What is: A registered health professional?

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.

Reach out.

In support of others

This #mentalhealthmonday, lets talk about our loved ones. Supporting those we’re close to is a big topic that requires a lot of care, so I’ll likely make several posts on this topic.

We can start, though, on what to do when we notice changes in our loved ones, and asking if they’re okay.

Sometimes we may notice that a friend or family member may not be okay. This could come to our attention through a marked change in mood or behaviour, through obvious or subtle cues.

They may be withdrawing from regular activities or spending a lot of time on their own. They could be avoiding specific situations or social contact in general. They may not be keeping up with their personal hygiene or household chores. They might be spending more time in bed, or not sleeping much at all.

Our introverted, book-loving pal isn’t waving a red flag by choosing to have a quiet night at home with their favourite stack of books they haven’t gotten around to yet. But if that same friend stopped reading books altogether and took up constant cleaning or sleeping, we may have cause for concern.

The main thing to look for is changes. Sudden changes in mood or behaviour can be a sign of something larger at play. Changes in the aftermath of a recent event in their life can also be cause for concern.

So something about your friend has changed. They seem down, or worried. You’re worried. Now what?

Pick a comfortable time and place. Think about your concerns and how this could play into where and when to have this talk. If you’re concerned about your friend’s eating habits, don’t bring them to a kitchen or restaurant.

Then ask them if they’re okay. Tell them you’ve noticed some changes lately and that you’re concerned for their wellbeing. They may not choose to speak with you. That can be frustrating, but it can’t be forced. Reassure them that you’re there for them. Ask if they’d be more comfortable with a professional, such as a counsellor. When we care about how others see us, it can be challenging to open up to them.

If they do open up to you, do your best to respond thoughtfully. If they feel judged – as if opening up to you was a mistake, you’re going to get shut out in future. Listen more than talk – hold space for them. The last thing you want is to give them a reason to shut down.

Once they’ve told you what’s affecting them, ask them what they’d like you to do. Maybe they just needed to vent. Maybe they have a specific problem you can help with. As a person cengred counsellor, I’m of the belief most people know what they want to do, they just need help accepting it. Again, ask if they want to talk to a professional, whether thats a counsellor, psychologist or a relevant specialist.

You may not notice any warning signs. Not all of them are easily noticeable all of the time. When we’re hurting, sometimes we try extra hard to not let anyone see it. You’re not to blame for not noticing. You’ve done amazingly to get this far.

If you regularly find yourself in the role of managing the mental health of your friends and family, it may be worth contemplating undertaking a bystander level training course, such as Mental Health First Aid or ASIST. These provide you with amazing skills to help manage a crisis and get them to professional support.

Remember to take

If you or someone you care about is having difficulties, reach out.

What is: School refusal?

This one is for the parents!

School refusal is when kids don’t want to go to school. For their own reasons, going to school is distressing to them, causing them anxiety or distress, so they try to avoid going to school

School refusal differs from truancy, in that the motivation is more directed by anxiety and discomfort, rather than truancy generally being motivated by issues with authority or behaviour.

Children experiencing this may;

  • Be distressed upon waking up on a school day
  • Complain of being sick in the morning
  • Find excuses not to go
  • Be sad or visibly upset at the school gates or on the trip to school

Managing school refusal can be tricky!

School refusal can be signalling many things. It is often a cry for help – even if they’re not ready or willing to admit it. For whatever reason, the child doesn’t want to be at school, which should be a safe, stable, supportive and social place.

Children may be avoiding school due to;

  • socialising, fitting in, and belonging issues (see Brene Brown for a fantastic exploration of the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging”.
  • learning difficulties – how often did we avoid a topic at school because we weren’t getting it?
  • conflict with teachers – teachers are people too, and aren’t always easy to get on with for our kids.
  • exam anxiety – how many of us can relate to this?
  • bullying or friendship issues
  • an unsettled family life – separation or divorce or illness.
  • anxiety regarding being separated from family

Managing school refusal during Covid-19 has been an interest of mine – times have been stressful for us all, and try as we might, kids take notice when we’re stressed, and it affects them.

School refusal isn’t a formal diagnosis, but there is professional treatment for it. Your child’s school staff will likely be experienced in managing it, but your first port of call should be a GP to eliminate any physical reasons for illness. From there you can access a counsellor, psychologist, or discuss it with the school’s wellbeing team.

