Monday, October 18, 2021

MHSA needs to provide support for mental health professionals, says psychologist

An Australian psychotherapist is calling for changes to the state’s Psychological Regulation Act in order to help people struggling with mental health challenges, by not “punishing” professionals who go into care to offer support.

A conversation about mental health in Australia …

Drawing on her experience caring for clients who have mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, self-harm, learning disabilities, childhood trauma and autism, Dr. Lorna Breen believes the legislation provides little support for people who seek professional care, and cannot access GPs, counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists.

Adequate health resources for mental health …

Under the Mental Health Act, Breen says it is not uncommon for people who are on the frontline in mental health care to have to chase every single time a new mental health patient is referred to a specialist.

Having gone through this herself in her career, Dr. Breen says she knows the stress that is put on people who provide support.

“[Therapists] spend their life working in mainstream health, but yet they find their practice ‘profiled’ out and then [they] have to go on the police list, and they have to report on these police victims, and [they] will not be given the protection that many would think they deserve and would need,” she said.

“People are going to spend time … driving those families around in taxis, [because] the proper safety guidelines that they need don’t exist and the law does not make any provision for a boundary between a mental health professional and their patient.”

Taking the big step …

Dr. Breen says she is aware of several cases in which people have self-harmed as a result of stigma, discrimination and social misunderstanding of mental health disorders.

“They come in, and [they’re] just so broken that they can’t take a step forward. [They’re] constantly talking about breaking down doors, constantly explaining why they’re struggling to speak,” she said.

Dr. Breen worries this puts these professionals in dangerous situations where, if a patient has the mental capacity to consent to a treatment such as a 50-minute phone consultation with a therapist, the specialist will have to tell the patient they have to be taken to a “safe distance” away from them and they have to leave.

“I know it’s an easier thing to just stay away and be left alone. Yet I would feel like such a failure as a psychotherapist [if] I was making the decision on behalf of a patient where they can’t understand [the reasoning for the treatment] and they just need to get a counsellor who is safe and responsible to be able to work in that way,” she said.

“So I do think the psychotherapy piece of the legislation, the way it has been developed and the way it’s being enforced, is quite problematic.”

Whilst the Australian Psychological Society has supported a number of legislative changes over the years to protect the mental health of people who seek professional care, Dr. Breen believes an important change is needed.

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