Mental Health Benefit Guide

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Understanding the difference between a Counsellor, Psychologist and a Psychiatrist

Even the most resilient police can be affected by stress and trauma related to their work, as well as other life challenges.

Beyond Blue’s Survey regardig the mental health of first responders in Australia reinforced just how serious and proactive we all need to be when it comes to our mental health.

  • Approximately half of all police employees (51%) indicated that they had experienced traumatic events that deeply affected them during the course of their work. With rates of PTSD increasing with length of service.
  • Among employees with less than two years of service, 2% had probable PTSD, which increased to 12% among employees with more than 10 years of service.
  • Psychological distress was almost twice as high among those who had spent 10 or more years in the service when compared to those who had spent less than two years employed in the service (32% and 17% respectively).
  • The number of employees with low levels of wellbeing was twice as high among those who had 10 or more years in the service (34%) compared to those who had been in the service for less than two years (16%)

But mental health doesn’t just manifest when something goes wrong.

Preventative check-ups with health professionals that specialise in mental health can give you exercises and strategies to combat life stresses prior to symptoms arising and enable you to have more control over your mental wellbeing.

So what options are there?


Counsellors use talk-based therapy to help people to develop self-understanding and make changes in their lives.

A counsellor will allow you to talk through your personal concerns, gain perspective, develop coping strategies, and increase self-awareness.

If you're feeling stressed, worrying about the future, having relationship problems or just need someone to talk to, an appropriately trained counsellor may be a good option.

Where Counsellor can help

Counsellors may help individuals, couples and families cope with stressful life situations arising out of normal developmental changes.

Counsellors can also support areas that are addressed by clinical psychologists e.g. depression, anxiety, relationships, behavioural issues and substance abuse.

Counselling Qualifications

In Australia, there is no mandated minimum training or qualification framework for counsellors.

However, both Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia (PACFA) have a national voluntary register of counsellors who meet minimum training and ethical standards.

Is a referral required? To see a counsellor you don’t need a referral. However, we recommend that you source a counsellor that has been accredited. 

Police Health Benefits

Police Health have partnered with the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) to ensure a counsellor meets our requirements to be registered for counselling benefits with Police Health. 

Both ACA and PACFA have various levels of membership determined by the counsellor’s education, experience and training.

Both organisations require their members have professional supervision each year and complete minimum amounts of ongoing professional development.

A counsellor must meet the following requirements for counselling benefits with Police Health:

  • Hold a level 2, 3, or 4 membership with the Australian Counselling Association, or hold membership as a Clinical Registrant of Mental Health Practitioner with Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia; and
  • Hold appropriate public liability & professional indemnity insurance and appropriate first aid certification; and
  • Be in a private practice (organisations that are government owned or receive government funding do not qualify as a private practice)

When a counsellor meets the above requirements they apply directly through the ACA or PACFA to be registered as a Police Health provider for payment of counselling benefits. 

A counsellor may be registered with more than one counselling association.

Medicare rebates are not available for counselling. 

Under Rolling Extras Cover, a Counselling Consultation benefit of 80% of the charge up to the benefit limit per session (See State Brochure).

Counselling and Psychology has a combined Annual Maximum of $850 per person, with a possible combined Rollover Maximum of $1700. (Note the sub-limits that apply for counselling detailed above)*.

*Waiting periods and other conditions may apply - please call 1800 603 603


Psychologists are experts in human behaviour, they use scientific methods to study the factors that influence the way we think, feel, learn and behave.

Where Psychologists can help

Psychologists work in a variety of settings with a vast range of people.

They can help with depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, addiction, pain management, insomnia, trauma and grief, learning difficulties, stress management, improving self-talk and confidence, personal growth, eating disorders, and relationship problems, separation and divorce.

Psychologists Qualifications

Psychologists have at least 6 years of university training and supervised experience.

They may also hold a Masters or Doctorate level qualification in psychology. If they have a Doctorate (PhD) a psychologist can call themselves ‘Dr’, but they are not medical doctors. 

Clinical psychologists have special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

All psychologists must be regulated by the Psychology Board of Australia and registered on the Register of Practitioners maintained by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency before they can practice.

Is a referral required? To see a psychologist you don’t need a referral. However, in Australia, a GP can refer you to a psychologist as part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan which is Medicare Funded (Note:

If you receive Medicare benefits under this treatment plan you will not be able to claim using your private health insurance).

