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.

 

Active, Balanced and Connected – and over 60!

Road sign enjoy at 60 - active balanced and connectedWe celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday with Takaro Trails three-day self-guided cycling tour of the Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. There were four of us over 60, and one young man of 59, my husband Steven.  While laughing, riding and celebrating life “active, balanced and connected” became my mantra for healthy ageing.

Active

Riding through the Takaro Trails I contemplated the opportunities in my life to remain active.

Keeping my mind active will be easy, I hope. I love to read, listen to podcasts, write and play computer games. Social injustice still fires me up and I’m curious about the world. I delight in talking to young people and discovering their views. Even though my adult kids roll around the floor laughing at me, I enjoy learning new technology and embrace social media. I still work part-time as a psychologist and I remain committed to my professional development. I’m inspired by the hopes and dreams of colleagues and clients.

cyclists on track active balanced and connected.Keeping my body active will be more of a challenge. Despite this bike trip, and that I also rode the Otago Rail Trail, I’ve never particularly enjoyed exercise, yet I know how essential it is. I do enjoy an easy cycle at the weekends and have sometimes regularly ridden my bike to work.  I dabble in a bit of yoga, and I particularly like Yoga with Adrienne’ videos. Some mornings I manage to get myself out for a walk. My most active engagement in group exercise was through NIA dance and exercise classes. I kept that up for two years and will probably return to the welcoming group. Pottering in the garden brings me great pleasure and is another of my active pastimes. I purposefully increase my incidental exercise too, often parking Continue reading

Uniting Psychologists: Visionaries, Activists, Noisemakers… and Bystanders

A feisty shake-up of psychology

The profession of psychology is undergoing a feisty and invigorating shake-up, triggered by the Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review into Mental Health. For too long psychologists have trustingly left the management of their profession to the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) which is supported by the Australian Health Practitioner Agency (APHRA). We now realise that these organisations have not advocated proactively for most psychologists, nor for mental health clients, and the result has been a fractured profession. A cohesive mental health service for the Australian community can only be provided through unification.

There are now many more psychologists clamouring to be heard, stimulating hardy debate, challenging untested myths and demanding a united and yet diverse profession to meet the needs of mental health clients in Australia. If you are a psychologist, look at the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPI) and Reform APS (RAPS) websites and join the Australian Psychologists closed group Facebook page.  These forums have re-ignited my interest in the profession of psychology, dormant for many years, having long ago let my APS membership expire for lack of relevancy.

Uniting psychologists

All psychologists are registered practitioners with APHRA under the general registration standard. A false dichotomy has arisen between psychologists with a clinical endorsement and those without. Those with clinical endorsement have been privileged financially (without any evidence of better outcomes) and are falsely assumed to have greater expertise, knowledge, and education.  In 2018 there were 29,982 registered Psychologists, with only 29% of them having a clinical endorsement. Eighty percent of psychologists are female.

We must celebrate the richness of diversity that different pathways to registration as a psychologist bring to the Continue reading

Enraged psychologists fighting for an improved mental health system

Enraged psychologistI’ve never met so many enraged psychologists as I have in the last six months. We’re channelling our pent up fury by pounding keyboards, our battle cry is echoing loudly through social media and Members of Parliament (MP’s) are being accosted at every opportunity.

And that goes against everything I know about my usually sedate and contemplative colleagues.

Life of an enraged Psychologist 

Let me tell you a bit about the life of a psychologist. We work with vulnerable people in our Continue reading

Survivors and Solicitors

Survivors of child sexual abuse, who courageously gave evidence to The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are now torn between applying for compensation through the Redress Scheme and/or launching legal proceedings against the perpetrating organisations. Neither pathway is easy and neither has a guaranteed outcome. Historical child sexual abuse cases are notoriously difficult to win given the passage of time, lack of witnesses and the legal requirement for detailed information.  Survivors and solicitors embarking on the marathon journey into the world of trauma and legal processes need to be well prepared.

Acknowledge the legal process will trigger trauma symptoms

Female survivor alone

Applying to the Redress Scheme or undertaking legal action is likely to be distressing. Revisiting the abuse, providing statements, and arguing your case may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other trauma symptoms.  During this time be proactive in care for yourself.

Gather a support team

  • Invite someone, other than the solicitor, to join you on the journey and be your support person.  Ask them to accompany you to appointments, read information, discuss the case with you and retain the focus in appointments when you are distressed.  Give consideration to who you would ask. Another trauma survivor may also be triggered by the process.  Perhaps there could be more than one person to assist you.
  • Inform your family and friends that the legal process is likely to be stressful and lengthy. Try and be clear about what you need e.g. “After appointments, I may be distressed, can you spend some time with me?”  “Can you come for a walk sometimes to help me manage the stress?”  “I may just need a hug or my handheld, will you be able to do that for me?”
  • Access support through a psychologist, counsellor, social worker,  or caseworker and schedule regular appointments in advance.

