Reflecting on the past year, I am enormously thankful and proud of the team at AAPi, the Board and you the members.
Many members provide feedback to us on their gratitude for a professional association that listens, supports and most importantly cares for you and for your clients.
Each year we seek your input about the work we do and should be doing to guide us, to stay relevant and in communication with you, our members. At every strategic planning, we review our values and directions, setting clear plans to guide the work of the coming years. This year was a fearless and frank couple of days which gave us a pithy guide to ensure that our team can be targeted in what they do. We were able to be facilitated in this strategic work, bringing clarity to what we should prioritise over the coming year/s.
When I came to this role just over three years ago, and when we completed our first strategic plan, we reviewed the profile of the membership. We realised that if we were to remain a professional association into the future that could disrupt and bring the voice of members to issues as they had never been brought by some other associations, we needed to have the next generation also supported by us and find us relevant. Many of them have not been aware of the history of psychology in Australia in relation to the two-tier divide which galvanised the early members of AAPi. However, the issue continues to impact the clients of all those who provide better access services and other services, including the next generation.
Our reach, in terms of people we are communicating with, is now phenomenal. I recently watched a documentary on the efforts of activists to save the Franklin River from being dammed. They were able to get their message out eventually to the world, in a way that, after persisting for years, was finally heard by the new federal Labor Government and the Dam was stopped. It seemed that happened for them just when they were on the brink of thinking they may never succeed. The message I take from that is never give up. And we won't.
I can see that the AAPi is having traction in so far as being recognised by the media and the discussion about psychologists and mental health has largely come from us. It is relatively rare these days to see other psychology associations in the media continually raising the issue of inequity for the community seeking psychological services.
Having said that, it has been incredibly disappointing to hear recently, that the relatively newly elected government has decided to cap better access sessions for the community to ten and remove the twenty sessions that had been implemented to assist with the Covid-19 impacts. The rationale is mind-boggling and does not make logical sense on the back of the recent Better Access report.
The Health Minister has argued that the additional sessions were taken up by already existing mental health clients and that prevented access for new clients and the most marginalised. He has completely ignored the fact that there are not enough psychologists and other mental health professionals to meet the mental health needs of the nation. He has also ignored the fact that if there are sufficient services (sessions) for clients to complete the mental health treatments they need, they are less likely to be cycling through the services again at later times or if they do it will only be for a couple of sessions to refresh. The minister seems to have interpreted the better access report to say that the benefits to the clients who had the extra sessions had already been met within their first few sessions. These measures are at best clumsy attempts to capture what happens during therapy and the complicated work that can be done to ensure that a client is equipped to leave therapy with their psychological self intact and much healthier and able to deal with what might come at them in future. It is more than addressing the overt initial presenting symptoms. The concern this raises for me is that, yet again, there seems to be a disrespect for the training and expertise of health professionals and their ability to assess and determine what a client needs in collaboration with the client. This is a theme that is live in our culture and appears to come from an extraordinary need to control others and an even more extraordinary lack of trust in human beings.
I am a great admirer of Dr Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist. I think he would have something to say about this approach to healthcare, which minimises the expertise of those at the coal face in favour of a purely political utilitarian approach that favours its own argument, is about grasping and manipulation, and bears no resemblance to reality. The Matter with Things (2021) is some recommended holiday reading. It is two volumes of very thoroughly researched work.
I am committed to working with our team at AAPi over the coming year to focus on how we might raise awareness and groundswell within the greater Australian community to achieve the access to psychology that every person should have.
I wish all of you and your families a restful and enjoyable holiday season. Hopefully, you will be able to take the time you need to refresh and go forward into 2023 feeling that you can bring your best to your clients and the work you do with them.