor, rather than waiting for a Medicare-funded therapist.
The most important thing is that you get the help you need. Your mental health matters.
I invite you to book a complimentary 15-minute enquiry call to see if I’m the right therapist for you. My specialties are grief, trauma and relationship difficulties. If I am unable to help you, I will do what I can to help you find the right person for you.