Psychological Practice Bill

03 May 2007 archivespeech

This speech is to indicate the Liberal Party's support for the Psychological Practice Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to indicate the Liberal Party’s support for this bill, which, I understand, might actually be the final of the health professional bills which arise from the competition principles review. In this bill we have the standard provisions which apply in all of the other health professional bills and which were originally inserted into the Medical Practice Bill and the Nurses Act. They include a range of provisions, such as the regulation of students, ownership provisions, changes to the structure of the act, issues in monitoring the practice of psychology, issues of disciplinary actions that would be undertaken by the board, offences, holding out of a person as a certain type of practitioner, and so forth. I do not propose to go into those where they mirror the provisions in other acts.

Each of the professions, of course, has unique aspects to its practice, and that means that we cannot take a complete, one-size-fits-all approach to these bills. One unique aspect of psychology practice which I will talk a bit about is the regulation of students. Psychology is a discipline where a number of students, particularly art students, I understand, undertake some of the core subjects as part of their undergraduate degree. In that sense, it is quite different from most other professional qualifications, because there is a much broader interest among students in undertaking those core subjects than there is, for example, in the area which I studied: physiotherapy. There are not too many people who would delight in going down to the dissection room, as we did, for anatomy, unless they were really intent on gaining some qualification for which that was required.

In that instance, there has been some caution in relation to a blanket registration of all psychology students. Indeed,many people would say that you need five years to complete your undergraduate psychology or arts degree before you even move on to the clinical practice and come into contact with patients or clients, or whichever terminology you like to use. That has been one area of concern that has been raised. There have also been other areas, in particular, hypnosis, where it has been a bit of a minefield to work out who is on which side of the debate.

I place on the record my thanks to one practitioner and a number of others who have sent me a great deal of information in relation to their views about the regulation of hypnosis as a practice. I think the debate has moved on. Initially, several people said that the practice of hypnosis should not be taken out of the Psychological Practice Act because hypnosis needs to be regulated, and I think that is now accepted.

The government has stated that it is looking at a code of practice and will be bringing something back to the parliament. In its current form this bill is taking the regulation of hypnosis out of the act and, therefore, once it has been passed that practice will be completely unregulated, and I would like to know quite specifically how far away the government is from instituting a replacement form of regulation and whether the government believes it will do it by the instrument of an act or whether it will do it by the instrument of a code of conduct. If the answer is that, in the fullness of time, another piece of legislation will be brought back into the parliament, that will not be a satisfactory answer, because I strongly agree that the practice of hypnosis should be under some form of regulation.

I offer to other members a copy of a DVD entitled ‘Entranced Hypnosis, Health and Healing’ that was sent to me by the Australian Society of Hypnosis (SA Branch). It has some quite amazing instances of people being operated on without anaesthesia. Quite clearly, there has been a significant alteration of the person’s mental state. Dr GrahamWicks is the practitioner I spoke to in relation to this. There was an article in The Advertiser in which he highlighted that he was concerned about the practice of hypnosis potentially being unregulated. The view of the Australian Society of Hypnosis (SA Branch) is that hypnosis ought to be practised only by someone who has a tertiary health professional qualification, which will enable those professionals not only to be under the regulation that will be brought back to this parliament but also they will be under the practice of their particular board and will fall under the regime of some form of recognised peer review.

I should explain, too, that under the current act the practice of hypnosis is limited to psychologists, medical practitioners, dentists or someone who is a prescribed person, a ‘prescribed person’ being someone who has been approved by the Psychology Board to practise hypnosis. I have had representation from other health professionals who would rather that it not be limited to that particular range of professions (for instance, an occupational therapist). I point out that that will not be the case when this bill has passed; that will cease to be an issue. I do feel that approval for someone to declare themselves a hypnotherapist or someone who is able to practise hypnosis ought to be through recognised courses— rather than, to say it glibly, weekend courses and so forth, because of the potential danger to patients. Patients are not necessarily able to check the qualifications of the practitioners, or do not know where to go. This issue has arisen in relation to the Medical Board. So, I think that, because of the level of vulnerability, we need to make sure that there is some government regulation of that.

As to the issue of psychological testing, the Liberal Party feels that there ought to be regulation of who can conduct psychological testing and that it is best left with professionals because this is something that is used quite extensively in the job market, and it is going to become increasingly used in the job market. A lot of recruitment agencies find that job references are unreliable and, therefore, they undertake psychological tests in order to be able to verify whether somebody has the experience and particular attributes that they say they have.

As we know, if referees are a personal friend of the person seeking the reference, they might make up all sorts of things that are not actually correct. Recruitment agencies, in order to cover their own risk management, need to be able to find a source independent of what the applicant says and what the applicant’s referees might say. I think that is perfectly legitimate. However, psychological tests can produce false negatives and false positives and so forth; indeed, I know of a case of this. Somebody spoke to me about having had some sort of psychometric test. This individual has a PhD in physics and has sought to move into the realm of finance.

The way he described the test to me was that it was an either/or test and, in his view, quite poorly constructed because there were choices, such as, ‘If you have to choose between (and you can choose only one) working with people or working with numbers, which would it be?’ Obviously, being a physicist, he likes working with numbers, but he did not have any sort of scale in which he could say that he would like both; instead, it was one or the other. The test result said that he was antisocial and not suited to working with people or in teams. This individual I spoke to struck me as anything but, and other people who could vouch for him also said that it was inaccurate. That is just one example that highlights that, when tests are in the wrong hands, they could be dangerous, just as the practice of hypnosis in the wrong hands can be quite dangerous.

I foreshadow that I will move some amendments that are consistent with our health spokesperson in the other place, the member for Bragg. I put those remarks on the record to highlight some of the issues in which I believe this particular health practitioner bill differs from those that this parliament has passed in recent years. With those remarks, I support the second reading.