Treating school refusal will require a lot of patience, understanding and co-operation – you’re probably going to come up against resistance from your child in facing what it is they’re trying to avoid. Growth can be uncomfortable – and breaking the pattern of anxiety-retreat-comfort offered by school refusal is no exception.

But together, you, your child, and the right support can overcome it and help your child’s time at school become a more educational, social and productive experience.

Reach out

Self-compassion – you deserve it

“Have compassion for yourself as well as others.”

This #mentalhealthmonday, lets talk about self-compassion. Imagine, for a moment, that you could be as giving, caring and understanding of yourself as you are of your loved ones.

Often, we can be so understanding and forgiving of others, but brutal critics of ourselves. We come to beat ourselves up over small mistakes, our inner monologues relentlessly pointing out how we could have done better.

We have the power to change that. To tell the inner critic to back off, and start living for ourselves, the same way we do for others. To be every bit as kind and supportive as we are to our dearest friends, but to pick ourselves up.

This is a potent habit to get into – its a wonderful intersection of mindfulness, acceptance and self-care. Instead of nitpicking and kicking ourselves when we’re down, we can regroup, embrace a growth mindset, and give ourselves what we heed to thrive.

The next time something doesn’t go right and your inner critic rears their head, follow these steps;

1) Take notice of your feelings – sit with them. Tell yourself – “I notice that these are the feelings I am having.” This creates a boundary between you and your criticism, while still being open to acknowledging them.

2) Tell yourself that its okay to have made a mistake. Nobody is perfect -we’re all doing our best. If you struggle with this, take time to remember that making a mistake does not make you a mistake.

3) Adopt a growth mindset. You made a mistake – this time. You aren’t there – yet. There’s a lot of small, but significant words we can add to our criticisms to make them beautiful expressions of growth.

Have you ever heard of growth mindsets? Its a wonderful way of looking at how we learn and grow, and giving ourself the empathy we deserve in order to achieve. Click here to watch a fantastic Ted Talk on the concept.

This #mentalhealthmonday, give self-compassion and acceptance a try. And if you’re struggling – reach out.

What Is: Person-Centred Counselling?

Person-centred counselling, or person-centred therapy, is a style of therapy that focuses strongly on the client’s experience and expertise with their life. Rather than seeking to explain unconscious drives and forces, the therapist and the client work together and form a therapeutic alliance. Carl Rogers founded the person-centred counselling style, putting him up there with such caring and legendary men who bear the surname Rogers, such as Steve and Fred. Actual comparative research has compared the work of Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, and Carl Rogers, the psychotherapist.

The therapeutic alliance is core to most therapy processes, but this style of counselling focuses on developing the alliance, and helping the therapist and the client learn about the client, and how they can work towards self-actualisation.

A person-centred approach places a strong belief in the idea that everyone wants to live towards being the best person they can be – that we’re all in the pursuit of our best life, but sometimes things get in the way, often, ourselves.

Working in a person-centred style means being present for the client – the human being in front of us. It means listening, and creating a space for someone where they can be heard with empathy, be accepted, and experience themselves with authenticity. I love authenticity – the pursuit of becoming our authentic self is an empowering and liberating feeling.

I use a person-centred approach. Even when I’m working in other ways (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy), I still maintain a strong adherence to the core conditions and developing the therapeutic alliance. Because together we can work together to bring your actual self moving towards your ideal self. And it’s an amazing journey I’d love to share with you.

Reach out.

Being lost as a teenager

I remember being lost as a teenager. There’s so much pressure, school, friendships, relationships. Everyone asking “what do you want to do after school?”, or “what are you doing at uni?” So much pressure is put on teenagers to think about their future when they have so much on right now.

I can’t imagine the pressure put on them now – the uncertainty of Covid would certainly be adding onto their stressors.

But it’s hard to know what we want out of our futures at that age. I had a full time job and career before deciding what I wanted to spend my life doing. I went to uni with quite a few people who didn’t really find their true vocation until later life. It takes time. But speaking with a counsellor may help.

School is a time of growth, and change. Working in a school for the last year and a half has shown me just how much kids go through socially and emotionally. They carry so much and sometimes struggle with asking for help – often, just having someone to talk to about things is all they need.

Remember, your kids, even your teenage kids, may have problems that seem small to a parent. But to them, it’s just their size, or even bigger than them. It’s their life. And we need to take it as seriously as they do.

