University's counselling proposals questioned

Sweeping proposed changes to the University of Otago's counselling service will make a bad situation worse, the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists says.

The university wants to replace seven counselling staff with a mix of clinical psychologists and new support roles in a move it says will reduce waiting times.

Four of the seven counselling roles are psychotherapists.

NZAP member Joy Hayward, on behalf of the Otago Southland branch, said the already stretched service would be ''downgraded'' further.

She said two psychotherapists quit the student service this year because of under-resourcing and stress.

''The service has been underfunded and under-resourced for many years, with staff being pushed to the limit to try to manage the flood of students seeking help, many of whom are often in acute states of distress and anxiety,'' Ms Hayward said.

''There have been a number of student suicides in the last year alone.''

She said some students waited six weeks for counselling after their initial appointment. Those who could afford it were opting for private counselling and others were going without.

Ms Hayward said it was wrong to assume the input of clinical psychologists was more valuable than that of psychotherapists.

She said the the type of therapy led by psychotherapists was more successful than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

''As well as CBT, we are told that there will be wellbeing counsellors. This is not a model of counselling we have heard of. We're also not sure what training and experience mental health workers will have and fail to understand why excellent trained psychotherapists would be replaced with people with limited training,'' Ms Hayward said.

Responding, a University of Otago spokeswoman said the service was not being downgraded.

''If adopted, the proposal would deliver one of the best-resourced multidisciplinary health services at any campus in New Zealand.

''The proposal for change is a considered response to an extensive review conducted in November 2016.

''We are confident that the resulting proposal is in line with modern international best practice and the increased investment in clinical psychologists would improve the service,'' the spokeswoman said.

The university's final decision is expected later this month.

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