Angry Generalist speaks up

Board of Directors

Australian Psychologists Society

Dear Mr Anthony Cichello, Professor Lyndel Littlefield, Dr Felicity Allen, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Associate Professor Jacquelyn Cranney, Dr Aaron Frost, Associate Professor Christopher Lee, Ms Mary Magalotti, Ms Fay Oberklaid, Dr Deborah Wilmoth, Mrs Jill Wright

A Psychologist with “General Registration,” I have been disappointed with the service the Australian Psychologists Society (APS) has provided for those like me for much of my psychological working life.

Today, I signed a resolution that you, Mr Anthony Cichello, Professor Lyndel Littlefield, Dr Felicity Allen, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Associate Professor Jacquelyn Cranney, Dr Aaron Frost, Associate Professor Christopher Lee, Ms Mary Magalotti, Ms Fay Oberklaid, Dr Deborah Wilmoth, Mrs Jill Wright, “be, and is by this resolution, removed from office as a director of this company” – the company being, the Australian Psychological Society.

That I am choosing to write to you is an indication of: (1) how seriously I take my decision to sign; and, (2) that I need to have you understand what led to this decision, which was certainly not made lightly.

I commenced studying Psychology at age thirty-eight, and by the final semester of my undergraduate degree, was a single father with four children, full-time study and three part-time jobs. Getting 6s and 7s in that semester was not enough to rescue my GPA. At that that time, my GPA caused me to just miss out on doing Honours. I did a Graduate Diploma in Psychology rather than Honours. Life gets in the way.

During my first year of work, I undertook, as part of my job, a needs-analysis of the Mental Health requirements of the region in which I worked. Just as I was completing my report for the (then) Rural Doctors’ Association and Toowoomba Catholic Education – which resulted in three psychologist being funded to appointments in Goondiwindi, Charleville and Roma  – I discovered that I could’ve undertaken an Action Research Masters in Psychology, but could not then because my work was almost completed. I had been so busy with my positions at Toowoomba Catholic Education and Relationships Australia, raising and educating my four daughters, and, um, whatever else of life that got in the way, that I had not asked the appropriate people the appropriate question – what could be in it for me? Life just got in the way.

Why did I write the last two paragraphs? My decision to do that was to show you that I am just one of many General Psychologists who are where they are because life got in the way of going along any other path. Dozens of other Psychologists became General Psychologists because Life got in the way of doing something else. It is my firm belief that the APS could have provided opportunities, in conjunction with the Universities, to really allow recognition of the work that psychologists do.  It is my firm belief, that the APS has conspired by action and inaction to keep me in my place. You, Ladies and Gentlemen, direct that Action and Inaction.  It is my firm belief, shown by: (1) what the APS has failed to do for me; (2), what the APS has actively pursued, the respect for my profession has been diminished. The profession is called Psychologist, not Clinical Psychologist. AHPRA, at least, recognizes us.

What was the trigger? What has been causing my powder to trickle into a firing amount? What caused my action today? It has been coming for a time, a long time. I suppose that the first dog’s ball stuck out, when, in a three-week period about five or six years ago, I had: (1) someone from Centrelink say to me, “we can’t accept any report from you. You’re not a real psychologist.” When I asked her to explain, she said, “Well, you’re not a Clinical Psychologist – only Clinical Psychologists are real.”

Feeling at this time a bit like the Velveteen Rabbit, I said that I felt real to me, and that, it had been my understanding that being a Psychologist made me real. She said, “No. We have orders from Canberra – only Clinical Psychologists.” [My Response was: “Good luck with finding a Clinical Psychologist in the areas where I work.”]; (2), in about three weeks time, a client from another town said to me, “my Case Worker at Centrelink said that I am not supposed to be seeing you because you’re not qualified.”

At first, I thought that it was just some particular person, but I rang several other General Psychologists and asked them whether they had had the same experience; all of them had. Now, you cannot state that the APS did not know, or approve of the action by Centrelink. You cannot state that you, and your predecessors on the Board were not behind setting up the two-tiered method of Medicare Rebates, which are designed to put me and another 47% of the Registered Psychologists in our places, both professional and financial. I have recently had my report questioned by Courts, but I was not “Clinical.” Last month, I refused to do a report for a court interstate, but I did not want a refusal on the basis that I was not “Clinical,” But I gave my opinion about the defendant’s fugue state, which the Court decided to uphold.

I have worked for almost a quarter of a century in that same region of Queensland, from Toowoomba to the Northern Territory and  South Australian borders. Clinical Psychologists have been a recent feature in that region, mostly from migrants from the UK and South Africa or Zimbabwe. Australian-bred and educated Clinical Psychologists tend to hang around A.D Hope’s, “five teeming sores” – plus a few others on or near the coast that have popped up. Of many of the others who have come through recently, one Mental Health Practice Nurse in a Practice I was in, referred to them as the children. Her comment: “They come from the city. They make that obvious in their dress, their speech, their inability to relate to people with real problems. If I do a MHCP and refer to the doctor, I would expect that that would be enough – but no, they say, ‘No, we’ll have to consult. We’ll have to triage.’”