If your kid has come to you about something and you’re not quite sure, or you don’t really understand what they’re telling you, that’s fine! The landscape has changed so much since we were all kids. It’s part of growing up – we have our own struggles, our own issues to handle.

That’s where I come in. My training and experience, and my passion for youth mental health, are here for you and your family in tough times. I can offer concession prices for families currently struggling financially.

If you’re concerned for your child’s wellbeing and think they should talk with someone, reach out. If you’d like to talk about your worries for your child in a session of your own, I’m here for you.

Reach out? Or let in?

Are you strong enough to reach out? To let someone in?

You are?

I knew you could be.

It’s hard. Its a different sort of challenge – to learn that there are people that you can let your guard down for. To let them in and know you as you feel you are.

Leaving our comfort zone isn’t easy, but it is how we grow. But when we take that step, we give ourself a powerful gift and realize how good it feels, and how much we truly needed it: Being heard.

This #mentalhealthmonday reach out to someone – anyone. It doesn’t need to be me, but you can if you choose to. I’m here for you. And let them in even in a small way. Learn to open up, to be honest, be vulnerable.

Things that inspire me #1

I was asked recently about something that inspires me. And I struggled with a response because I find inspiration in so much. So this’ll be a series in no real order of significance.

Learning to find inspiration in, and appreciate, many things, is a potent and empowering practice.

Today I am inspired by the thoughtfulness of some children I met last year. Their friend at another school is transgender, and was unsure of what changeroom they’d be allowed to use when swimming lessons come back.

So we did some reading and got some great advice, and hopefully the student is able to have an easy time with swimming lessons.

I’m inspired by the thoughtfulness of the children who wanted to help their friend. Finding help and advice for our friends can help them through challenges they’d otherwise face on their own.

When fear is the compass for your passion

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

Every time I listen to Pressfield I hear something I needed to hear. I was so anxious going public with this, but I am totally empowered by the support I’m getting from everyone! All the kind words and encouragement have meant the world to me and reassured me that this is where I need to be. The joy of writing blog posts, updating hte page, waiting for my site registration to come in, my photoshoot Thursday. I can’t wait – this is all amazing for me and this excitement is how I know I’m on the right path.

Okay maybe not so much excitement for making a banner image for the page – that’s starting to get to me.

I think we all feel that when we’re starting out with something that’s really important to us. Leaving a trade to study counselling, I was so worried it wouldn’t work out. But I knew I had to do it – passion led me here and I wasn’t going to let fear get in the way. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are wily, creative and opportunistic – but they can be silenced.

When I started working in social & emotional wellbeing in a primary school, I was so anxious! My first proper job working in mental health, in a school. In a way, I’d made it, but heck was I scared. It got to me the whole way there. Out the front of the school, on my first day, I took a deep breath, and I chose to look at my fear in another way – curiosity of the unknown.

I walked into the school with an open mind and was ready to take on whatever they had. I’m still there a year and a half later, two days per week, ready to learn about what’s affecting today’s youth, and what I can do to help them. School is a very different place to how I remember it – so there’s a lot of learning to do for these kids.

Because, and there’ll be future posts on this, working with children and adolescents is an area I’m passionate about – getting them help, and skills early will change their lives for the better. Remember how I said studying counselling seems to be an invitation for people to tell you about their counsellor? Here’s a good one. I’ve heard plenty of stories about school counsellors and youth specialists who changed, if not straight-up saved lives. And that sounds like something really special to be a part of – giving young people hope, and the ability to pursue a future they never dreamed of.

Like I am now. ❤

More than treatment

There’s an expectation that counselling has to be about treating a mental health condition. While this is part of it, there’s a whole lot more that we can do in the space.

The beauty of the counselling room is that, with few exceptions, anything goes. It can be a room (or a Zoom) where you can say, or ask, anything. You can be you. And I’ll be me, and I’ll listen to what you have to say.

Counselling isn’t always going to be about your mental health. Although I am certainly ready and willing to sit down and have that talk with you – I’m also here for anything you want to speak about.

Struggling with an upcoming decision?
Is there something you’re not sure about?
Is something on the news troubling you, or are there issues you’d like to explore in a secure space?
Are there ideas you’re not quite comfortable exploring in public?
Something your mates might not get?

Reach out.