Management & Leadership

The untapped potential of registered counsellors in South Africa

Nov 21, 2017
Counselling South Africa

Key to building a mental health defense force is registered counsellors. And yet the potential of these foot soldiers of the profession is unrecognised. Why?

Key takeaways

  • Registered counsellors differ from others in the psychology profession in that their primary role is aimed at prevention and mental health promotion – the building blocks, in other words, of societal well being.
  • Registered counsellors are well positioned to provide community-based psychological interventions, but the current Scope of Practice severely restricts them from doing so.
  • By removing barriers to their employment, registered counsellors could play a vital role in addressing South Africa’s human resource deficit in psychology.

Key to helping this country in building an effective mental health defense force is registered counsellors. And yet, say the profession’s advocates, their potential is currently unrecognised largely due to lack of public recognition of the role as well as multiple employment barriers.

Director of Academic Affairs at SACAP, Dr Laura Fisher’s PhD – registered counsellors at a Crossroads – addresses the current status, professional identity and training realities of these mental health foot soldiers. We quiz her on the challenges faced by this important profession – and what can be done to address them.

Q: Many in the counselling profession argue that the current Scope of Practice as set by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) discriminates against registered counsellors. Do you agree?

A: I don’t think that the HPCSA’s current Scope of Practice for registered counsellors effectively illuminates the potential of the registered counsellor category within the profession of psychology in South Africa. This category was envisaged to create groundswell for scaling up access to and delivery of mental healthcare services nationally. By positioning registered counsellors relative to clinical psychologists, the former remain trapped within a clinical/medical psychology discourse of abnormality-, dysfunction- and individually-oriented treatments. In fact, the reverse is true: this category differs from all others in psychology in that the primary role of a registered counsellor is to provide psychological interventions aimed at prevention and mental health promotion and wellness.

Q: If their status was elevated beyond its current standing, what role could registered counsellors play to alleviate the demand on public mental-health services in this country?

A: Registered counsellors could – and should – play a profound role in closing the credibility gap between the policy intentions of government expressed in the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 (Department of Health, 2013) to enhance accessibility to mental healthcare. These professionals are well positioned to provide community-based psychological interventions, including supportive counselling services, the promotion of mental health and wellbeing, psychological screening and assessment, psychoeducation, and so on.

Q: What are the current obstacles to entry in community settings for those in the mental health professions?

A: Whilst the registered counsellor category is meaningfully positioned to contribute to the mental health and wellness of all South Africans, employment trends serve as a significant barrier for these professionals to meaningfully address the plethora of mental health challenges the country currently faces. The gainful employment of registered counsellors to provide more accessible mental healthcare, supportive counselling services and community based psychological interventions lies at the heart of the fulfilment of the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020.

Q: So, instead of all trying to work in treatment, there is a dire need for professionals to be part of community-based care services actively engaged in preventative work? What is stopping this from happening?

A: Absolutely. What is stopping this from happening is that where the need is greatest there is the least resource to service the need. For example, many NGO’s desperately need mental healthcare services but cannot afford it and therefore being paid for offering the service becomes impossible. In fact, many mental healthcare workers long to serve the under-resourced and disadvantaged communities, and are passionate about closing the accessibility gap these communities experience in relation to adequate counselling services and community based psychological interventions. However, they are required to sacrificially offer services to these communities in a voluntary capacity, or earn suboptimal salaries while supplementing their income with private practice.

Q: What solutions would you advocate for these problems?

A: Mandatory community service for all mental health professionals would go some way to addressing South Africa’s human resource deficit in psychology. But, really, it is critical that the psychology profession engage national and local government to create employment opportunities for registered counsellors. A lack of jobs within the Department of Health, Department of Social Development, Department of Education, Correctional Services and Youth Development across the country must be pursued. If these jobs were opened up, there would be tremendous upliftment benefits.

As South Africa’s leading provider of counselling, coaching and psychology courses, SACAP stands by its commitment to the belief that we in South Africa have a moral obligation to provide counselling and psychological services to all of our country’s citizens in need. For more information on studying counselling, enquire now.

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