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Counsellors Up In Arms Over Minister's Decision

New Zealand Association of Counsellors
Te Ropu Kaiwhiriwhiri o Aotearoa

12 September 2009, Palmerston North

Counsellors Up In Arms Over Minister's Decision

Nick Smith’s refusal to discuss proposed changes for treatment of victims of sexual abuse has counsellors up in arms,

The NZ Association of Counsellors is shocked that Minister for ACC, Dr Nick Smith, has declined a request to meet with counselling organisations to discuss the proposed changes to ACC Sensitive Claims Counselling.

NZAC wrote to Dr Smith on 18 August requesting a meeting with the minister and followed up with phone calls to his office. The minister has offered no explanation for his refusal.

NZAC will again write to Dr Smith requesting a meeting to explain its concerns about the “ACC Clinical Framework and Clinical Pathways” due to come into force on October 12, 2009.
ACC’s planned changes include: frequent assessments by psychologists or psychiatrists where clients may be required to re-tell their trauma history, without the benefit of a therapeutic alliance they would have built up with a counsellor at this point.

NZAC spokesperson on ACC counselling, Elayne Johnston, says potential delays in ACC deciding whether to accept or decline claims, while assessments are taking place could leave clients stranded and very vulnerable. Having just begun to open up about their abuse they will have to wait for up to 9 months to hear whether their counselling may continue. Under the previous system clients were often able to continue counselling while assessments were organised and carried out, on the basis of clinically necessity, and ACC recognised this by backdating fees. The new system specifically precludes this – which is like opening someone up on the operating table and them having to wait for months before you get permission to perform the operation.

She says counsellors who offer ACC counselling for victims of sexual abuse label the proposed changes unethical and unworkable. Some have indicated that they will no longer work as ACC providers if these changes go ahead. She believes that this will result in fewer survivors being able to access ACC counselling and the survivors’ mental health, their families, workplaces and communities will suffer.

Mrs Johnston says the NZAC code of ethics states “counsellors shall avoid doing harm...” NZAC believes harm may be done to the already traumatised victims of sexual abuse by requiring extra assessments. Many ACC clients have suffered severe sexual abuse as children and only find the courage to seek help for the ongoing psychological symptoms once they are adults. ACC counsellors are often the first people to witness their clients’ traumatic stories. A therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client is paramount to healing.

Being told by ACC that this work can be done in “16 sessions” and is really no different to treating a broken leg is insulting to both clients and counselling professionals.

Eric Medcalf, Ethics Convenor for NZAC says that counsellors have an ethical responsibility to address any changes made by ACC Sensitive Claims Unit according to their ethical code. One of the core aspects of counselling in the code is social justice. ACC is not an insurance company; it is a vehicle for government health and social policy. The funding of rehabilitation services to survivors of sexual abuse crimes shows that governments in the past have recognised this and its value for our country’s mental health.

The government campaigned hard on injustice and victims rights during the last election and it is disappointing to see the Minister for ACC turn away from the professionals who work with some of our most traumatised members of society.

ACC counsellors will gather at a forum at the NZAC Conference at Kingsgate Hotel in Hamilton on 18 September 2009 to meet with representatives of ACC and discuss their opposition to the proposed changes.


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