Psychology Private Australia is the umbrella federation of all the state private practising psychology groups in Australia.

We aim to:

  • Maintain and advance the standards of practice in the profession of psychology.
  • Maintain and advance the standard and quantum of community mental health services.
  • Encourage cordial relations among members of the profession of psychology. 
  • Promote the interests of psychologists in private practice. 
  • Act on behalf of one or more of the constituent bodies, on request from such bodies. 
  • Enter into association with any body whose aims are similar to those of the Organisation. 
  • Receive and disseminate information.


Mental Health and Organisations Of Psychologists in Private Practice - Australia


The earliest applications of "scientific" psychology by non-medical professionals were made in the educational, industrial and psychiatric fields. These applications, to assist in resolving problems and in relieving distress, have been made since the end of the 19th century. They were advanced considerably by the demands of World War I to utilise manpower to the maximum. Applications in the psychiatric area leaped ahead, driven by the psychological needs of returned servicemen and women from World War II - a legacy of minds that were broken and personalities disintegrated by the rigours of combat.

1940 might be taken as a demarcation year between methods of treatment of mental trauma and distress, failure to cope with the stresses of life, and high level non-psychotic anxiety and depression. Prior to 1940, counselling and psychotherapy other than by way of psychoanalytic methods was rarely practised by psychologists. Since that date it has blossomed into an armamentarium of evidence-based techniques and "systems" of a non-dynamic character. Moreover a scientifically-developed range of instruments to evaluate individuals' personality characteristics and to indicate the presence or absence of particular psychopathological conditions in an individual have been made available mainly by psychologist endeavour.

Gardner Murphy (1949, p 428) reported that, by reason of the magnitude of the need, psychologists recently (about 1949) were increasingly (and immensely so) being utilised in positions of autonomy in clinics with regard to services to the maladjusted. In 1949, however, he made no reference at all to psychologists in independent private practice. In sharp contrast to this was the custom in the medical profession alongside whom these psychologists were working. The vast majority of the former were in private practice "in the market-place" and it is from this characteristic that the medical profession draws its considerable strengths both in public recognition and in the bargaining power of its members' professional associations.

Psychologists' Organisational Strength Sources

From the time of the establishment of the first organisation of professional psychologists in Australia (the Australian Overseas Branch of the British Psychological Society) in the late 1940s, academic psychologists were its strength. A second source of strength for the organisation and its successor (the Australian Psychological Society - the APS) had developed by the mid 1970s, psychologists employed by entities which were public-funded e.g. Education Departments, Public Hospitals and Clinics, the Defence Forces, and large commercial and industrial organisations. So much was private practice under-represented in the professional organisation in Australia that in 1950 there was one only such organisation having membership representation, the Australian Institute of Industrial Psychology. By 1975, despite a slow increase of numbers of psychologists in private practice, in the APS their number had lessened proportionately.

By 1976, psychologists in private practice (most if not all of them active members of the APS) recognised that their interests as private practitioners were not being met by the Society (indeed the ethos of private practice seemed foreign to the thinking of the vast majority of its members). Having discussed possible avenues for obtaining understanding and support, a decision was taken to establish a partisan organisation independent of but not in any way in competition with their professional body. Thus, the Institute of Private Clinical Psychologists of Australia was incorporated in Sydney in 1978 with Branches in Adelaide and in Perth. By 1986 independent organisations of privately practising psychologists existed in all States and Territories with the exception of Tasmania where an independent body was incorporated in 1995.

In 1987, during the course of an APS conference in Canberra, but not as a formal part of the Conference, representatives of all of the then existing independent organisations, together with two psychologists specifically representing the APS, met and constitutionally established a Federal body, now incorporated as Psychology Private Australia (PPAI). Under the constitution the APS was given the same representation on the PPAI Council as each of the independent organisations, two members. A question remained unanswered: by what means might the APS appoint its representatives?

The PPAI Council, meeting during the term of the 1988 APS conference decided that its then President should offer to the APS Executive Officer to call a meeting of privately practising psychologists attending that Conference to discuss setting up within the Society a committee or group to consider private practice interests. This offer was accepted and the meeting was duly held as a Conference activity. The outcome of that meeting was that by 1991 the Society had established a Committee of Independent Practice. The chairperson of that Committee early indicated that the Committee did not intend to cooperate with the PPAI and would not be nominating any of its members to the PPAI Council. .After some years the PPAI at its AGM deleted from its Constitution reference to APS representation.

Action taken by PPAI and its Constituent Bodies

Registration of psychologists is a matter for State legislatures. The constituent bodies have, in each State been active in respect of registration matters; some of the bodies even have the status with their respective Psychologists Registration Boards to nominate a member or members to the Board. Each also has been active in arranging continuing professional activities for its members. Most have been active in working with State-based Private Health Funds to achieve a reasonable level of rebates for Fund members who choose to use the services of a psychologist in private practice. The Queensland Organisation was instrumental in negotiating rebates for the whole of Australia for members of Medibank Private.

The federal body, PPAI has since its inception made submissions such as that of May 2005 to Commonwealth Government authorities - that, to the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health. It has held an Australian congress every 18 months for discussion of matters of common interest to private practitioners who as well as being psychologist practitioners are also business men and women whose living depends on their maintaining and dispensing to their clients the highest quality of service (those APS members who attend these conferences receive from the APS credit points in Professional Development). By arrangement with the Institute of Privately Practising Psychologists (South Australia) a set of Competencies for Private Practitioners has been developed and is nearing readiness for distribution to all constituent bodies. It is matters of this nature that are the concern of the federal body of these organisations.

PPAI'S Interest in Mental Health

All of the constituent bodies have been concerned over the years that there is a considerable sector of the Australian public that is being discriminated against by the Commonwealth Government. This discrimination lies in the Government's not granting that sector, on matters of mental health, "Medicare" access to psychologists on the same basis as it has access to general medical practitioners for general health matters. This unAustralian discrimination has continued for years in the face of the fact that successive Australian governments for years have recognised psychologists as primary health carers equally with medical practitioners. It is the issue of the removal of this discrimination against Australians that the PPAI is intent on bringing before this present Government.

It is psychologists in private practice who hear from many referred clients that they are unable to afford the psychologist's fee and thus must forego the specialised service that the psychologist would have offered. It is general medical practitioners who refrain from referring impecunious patients to psychologists for treatment. It is psychologists in private practice, not those in academia nor those in employment in Government agencies or departments, who are concerned with Governments finding some means of subsidising psychologist consultations for those who just cannot afford to pay. It is PPAI with its focus on the private practise of mental health care, alongside the AMA's focus on the private practise of general health care, that a Government should consult in any matter concerning the proper extension of Medicare Benefits, even if the Government chooses also to consult a non-specialised general professional psychologist body on such an issue.

Murphy, G. (1949). Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology. 5th Ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

E P Milliken

3rd April 2006