In the light of a recent scandal where a known con artist had been masquerading as a mental health professional, and providing services and workshops which enabled abuse and stigmatised at-risk individuals, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to take a moment to look at the different types of mental health worker, and the bodies that they’re accountable to.
Counsellors (such as myself) can be registered with a few different professional bodies. Other professionals may also advertise as, or work in, counselling roles but be different types of health provider, such as psychologist or social worker – in fact, many organisations will require their counsellors to be registered psychologists or mental health social workers in order to make the most out of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, enabling these practitioners to access Medicare rebates.
Counsellors, currently, cannot access Medicare rebates, although the Australian Counselling Association has made a proposal to Medicare to allow certain tiers of ACA members access to the schedule. However, some counsellors can provide services with private health rebates, and others can work under NDIS.
I’m registered with the Australian Counselling Association and am more than happy to show my card on request, and my new fancy Facebook profile picture has the member’s logo on it.
Unfortunately “counsellor” is not a protected job title and thus anyone can use it. When engaging a counsellor, ensure they’re registered with a professional body such as the Australian Counselling Association or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. There are quite a few pathways to becoming a counsellor, ranging from a Diploma to a Master’s degree.
Psychotherapists are in the same boat as counsellors – it’s not a protected job title, and generally they’ll be ACA or PACFA members. They can also be social workers or psychologists who prefer to work in psychotherapy roles. Psychotherapy programs generally take place at a Master’s level.
Psychologist is a legally protected job title, meaning anyone who uses it as a job title, or leads you to believe they are – but aren’t – can be faced with legal action. Psychologists register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, and the Australian Psychological Society Becoming a psychologist is a challenging experience – requiring a minimum of six years spent in education and supervised training.
Psychiatrists are Medical Doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. Most are members of the Royal Australia and New Zealand Collage of Psychiatrists, and must be registered with AHPRA. This, again, is a protected job title.
Accredited Mental Health Social Workers will be members of the Australian Association of Social Workers. AMHSWs are social workers who’ve undertaken additional education to work in clinical mental health roles. Their job title isn’t a protected one, comparable to counsellors in this way. Social Workers will generally have degrees at the Bachelor’s or Master’s level.
All these professions can offer you mental health services, with varying levels of access and public health support. Ensure that when you choose a mental health professional, that they are registered with their professional body. Membership with these bodies carries certain obligations – professional ethics, and continued professional learning. There is no such guarantee – or safety net – by working with unregistered, unaccredited providers – and every possibility you’re being scammed.
Stay safe – do your homework and ensure you’re accessing a real professional, who can show you legitimate credentials.