Midnight worries for weary psychologists

Closeup portrait of dissatisfied middle-aged pretty woman covering ears with pillow and lying in bed in bedroom. Top view.

After a day working with vulnerable people, many of whom have been hurt at the hands of others, its no wonder that psychologists often have difficulty nodding off to sleep at night.  Yet it’s not worrying about clients that keep many of us awake.

Midnight Worry No. 1 – Can I survive financially?

Psychologists, particularly if they are in private practice, worry about whether they can continue to make a living. We know that many vulnerable clients who require psychological treatment, often have difficulty paying for the service.  You cannot sustain a psych0logy practice by bulk billing clients ($86.15 Medicare payment) and also pay rent, insurance, professional development, administration costs, superannuation, sick leave, and holiday leave. One restless night I calculated what my income would look like if I tried to bulk bill.

Gross Income Costs Net Income
Bulk billing income
$2,153.75 x 46 weeks (4 weeks holiday and 10 public holidays)$86.15 per hour x 25 hours = $2,153.75 per week
25 clinical hours is a full-time workload with time to do the myriad of other tasks including liaising with doctors, schools, and solicitors.
$99,072.50
Superannuation
As a predominantly female workforce let’s not join the growing ranks of women over the age of 55 who have no superannuation

$9,411.88

Psychology Board of Australia Registration $486.00
Professional Indemnity Insurance $500.00
AAPi Membership – Join here $250.00
Mandatory Professional development $400.00
Mandatory Supervision $2000.00
Rent – $600 per week $31,200.00
Additional expenses – 20% of income
Conservative estimate of small business operating expenses including admin support, accountants, legal advice, utilities etc.
$19,814.50
  $35,010.12

I feel sick about this, but  I have not calculated an allowance for sick leave. If you’re a bulk billing psychologist it’s unlikely you’ll be able to charge clients who don’t turn up. Most psychologists don’t have a full diary of 25 clients attending each and every week.  Now I understand why psychologists need to charge at least twice the bulk-billing rate.

At the end of the year, the tension around the cost of psychological services is exacerbated as many clients have used up the 10 subsidised sessions provided by Medicare for a calendar year. All psychologists hate those days when clients ask us to reduce our fee, or even worse, provide a free session.  It’s like choosing between providing the service to the client and paying your own bills.

How do you tell a mother, who’s recently left a DV relationship, that you won’t see her 13-year-old daughter who has started self-harming until January next year when Medicare kicks in again?  Not much point in asking her RUOK if there is no alternative service to refer her to. That’s the stuff of our nightmares as I wrote in Dear Mental Health Client, please don’t be too unwell.

Midnight Worry No 2 – What to do about workplace discrimination?

Many psychologists know their employment choices have been unfairly reduced. Jobs for psychologists are sometimes advertised as only being available for those with clinical endorsements, without any rational reason. This unfairly disadvantages most psychologists (and clients), for no valid reason. Some of us toss and turn at night trying to make sense of an industry that eliminates highly qualified and experienced candidates from jobs. It’s hard to sleep when your enraged – Enraged psychologists fighting for an improved mental health system

Surely Australians that use government-funded mental health services have a right to expect that they will be seen by the most appropriately skilled psychologist available? There are 30,385 psychologists in Australia of which only 9,000 have a clinical endorsement. That’s a serious reduction in the pool of candidates.

Midnight Worry No 3 – Why is psychology a split profession?

Psychologists are anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review into Mental Health. If the recently released MBS Eating Disorders changes are indicative of what’s coming, the pay disparity between psychologists with clinical endorsement and those without will be magnified. A client who sees a psychologist without clinical endorsement will receive a Medicare rebate of $101.35 whereas a client who sees a psychologist with clinical endorsement will receive a rebate of $148.80.  Both psychologists will be doing the same work.  Holding a clinical endorsement does not mean the psychologist has a higher level of education, expertise or experience.

No wonder many of us can’t sleep when we find ourselves sitting next to another psychologist, equally experienced, educated, skilled and professional (and often our friend), yet for some unfathomable reason, they are being paid almost $50 per hour more, for providing exactly the same service. If psychologists who are not in private practice don’t think this affects them, watch what happens to even more job advertisements as this disparity continues and becomes embedded as the status quo.

If you think the profession is not under attack read this insomnia inducing diatribe against psychologists, social workers, and occupational therapits by Judy Hyde, Past President of Australian Clinical Psychological Association on 30/10/2019 –New system for eating disorder treatment could expose patients to ‘great danger’, experts warn. 

Midnight Worry No 4 – Do psychologists really care?

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph. - HAILE SELASSIE , ETHIOPIAN STATESMANThere is an energetic Australian Psychologist’s Facebook Group, but we need thousands more members. Could our membership reach 20,000 and include most Australian psychologists? We need the power of numbers to allow the dissemination of information. This is a great use of social media. Do psychologists really care what’s happening in their profession? Do they care about how this disadvantages their clients? I’ve contemplated this before – Uniting Psychologists: Visionaries, Activists, Noisemakers… and Bystanders. In the midnight hours, I ponder whether psychologists are complacent, apathetic, overwhelmed or disbelieving, I haven’t yet come up with an answer.

The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) provides a viable and ethical alternative to the Australian Psychological Society (APS). The APS has to take responsibility for the mess the profession is in now. They have not been advocating for the majority of psychologists. AAPi needs the power of membership numbers to negotiate on our behalf, and on behalf of clients. Yet many psychologists remain members of the APS, which continually fails to represent them.

I recently bumped into a young ex-work colleague, she’s a psychologist establishing her practice. I explained what was happening and referred her to AAPi and the Australian Psychologists Facebook page, but sadly her response was that she didn’t want to be “political”. Similarly, another psychologist on maternity leave maintained her APS membership for fear of retribution, even though she was adamant that they’d done nothing to assist her career. It’s not a requirement that psychologists are members of any professional organisation but both these young women have the most to lose in the current situation, and would benefit from an organisation which represents them, and their clients.

Dreaming of a way forward

The way forward is for psychologists to actively engage in protecting and growing their profession. We must be proactive to ensure clients can access a diverse workforce of psychologists.

Join the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc  – it’s only $250 per annum for a full-time psychologist and $100 if you’re part-time. If you are too fearful to leave the APS then at least be members of both!  Follow them on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter too. Students can join for free.

Join the Australian Psychologists Facebook Page – it’s a closed group and they’ll ask you some questions to check you’re not a robot, and that you are a psychologist.  It’s an amazing community of psychologists.

Disseminate information.  When you see an ad or article from AAPi share it on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.  Email information directly to psychologists who you know are out of the social media loop.  Talk to your colleagues.

Unite. Share your concerns with your clinically endorsed colleagues. These may be difficult conversations but it may be the only way to dispel the myths surrounding the split and to unite the profession.

Share this article with every psychologist you know and ask them to share it with every psychologist they know. Share AAPi posts and information.

Goodnight and sleep well.

 

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