Where are all the flowers going?

By Professor Simon Crowe FAPS
Acting APS President 

Few members of the APS would dispute that the Medicare rebating of psychology services for mental health problems has been a great leap forward for the Society, the profession and the discipline of psychology. However, despite the benefits associated with psychologists' access to the Medicare items, there has inadvertently been a significant impact on the diversity of our Society, with implications for how we see ourselves and what the future may hold.

This influence on the diversity of psychology results from the two-tiered rebate system for psychological services delivered under Medicare, where clinical psychology services attract a higher rebate than general psychology services. This appears to have led to a significant increase in the number of members joining the College of Clinical Psychologists. The table below outlines the total membership of each of the APS Colleges as measured before the Medicare initiative was introduced (May 2006) and in January 2009. Two trends emerge: 1) more than half of the members of the Society who belong to a College are members of the Clinical College (this does not take into consideration the not insubstantial number of College members who are members of more than one College); and 2) membership of the Clinical College has doubled since the introduction of Medicare rebates. It is important to note that the other Colleges have only had relatively small changes in their membership numbers over this period which indicates that the increase in Clinical College membership has not been at the expense of the other Colleges. Whilst of course the figures illustrate the diversity that still constitutes our Society, the shift in emphasis to the Clinical College has been powerful.

Table 1. Membership of APS Colleges from May 2006 to

Another threat to the diversity of psychology has been universities rationalising the variety of postgraduate professional programs on offer due to years of chronic underfunding of the higher education sector and the costs of adequately resourcing these programs. Preliminary data gathered from the institutions who have applied to the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) for accreditation of their programs indicate that since 1 January 2006, 51 courses have been discontinued (as defined by no longer accepting intake into the course, or not applying for re-accreditation of an existing course). During the same period, 11 new courses commenced, representing a net decrease of 40 courses over the time period. In addition to the impact of underfunding in the university sector, in 2006 the Government provided targeted funding to introduce 200 new clinical psychology training places into the university system as part of the mental health reforms that also brought the Medicare rebates for psychology services. Unfortunately, postgraduate professional programs in other specialties of psychology did not receive the same attention, and this may be contributing to the decreasing variety of psychology training courses on offer in Australian universities. The APAC data since January 2006 indicate a slight increase in the number of courses offered in clinical psychology and counselling psychology, but a significant decrease in courses providing specialty training in community, educational and developmental, clinical neuropsychology, forensic, health, organisational and sport psychology.

The Board believes it is essential to address the threat to the diversity of the Society, and that there must be adequate recognition of the broad spectrum of psychological expertise and the far-reaching applications of the discipline of psychology. Although the diversity of psychology is identified through the APS College structure, it is important to remember that the largest sector of the APS is those members who are not College members at all, with nearly two thirds of the membership not having a College affiliation. Members work in sub-specialties of psychology across a wide range of work contexts, and it is vital that the Society is focused on supporting and encouraging evidence-based practice across the entire spectrum. The Board and National Office staff will progressively focus on identifying opportunities for funding and recognition of the wide range of services that psychology can provide. An important part of this is to strongly advocate for a university system that continues to offer the variety of professional training courses for psychologists, so that the field of psychology can bloom in all its diversity.

Bob Montgomery to take up the role of APS President 

Professor Bob Montgomery will assume the role of President of the Society from the 1st of February this year. In addition to his role as Chair of the Board of Directors, Bob will be working on his first Presidential initiative concerning disaster preparedness and will be integrally involved in planning for this year's National Psychology Week. Professor Simon Crowe, who has been acting in the role of President during Bob's leave of absence, will resume his role as Vice-President of the Society. The APS welcomes Bob to the Presidency and thanks Simon for his leadership during his period as Acting President.