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 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 profession, and ultimately our clients. See more of my thoughts on this in Enraged Psychologists and Dear Mental Health Client, please don’t be too unwell.

Moves to restrict the practice of most psychologists will have a devastating impact on the mental health services we can provide to clients and overload our clinically endorsed colleagues. The APS is proposing that only 8,725 clinically endorsed psychologists can be expected to meet the needs of all mental health clients with severe symptoms.

Those working to unite psychologists are Visionaries, Activists, and Noisemakers. As always with social justice advocacy, there is also a group of Bystanders whose voice is silent.

Visionaries

There is a team of awesome Visionaries and these psychologists are my superheroes. They are unearthing historical documents, analysing research, writing submissions, compiling academic papers and creating petitions. You’ll find them leading RAPS, AAPI and the Australian Psychologists Facebook page.  The enormity of their toil is often unseen and unrecognised.

The Visionaries see the big picture and put the pieces of the puzzle together. They share their insights and spur us to action.  They shine the spotlight on the deficiencies of the status quo.

By placing themselves in the public domain they face the pushback that occurs, including legal threats, and malicious social media comments.

The Visionaries are predominantly female, all volunteers with day jobs, families and other caring roles.  They are full of energy when not exhausted, both inspired and feeling hopeless, often afraid, always courageous.  As a group, they are relentless and sustain the pressure to unite the profession.  As individuals, they give what they can when they can. Sometimes they need to withdraw to re-energise.

Activists

The Activists, spurred on by the findings of the Visionaries, flood Members of Parliament with feedback on the negative consequences to the community of a divided profession. They demand an end to the false division of psychologists within Medicare, Centrelink and the NDIS policies.  Comments made by the APS and APHRA are now challenged, no longer silently accepted. They write submissions to the Productivity Commission and the Medicare Benefits Schedule Taskforce Review into Mental Health.

Activists speak about the issue to colleagues and at professional development events.

They correct misinformation in the community, including with General Practitioners.

They sign petitions such as “Enough is Enough’….All consumers and psychologists in Australia deserve equal access to Medicare.

They commend action, encourage debate and contribute to the discussion.

Let’s not forget that the Activists (who may also be Visionaries) also volunteer with minimal resources. Those they are fighting have paid workforces and infrastructure to support them. Activists do not have access to mailing lists of psychologists to share their concerns. It’s exhausting work.

Noisemakers

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The Noisemakers echo the findings of the Visionaries and words of the Activists. They blog, write articles, post on Linkedin, Facebook and Tweet.

They seek to engage the media as ultimately, the fracture in psychology has a negative impact on services provided to mental health clients.

Noisemakers share Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts, they “like”, retweet and comment frequently. They actively support other psychologists on social media.

Noisemakers are both inspired and deflated; passionate and at times overwhelmed. More volunteers with day jobs. Some are also inspiring Visionaries and busy Activists, fully committed to uniting psychology.

Bystanders

At times we are all Bystanders, but life or events call us to action at different times. I assume the Bystanders are psychologists who think a fractured profession does not affect them. Who perhaps think uniting psychologists is a big fuss about nothing.  Maybe they see Medicare as having nothing to do with them. Or perhaps they support the status quo.  Possibly they see it all as hopeless. Nonetheless, they are silent and there are too many of them.

If you are a psychologist and a Bystander but want to start being more active, begin by signing “Enough is Enough’….All consumers and psychologists in Australia deserve equal access to Medicare. You could also share one of my blogs on social media, or talk to a colleague about what’s going on. Join the Australian Psychologists Facebook page.  It’s a hive of information and inspiration.

In my opinion, what Bystanders don’t get to say is:

“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on”.

 “See, it was all alright in the end”.

“I knew it would be ok”

“I knew that wouldn’t happen”

“It was a lot of fuss about nothing”

“See, the changes have been good”

That’s because the Visionaries, Activists, and Noisemakers did hours of unpaid work to unite psychologists.  Do not let inaction, apathy or silence undermine their courageous and heroic effort.

