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In The News

Why must the shrink be a doctor?
15th January 2004
Section: Health
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney Morning Herald. Reproduced by Permission

Dick Crane is qualified in medicine, but for him, accessing publicly funded mental health services is intensely personal. Several years ago, his daughter developed a serious mental illness, requiring ongoing intensive treatment. After visits to three senior psychiatrists, and in an ever-worsening condition, she was admitted to a psychiatric intensive care unit in a suicidal state - unable to continue her schooling and seriously ill.

Desperate for help, Crane and his wife Yvonne did their research and found a psychologist, who now helps their daughter manage her illness.

"The strength of psychiatrists lies in their pharmacological management of mental illness," Crane says. "Actual psychotherapy is generally handled far better by psychologists. At present if GPs refer a patient for a psychological advice, they have to pay - there is no hope from Medicare and minimal help from insurance funds."

And with less than 50 per cent of Australians members of health funds, that small rebate will not reach those who need it, Crane says.

"I am at least able to afford it, unlike probably tens of thousands of families throughout Australia who have to make do with their affected family members seeing their GPs and/or psychiatrists where there is support from Medicare."

Under proposals Crane has put to the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, and the Australian Medical Association, Medicare would not be financially overburdened if general practitioners have the choice of referring to either a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

"It should not double up - once a patient had their medicine sorted out, the psychologist is the best person to see," Crane says.

His 20-year-old daughter Tamar agrees. "I found that with a psychiatrist, you talk about every bad memory possible then just leave ... whereas with a psychologist, they help you to put it into a real-life context, which helped me to cope."

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