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Opinion: Is Mental Health Stepping Up?

The psychology profession is not a homogenous discipline. There are different types and levels of training result in varying skill sets and competencies. It is imperative that this variety of skills be effectively and safely utilised to best meet the need – the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

Similar to medicine, all registered psychologists have general psychology training. As patients present with more severe, chronic, and/or complex disorders, referral to specialists in the appropriate field is indicated.

The Psychology Board of Australia designated specific Areas of Practice Endorsement attained through advanced qualifications and extensive supervision in specialised areas of psychological practice. The Area of Practice Endorsement that specialises specifically in mental health disorders is clinical psychology.

Mental Health Reference Group (MHRG) recently released a stepped care model that provides for evidence based psychological interventions at an adequate treatment dosage of 20-40 sessions for those with moderate-severe mental health conditions. We at the Australian Clinical Psychology Association (ACPA) believe that it is only through provision of sufficient treatment like this that we are able to move away from symptom management to a model that truly supports recovery.

MHRG recently provided a report about the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) items related to the Better Access initiative. While the Better Access scheme has become an essential part of mental health service delivery in Australia, the scheme has been widely criticised for its one-size-fits-all approach. In particular, the 10-session annual limit has left people experiencing moderate to severe mental health conditions grossly underserviced.

Those with mild mental health conditions needs to continue to be provided with highfidelity, focussed psychological strategies, through face-to-face delivery and/or digital mental health services.

The Federal Government and The Hon Greg Hunt, Minister for Health, can ensure that a commitment to quality and safety is embedded within this stepped-care model. Specifically, the MBS reforms must ensure that people with moderate to severe mental health conditions have access to psychological therapy services delivered by the best qualified clinicians to meet their needs. Central to this is adherence to standards defined by regulatory bodies, with reference to international training standards.

It is imperative that the new stepped care model reflects the distinction between practitioner accredited training levels and their respective expected scope of work, and thereby provides transparency and informed choice for the public.

If we get this review of the MBS mental health services right, it will be of enormous benefit to those experiencing mental health issues.

Assoc Prof Vida Bliokas is the President of the Australian Clinical Psychology Association (ACPA).

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