In the past two years, I have provided mentoring within a group to which I belong. A number of people (Psychiatrists, GPs, anesthetists, Social Workers, Counsellors, Psychologist, and “Clinical” Psychologist) from across Australia meet by Skype or Zoom weekly and exchange cases, seeking advice. Of natural counsellors, the ‘least best’, shall we say, tend to come from Clinical Psychologists who seem to be so intent on asking questions that they have forgotten to actually listen. In contrast, I have found that the best ‘natural’ counsellors are Social Workers, Counsellors – who had studied at UNE – and Psychologists over 45, or with more than twenty years of counselling experience. That matches with my experience. When I joined Relationships Australia in 1993, I had to complete a counselling course run by a Social Worker. I learned more in those six weeks than I did at University studying Psychology. I learned more from my grandmother, who was the neighbourhood counsellor than I did from what I did at University. My grandmother, Mabel, and the Social Worker, Rosemary MacDonald, both used to say, “People need to feel that they are being listened to. They need to feel that they and their problems are important to you.” When I made a comment to a University lecturer, I was told that, had I stayed to do Clinical Psychology, I would have covered it. IT IS BASIC! The first basic undergraduate Counselling Psychology course should have covered this. How does this affect you, you say? How does this make you liable? Most of you do not work, have never worked, in Counselling or, if you do, it is of the kind that is high profile. Ask twenty members of the public at random what psychologists do. I would bet that 15+ of them would say that psychologists help people with their problems – they are ‘kind of like counsellors’ was the most common response I got from a straw poll of ten that I conducted. How much of what the APS does matches that. Hey! I could be way out, but somehow I don’t think I am. I work with the kinds of people who say – after the Grantham floods – that the floods were the, “cocktail onion on the poisoned cup-cake of life,” OR “and there were the floods.”

My work has been in Counselling – apart from the first and second years where it was about thirty percent testing. From what I have been told, I do a reasonable job at it. Because I cannot prescribe – thank God – but must actually do something, whenever I come across something I know only a little about, I research and research it to within an inch of its life. For instance, ten or so years ago, after working with a number of truck drivers with depression, I came to the conclusion that a change in their diets would provide them with the ingredients they needed for serotonin production – important because some trucking companies will not employ drivers on anti-depressants – without realizing that those who are not on anti-depressants are probably more dangerous on the roads, given their crap diets and stress. I have worked with suicidal people for twenty-plus years, with up to three new cases a week last year.

So far, I have had zero deaths. Sexual abuse has also been a focus of my work from my first position. Of all of the suicidal people I have worked with, only four were not molested or bashed as children. I have suggested to doctors that they always ask that question of a suicidal person. It is better, I said, to ask and be wrong, than not ask and see the death notice.

For about a year, I have been fairly convinced that, for suicidal people about to act, a B Complex (not B12) injection is more likely to keep them alive in the short term. I have some research to back that up. Alas, only one doctor was prepared to step outside the run-of-the-mill practice, and could only use oral B complex. I believe that cross-research involving both doctors and psychologists would prove that.

What was the trigger? About six weeks ago, I saw an advertisement – Murdoch University, I believe – asking for a Clinical Psychologist or a Social Worker for  … who cares? The point is, it was not for a Clinical position, requiring a Clinical Psychologist or a Clinical Social Worker. Murdoch University made it clear that, if they could not get a Clinical Psychologist, an ordinary Social Worker would do, not a general psychologist. Now, if it were for a counselling position, asking for a Social Worker, I can understand. No. Murdoch University was making it clear that they considered that no general psychologist was fit to work there. I thought, maybe Murdoch had put its money where its mouth was and done away with Graduate Diploma courses in Psychology. But no, there it was on their website: This course provides a fourth year of study in Psychology for graduates who already have completed an accredited three-year undergraduate degree in Psychology. (but not fit to work there).

I believe, perhaps erroneously but I think not, that there is some sort of connection between a course which provides access to a professional body and the body itself. Furthermore, AHPRA has seen fit to register those among who go out to those who see life as a poisoned cup-cake dotted with cocktail onions. Because of its action or inaction, the APS has allowed us to be compensated less for our work.

Because of its action or inaction, the APS has permitted the work of both general Psychologist and Psychology in General to be denigrated. Because of its action or inaction, the APS has centred its thoughts and focus on the teeming sores, rather than the outback, rather than the poor under-educated urban youth who would benefit from some thought, focus on, say, Aboriginal communities, instead of being complicit in the vast allocation of Government dollars into profit, rather into results which would or at least might work.

Why? Because like AD Hope’s five teeming sores, the APS has become a vast parasite robber-state, draining the body of Psychology of money for the benefit of the few, second-hand Europeans pullulating on the edge of our alien shore. Me? I keep hoping that someone will turn from the lush jungle of sterile modern thought and that from the Arabian desert of the APS mind will come a prophet. That will only come after the new broom.

That is why I signed.


John Henry