Psychologists, you can take action.

  • Donate to the AAPi fighting fund  here
  • Join the Australian Association of Psychologists www.aapoz.com
  • Join the Australian Psychologists Facebook page. This is a closed group of enraged psychologists with a huge passion, great debate, and inspiration. They are an amazing brains trust.  Make sure you answer the questions required to join the group.
  • Go to www.reformaps.org
  • Make your views known to:
  • Share this post on social media.
  • Has the APS represented you as a psychologist? Does it look after your best interests? Has it provided a workable suggestion for mental health clients? Is it in your benefit to remain a member?

Mental health advocates and consumers, you can take action

Dear Mental Health Client, please don’t be too unwell

Dear Mental Health Client,

Mental Health ClientYou came quietly into my counselling room,  looking a bit unsure, eyes cast downwards.  Hesitant to speak.

It had been tough to pluck up the courage and ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist. You hardly ever see your GP and felt uncomfortable when they asked about your mental health and living situation. You gave the GP brief answers, just wanting the appointment over and done with. This stuff so hard to talk about.

Starting your treatment

Mental health clientYou left the GP with a Mental Health Care Plan for 6 sessions, a bit surprised to learn that they’re not free because most psychologists can’t afford to bulk bill. Ouch, this is more expensive than you anticipated. You also learned that you can only have 10 Medicare subsidised sessions each year.  Still, you think, 10 sessions must be enough for the psychologist to “fix” you. Why else would they only give you this many? It seemed like quite a lot of sessions at the time.

It was so hard for you to come to the first appointment. Initially you tell me you are “just a little bit depressed and anxious”. By our fourth session, you’ve trusted me enough to share 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

Building connection and intimacy through Mindful Coupling

Mindful coupling cardsAs a couple’s therapist, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to build connection and intimacy with couples.  I was delighted when I discovered an ex colleague of mine, psychologist Iris Goemans, had created Mindful Coupling.  This innovative tool for couples is like a delicious box of chocolates, full of unexpected delights.  I asked Iris to tell me more about Mindful Coupling…

 What is Mindful Coupling?

Mindful Coupling is a relationship card set designed to help couples reconnect, reawaken and rejuvenate their relationship.  It includes 30 powerful weekly actions and 64 intimacy-building questions to strengthen a couple’s bond, deepen their connection and enhance intimacy. 

What inspired you to create Mindful Coupling?

Love is one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. Romantic relationships can provide a deep source of fulfilment and can be a very meaningful part of our lives.  However when I looked around me, I noticed very few relationships that were actually doing well.  I noticed many couples feeling dissatisfied in their relationship and disconnected from each other, and that this was causing a lot of anguish. As a wife and mother myself, I understood that feeling disconnected can easily happen, especially when you’re running a household, looking after children, maintaining jobs, and generally trying to keep on top of all the other things life throws at us.  People tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side, but it’s actually greenest where you water it.  Continue reading

Celebrate Stepfathers on Fathers Day

Stefather and child at beach
Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Let’s take time out to acknowledge and celebrate stepfathers on Fathers Day.  Over 20% of  Australian children live in step or blended families, therefore, thousands of men are stepping into an ambiguous and difficult role.

Those passionate and delightful “in love” feelings couples experience in a new relationship don’t necessarily encompass your new partner’s children. And kids don’t Continue reading

Why reduce access to 100 years of psychological expertise? Reject the APS Submission to the Medicare Review.

Australian’s requiring psychological treatment will have less access to psychologists if the Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) submission to the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review is accepted.

Our Practice

I am a generalist psychologist in a busy inner-city practice. Our professional team consists of five generalist psychologists, a mental health occupational therapist, a music therapist and a therapy dog.

Our admin team consists of two psychology students and a mental health nurse.

Together we have about 100 years of psychological expertise, hard earned in a range of settings including domestic violence services, sexual assault services, child-focused treatment centres, mental health institutions, relationship services, unemployment services and crisis lines.

