A call to double the number of educational psychologists follows the Psychological Society highlighting concerns about psychologist shortages across the board in its recent briefing to Health Minister David Clark.

Representatives of the Society, the Institute of Developmental and Educational Psychology (IEDP) and teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa made the call late last month for the doubling of educational psychologists and for urgent attention to the psychologist workforce, after meeting to discuss ways that educational psychologists can support young people in schools.

NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter reported that “principals and teachers are crying out for help with young people with mental health difficulties”. The calls follow the Government last week announced details of the ministerial inquiry into mental health and addiction services. 

The Psychological Society’s recently released Briefing to the Incoming Health Minister, spoke out about the ‘ad hoc’ approach to health workforce planning in New Zealand.

“We are concerned about the shortage of psychologists in New Zealand, particularly Māori and Pasifika psychologists, and the lack of opportunities for psychologists to utilise their full range of skills.”

It says the shortage was compounded by the loss of student allowances, lack of funding for psychology internships and university funding issues that limit the number of postgraduate psychology students they can train.

Health Workforce New Zealand currently funds 12 internships per year which the society says is “a small proportion of the total internships required to train psychologists each year”.

“Greater investment in the provision of internships is urgently required to grow and diversify the psychology workforce,” it says. It noted media reports in recent months about New Zealanders being more likely to see a psychologist in prison because of the shortages and said its psychologist members in district health boards spoke of “long waiting lists, large caseloads and the lack of follow up for clients”.

Workforce

In the society’s briefing says Health Workforce New Zealand needs to broaden its leadership and reduce competition between providers.

“We have been concerned for some time about the ad hoc approach to health workforce planning in New Zealand. We do not believe that the contestable model proposed by the previous government and now accepted by Health Workforce New Zealand (HWNZ) is appropriate for health workforce education and training.

“We see a need for Health Workforce New Zealand to expand its vision beyond the medical and nursing workforces,” it says.

There is also potential for psychologists to make a greater contribution to primary health care and GP clinics by delivering talking therapies that can reduce reliance on pharmaceuticals.

Education

Recognising the link between poor mental health and a person’s physical health, NZPsS recommends the creation of mental health hubs in schools and other community centres where students and their whānau can readily access mental health services.

“Many psychologists working in the education sector, for instance, are not able to make use of the broad range of skills they possess and could be assisting children and young people to gain skills in resilience, mood and behaviour regulation as well as supporting their parents.

“It is a concern that children and young people are not receiving the level of support they need during their education. We believe that it would be in the interest of young people if the Minister of Health worked closely with the Minister of Education on this matter.”

NZPsS is the largest professional association for psychologists in the country, with over 1200 members and 600 student subscribers.

Mental health a public health issue

Fitzgerald said the society welcomed the news of the review of mental health services which it believed was long overdue.

“We understand the challenges of meeting mental health and addiction services needs but we believe that innovative service and workforce planning will assist the situation,” says the report.

It also asks the Minister to prioritise policies that will create a fairer and more inclusive New Zealand, such as implementing a Living Wage, changing the culture of welfare support and improving housing stock.

Socio-economic issues are closely linked to mental health and wellbeing, and therefore need to be a top priority for the new government.

“We see great benefits accruing from viewing mental health and wellbeing as a public health issue,” said NZPsS president-elect John Fitzgerald.

“Our research indicates that poverty in childhood can negatively influence mental health throughout adulthood. Young people and adults who do not have access to resources and opportunities to be part of, and contribute to, society are also more likely to suffer poorer mental health.

“We are also aware that Māori and Pasifika people are disproportionately impacted by poor mental health and that there is a need to focus not only on socioeconomic issues but also disadvantage which has its roots in historical events.”

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