Musings on a six year term on the Psychology Council of NSW

Dr Robyn Vines, Member, Psychology Council of NSW

My six years on Council (two appointed terms of three years) will conclude on 30 June 2018 – providing an opportunity to reflect on the role of Council and changes in our profession over this period of time. When first appointed in 2012 as an Australian Psychological Society (APS) nominee, it was not long after the replacement of our State Registration Boards by the Psychology Board of Australia in 2010. The shift in jurisdiction resulted in changes to rules of compliance for psychology registrants requiring, for example, an increase in formal hours and monitoring mechanisms for annual professional development – amongst a number of other demands.

Whilst guidance and clear templates have been provided both by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority (AHPRA) and the APS amongst others, adherence to these new requirements has necessitated an adjustment in expectations and behaviour on the part of ‘we practitioners’. In processing complaints and notifications on Council – under the three pathways of ‘conduct’, ‘impairment’ and ‘performance’ – it is clear that levels of adherence to these new requirements vary. This is likely to be true, not just for those referred to Council for action, but also amongst the whole body of our profession (11,186 practitioners in NSW). The criteria for professional development adherence are multiple, including an annual learning plan (in advance), timely logging of supervision and CPD (a minimum of 30 hours per annum and some additional hours required for endorsed areas of practice) with accompanying journals of each of these activities. Council requires that these documents be provided for all counselling and performance interviews, enabling a ‘vignette’ of probable levels of compliance on the part of all practitioners, as well as those referred – at times sub-optimal. This has enabled an opportunity for proactive intervention on this issue.

Education and support: Council’s primary remit is to protect the public and, in doing so, to monitor the professional performance of psychologists across the state. We are sometimes perceived as a punitive body whom psychologists would prefer to keep ‘at arm’s length’. However, those of us on Council have tried to view our role in an alternative light as both educative and supportive: providing referred practitioners with a learning opportunity if their professional behaviour and performance is complained about and found to be lacking, and constructive help if their health is impaired. Our bi-annual newsletter (which I have helped to edit over the past three years) provides one such strategy – with articles written by Council members on themes that have arisen as a consequence of practitioner complaints (e.g. compliance issues). We are hopeful that this provides an ongoing resource for NSW psychologists, enabling familiarisation with issues canvassed by Council.

Self care: A key theme across all three referral pathways (conduct, impairment and performance) is the need for prioritising self care. As we struggle with the sometimes onerous demands of our professional lives, whilst assisting our clients as they struggle with the stressful facets of their own lives, it is often hard to allocate time to these necessary strategies. In essence, some of these are very simple, for example, ensuring that we have sufficient sleep, do enough exercise and eat nutritionally. Emphasis on a healthy lifestyle can also prevent the addictions (alcohol & other drugs) current amongst some of those referred to Council for ‘impairment’ issues. Other strategies, such as time management and professional development-mapping across the professional year, are also crucial. A recent article by a psychology registrar highlights a number of these – such as the importance of allocating time to ‘getting organised’ (assembling templates, logging professional development from the ‘get-go’, booking regular supervision sessions in advance, etc.); ‘taking opportunities’ for professional development and collegiality; ‘knowing your limits’ (i.e. ensuring that you are not practising beyond your level of competence, and learning to refer on when needed); ‘tapping your greatest resources’ (e.g. making time with colleagues to discuss cases) and ‘self care’. Even our most senior practitioners would benefit from revising these recommendations. The APS also provides useful guidelines in relation to self care, highlighting the fact that we, as psychologists, are “particularly vulnerable to stress due to working with challenging and high risk clients and often in isolation”.

Rural and remote practitioners: An ongoing priority of Council has been to assist those of us who work in regional, rural and remote Australia where professional isolation and unique difficulties (such as managing ‘dual relationships’ with those in our local communities) create extra pressures. We have attempted to provide resources and support for this crucial work, as the mental health needs of our rural populations are largely under-resourced. Council remains open to suggestions about how we can better support our rural practitioners and those they help professionally.


I would like to take this opportunity, first and foremost, to thank the Health Professional Councils Authority (HPCA) staff who have assisted with the work of Council and in making our stimulating roles over the past six years more efficient – particularly Myra Nikolich (a fount of ‘corporate history’), Eleanor Comino and others in the secretariat. I would also like to thank all colleagues on Council for the collegiality of our work and provision of mutual support whilst grappling with the often complex issues of balancing the ‘protection of the public’ with ‘fairness to practitioners’. I leave Council with sadness after a fulfilling six years, but look forward to applying many of the same principles in my new role as President of the Professional Practice Division of the International Association of Applied Psychology – which I take up at the end of June. It may well be that we can create “mutual synergies” between both bodies and continue to reflect on the same issues with our international colleagues.

Thank you finally to all NSW psychology registrants and the HPCA – it has been a privilege to serve as a Member of Council over this intriguing time in our professional history.