Group supervision
Our team participating in group supervision

Collectively we have completed about 40 years of academic studies Continue reading

The Psychologist sounds out the Music Therapist

Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy
Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy

At times the rumble of drums or the soft tinkle of ivories floats into my counselling room at Little Window – Counselling, Psychology and Wellness. Then I know that our Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen, is working with a client, and I’m intrigued.  Poking my head into the hallway, I try to see Claire using music in therapy, but her door is firmly closed and the mystery remains.

would not describe myself as a musical person. I sing like a cat on heat, I’m an awkward dancer and my husband used to tell me off for singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star out of tune to our children. Yet I also know music brings great joy. I hear the first beats of an old love song and memories flood back. My mood can be lifted or lowered through a few well-chosen songs. I know that there is magic in how we respond to music. To satisfy my curiosity about music therapy I had a chat with Claire and asked her a barrage of questions.

Thanks for having me Anne, I know your curiosity is shared with so many people.  I look forward to sharing a glimpse into the ‘music therapy space’.

How do you start a music therapy session?

In music therapy training we learn a lot about the importance of overall structure of a session – the opening, middle and close are each considered to be very important for their own reasons (just like the open, middle and close of a song or piece of music!) – and it will look different for each person I work with. I always intend to meet the person where they’re at – and finish the session closer to where they want to be. For some, this might mean we start with talking before introducing music, and for others, we start with music before we do any talking. Some clients like to start their sessions by bringing a song or piece of music that resonated for them – to help bring language to their current challenges. At other times we talk through the key challenges or wins so we can decide together what the best modality will be for the ‘middle’ part of the session.

So you do talk during music therapy?

Continue reading

“Comparison is the death of joy” and an unhelpful thinking habit

I came across the quote “Comparison is the death of Joy” by Mark Twain the other day and was struck by how succinctly it captured what I frequently hear, and occasionally do. Consider the following ways that joy is killed.

The new mum

Comparison is the death of joy

The new mum gently nestles her beautiful baby boy in her arms. She gazes lovingly at her son, stroking his hair. He’s snuggled in a bunny rug, blissfully milk drunk.  She’s just finished breastfeeding him, happy to do so in front of me.

She dips her head away from my inquiring eyes. “He wakes more at night than my friends baby”. Continue reading

5 delightfully therapeutic TED talks to improve your mental health.

 

These 5 delightfully therapeutic TED Talks are perfect when your head is a cacophony of critical chatter or your brain barrages you with blasts of self-blame. Take time, less than 18 minutes, to listen to a voice other than your own which is, after all, just telling you a story that you’ve probably heard many times before.

All these speakers know how hard it is to be human and yet still inspire us to be better. Clients tell me these talks make you feel that you’re ok, even if you’re not perfect.  TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a not for profit organisation spreading ideas in the form of powerful talks. Before you start listening,  scroll to the bottom of the post for some therapeutic listening tips.

1. The Power of Vulnerability

Let’s start with Brene Brown. Her first talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one I’ve listened to many times and encourage most clients to listen to.  If you’ve ever thought your vulnerability Continue reading

Creating calm and safety in the counselling room

A warm welcome, a cup of tea, a comfy place to sit, beautiful surroundings, gentle music and the waft of fragrant oils.  We hope our clients experience a sense of calm and safety as they enter our counselling space at Little Window – Counselling, Psychology and Wellness. The house, with frosted glass windows, provides complete privacy and scatters a soft light through the rooms. A sanctuary and an inward-looking space. Ideal for reflection.

Created with intent

Counselling roomThe directors of Little Window, psychologists Thania and Christina, created this space with intent. They lovingly chose and positioned every item for the rooms and behind their artful decoration lies neuroscience. Their intention is to provide a calm and safe space, which helps interrupt the fight, flight or freeze response clients often experience. These responses begin in the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes memory, interprets emotion, and often drives Continue reading