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A snapshot of the counselling and psychotherapy workforce in Australia in 2020: Underutilised and poorly remunerated, yet highly qualified and desperately needed

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Alexandra Bloch-Atefi, Elizabeth Day, Tristan Snell, and Gina O’Neill

 

Abstract

The aim of the 2020 workforce survey was to profile professionals affiliated with the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) to inform future policy and service planning. PACFA is a national peak body for Australian counsellors and psychotherapists, representing 3,500 members across all states and territories. This study builds on previous workforce studies, the first of which was conducted in 2004. An online questionnaire was circulated to PACFA members covering participants’ demographics, qualifications, employment, sources of client referrals, client groups and presentations, along with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting previous findings, participants predominantly identified as female, as coming from Australian or English backgrounds, and as being located in or around major cities. Notably, a higher proportion of counsellors and psychotherapists than psychologists and psychiatrists (who also have qualifications as counsellors or psychotherapists) were found in regional and rural Australia. The shortage of mental health services in Australia, especially in remote areas, and the desire for more working hours among over one quarter of registered practitioners, mean this workforce needs to be far better utilised to meet public demand and reduce health inequities for people in regional, rural, and remote Australia. Government recognition of registered counsellors and practitioners through Medicare’s Better Access subsidised sessions would significantly remedy the shortage of mental health services.

Keywords: access barriers, counselling and psychotherapy workforce, COVID-19 pandemic, health inequities, mental health services, professional identity, remuneration, underemployment

 

Address for Correspondence
Dr Alexandra Bloch-Atefi

alexandra.bloch-atefi@adelaide.edu.au