Commit to a rigorous self-care plan

Legal cases may go on for years and are stressful. They are indeed a marathon and not a sprint. Continue reading

60 years of loving

How has life, and the way we date, changed since Rhonda and Arthur met and married?  This couple, my inspiring parents-in-law, Stevens loving Mum and Dad, and wonderful grandparents to my children married on 1 October 1955, 63 years ago.  They have enjoyed over 60 years of loving.

The first date

P1080380 (2)They met on a blind date.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s where friends set up a date for you with someone you don’t know.  Kind of similar to Tinder except you didn’t get to stalk their Facebook page to see what they looked like.

Rhonda and Arthur courted.  The definition of courting for their time would have been “be involved with (someone) romantically, with the intention of marrying”.  The urban dictionary today gives the definition as “traditionally courting would include no sexual activity but today that is not usually followed”. I didn’t ask them which definition they followed, and I don’t ask my kids which kind of courting they do either.

No mobile phones

Sixty three years ago Continue reading

The international wedding – from New York to Cairns and back again

Sign - Chelsea & Sean, June 16 2018
Chelsea & Sean, June 16 2018

I love attending a wedding, as I wrote in Wedding Rings and Canoe Paddles. As a psychologist, my days are often filled with the sadness and problems of life so it’s joyous to take time out to witness the joining of families, friends, communities, and in this case countries. There seems to be so little opportunity to come together with old friends and family, separated as we often are by geography and busyness. A wedding is a wonderful chance to pause and celebrate the expression of love, to honour a shared history, to laugh, to cry and to reflect on the odd things that happen.  This international wedding was no exception.

The Bride and Groom, Chelsea and Sean, live in New York, the bridesmaids in Brisbane, New York, Dubai and Cairns, the groomsmen in New York and Dubai, the Mother of the Groom in Florida the Mother of the Bride in Los Angeles and the Father of the Bride in Cairns. The guests were predominantly from Australia and the USA. That’s a lot of coming together. We attended the Cairns wedding and there was a second wedding in New York.

This is a couple who don’t live where either of them grew up, where either of them went to university, where either of them started work or near any family.  They have worked hard to form and maintain friendships and family relationships across the world.  This wedding celebrated and strengthened these connections.

So what traditions did this international couple keep, or make their own? Continue reading

Friday night tears with Redgum

John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew
John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew

Music is like a magical time machine, transporting you back to a different time and place. On Friday night, as Steven and I listened to the sounds of Redgum, by John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, we were once again a young couple with their life ahead of them, not long married with a baby son. The music of Redgum, with John Schumann’s distinctive storytelling voice, often filled our home. Our first night out without the baby was to a Redgum concert. Redgum was an Australian folk and political group during the 1980’s. Their protest music captured the misery and pointlessness of war and made my heart ache.

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen, written by John Schumann, told the story of a young man, conscripted into the Vietnam war. He returned as a battle-weary soldier having lost his mates and unable to adjust to the banality of civilian life. Continue reading

Enjoying a trip to the theatre as an act of self care

Seeing a play is one way that I revitalise myself. For me, a trip to the theatre is an act of self care and pure pleasure. I feel given to, with nothing expected in return. There’s a feeling of connectedness with the actors and the audience which I never get from watching a screen. As a psychologist, I advocate for self-compassion, self care, and connectedness, so it’s important that I walk the talk.  This weekend I indulged myself with two plays.

The Mathematics of Longing

Theatre as self care - The Mathmatics of LongingWatching the Mathematics of Longing at Brisbane’s Le  Boite theatre, I immersed myself in another world for an hour.  I love this smalltheatre in the round. It feels so intimate, and I intensified the experience by sitting in the front row.  A friend insisted that we do this at the last play we enjoyed, and, somewhat reluctantly, I acquiesced. Unexpectedly I discovered that I loved the closeness to the Continue reading

Easing the burden by reaching out

Burden of elephant supported by balloonsClients often experience a wave of relief after their first counselling session.  Their burden is shared and they feel joined on their journey.  That old saying, a worry shared is a worry halved rings true.

Sometimes, you don’t recognise how burdened you’re feeling until the load eases, as I experienced recently.   I’d been working on Ms Forgotten Australian’s biography for over four years and had come to the end of my skills, capability, and motivation. I knew I had to do more but had no idea Continue reading