Police Health Benefits

Under Extras Cover, a Psychology Consultation benefit of 80% of the charge up to the benefit limit per session (See State Brochure).

Psychology and Counselling has a combined Annual Maximum of $850 per person, with a possible combined Rollover Maximum of $1700. (Note the sub-limits that apply for counselling detailed above)*.

If treatment is under a GP referral Mental Health Treatment plan Medicare rebates are available, and Police Health is unable to pay a benefit towards treatment as an out-patient service.

*Waiting periods and other conditions may apply - please call 1800 603 603.


Psychiatrists can provide a wide range of treatments, according to the particular problem and what will work best.

These can include exercises, medication, general medical care, including checking your physical health and the effects of medication, psychological treatments and brain stimulation therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Where Psychiatrist can help

Psychiatrists tend to treat complex and serious mental illness, and have a deep understanding of physical and mental health, and how they affect each other.

They treat people who need their medical, psychological and social needs considered.

These are usually people with complex conditions, for example, severe depression, chronic fatigue, postnatal depression, chronic pain management, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicide attempts or thoughts, PTSD and ADHD.

Psychiatrist Qualifications

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with at least 11 years of training – usually more.

They first do a medical degree at university. Next, they spend at least 1 or 2 years of training as a general doctor.

They then complete at least 5 years of training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

All psychiatrists must be accredited by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) before they can practice, and be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Is a referral required? As with all medical specialists, to see a psychiatrist you should obtain a referral from your GP (family doctor).

Police Health Benefits

In Australia, all health insurers operate under the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 (the Act).

The Act governs what insurers can and cannot pay benefits towards, which is usually based on whether the service was provided as an in-patient or on an out-patient basis.

Through private hospital cover, Police Health pay benefits* towards psychiatrist treatment when a patient is admitted to hospital (and by being ‘admitted’ becomes an ‘in-patient’).

All in-patient treatment that attracts a Medicare payment is eligible for health insurance benefits under the Act.

However if a patient is treated by their specialist, in this case, a psychiatrist, as an ‘out-patient’ – then under the Act, health insurers, including Police Health are unable to pay a benefit.

When it comes to Extras cover, (out-patient services) no benefits are payable to psychiatrists (in the same way that you can’t make private health insurance claims for visits to your GP.

* Waiting periods and other conditions may apply - please call 1800 603 603.

Working together

Psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors often work together. A psychiatrist might make an initial assessment and diagnosis, then refer you to a psychologist or counsellor for ongoing psychological treatment (talking therapy).

Psychiatrists and psychologists also work together in hospital and out-patient rehabilitation, as part of mental health teams.

Who should I see?

If you are unsure whether you should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or a counsellor - talk to your GP. They can give you advice about which practitioner is right for you.

It will depend on your unique situation and the type of treatment you need.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists understand how the brain works, our emotions, feelings and thoughts.

Both can treat mental illness with psychological treatments (talking therapies).

However, psychiatrists attend medical school and become medical doctors before doing specialist training in mental health.

Because they are doctors, psychiatrists understand the links between mental and physical problems. They can also prescribe medications.

The four main differences between psychiatrists and psychologists are:

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors, psychologists are not.
  • Psychiatrists prescribe medication, psychologists can’t.
  • Psychiatrists tend to treat complex and serious mental illness through medication in intervention.
  • You need a referral from your GP to see a psychiatrist, while you don’t for a psychologist. 

Importance of an accredited Counsellor

Unlike psychiatry and psychology, counselling as a profession is not formally regulated.

While a high percentage of counsellors would have some formalised education and training in counselling, a significant percentage do not.

Which is why Police Health pays benefits only to those accredited by the ACA.


How much do they cost? Costs vary considerably by provider and profession.

As treatment for mental health is usually an ongoing progression, before you commence treatment we recommend you discuss this with the provider and give us a call so you have informed financial consent before services begin.   

What next

The first step is admitting you need help and the second is seeking someone who can get you to your health goals of mental wellbeing.

Everybody has a different personality, everybody has a different style, so it's about finding someone who you feel comfortable with.

If you don’t click with the first health professional we recommend you try again with another provider.

If you would like further clarification on what benefits are available to you as a member of Police Health please contact us 1800 603 603.

If you or someone you know needs help call Lifeline 13 11 14

Please note

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