Thinking of investing in your mental health? A little research goes a long way

Are you looking for information on mental health treatment? Did a Google search leave you feeling overwhelmed? With so many practitioners and treatment types available it can be hard to find an approach that is effective and that will provide value for money.

In recent years there has been an explosion of businesses offering mental health and wellness services to the community. The choice and availability of these services is a positive step towards reducing suffering and the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, but not all treatments and service providers offer the same standard and quality.

The increase in the availability of treatments has also, sadly, been accompanied by an increase in unqualified, and sometimes unscrupulous, practitioners offering mental health treatments. These services frequently offer unproven approaches that claim to “cure all”. Although some of these approaches may be effective for some people, these treatments have not been scientifically tested for effectiveness in reducing symptoms, and more importantly, tested to ensure they do not cause harm.

At best, these services may provide a placebo effect, offering temporary relief of your symptoms at no major detriment to you or your bank balance. At worst, these services and “miracle cures” can delay people from engaging in effective therapies, cause people to abandon medical treatment, exacerbate symptoms and prolong suffering.

Individuals or organisations offering these treatments often use clever marketing techniques for the illusion of providing a legitimate mental health service. So just as we might research different cars before making a purchase, it is important to thoroughly research mental health practitioners and services before investing in a therapeutic approach.

Here are our top 5 red flags in mental health services advertising:

1) Testimonials

Registered health practitioners are not permitted to use testimonials in their advertising and promotional activities. Testimonials are problematic because they are easy to fake and are often used when there is no scientific evidence to support the treatment being offered. Be especially cautious where testimonials claim the treatment cured all problems when other treatments had failed. While the idea of a cure-all or a quick fix is appealing, unfortunately, there is no such approach within mental health that is supported by scientific evidence.

2) Unique or patented treatments

Some practitioners claim to offer a unique, proprietary limited or patented treatment approach developed by the practice, and not available anywhere else. In mental health this is code for “something we made up ourselves that hasn’t ever been tested by independent scientists”. This is not how medical or mental health treatments are developed, and it is a big warning sign that the treatment is likely to be a scam.

3) Results guaranteed

Another red flag is offering a money back guarantee, free gift or free promotion. These traditional sales techniques are designed to entice vulnerable individuals to purchase products and services at a reduced rate or with a money back guarantee.  The terms and conditions of these offers are often so rigid that the money back guarantee criteria can never be met. Registered health practitioners are not permitted to offer incentives to patients.

4) Online reviews

With less reputable practitioners, in addition to celebrity and “radio personality” style endorsements, you will often you see large numbers of 5-star ratings on Google; some 1-star ratings and few/no ratings in between. Here we recommend proceeding with caution.  5-star ratings are easy to fake and sometimes businesses will offer discounts and incentives to customers who provide 5-star ratings, even if their experience was far from 5 stars.

When reading online reviews, be aware that registered allied health practitioners are not permitted to respond to client reviews in a public forum. Doing so would be considered a breach of confidentiality. Where possible, registered health practitioners would contact clients directly to address any concerns raised in a public forum such as Google.

5) Unregistered health practitioners

All medical professionals, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists and psychologists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This national body has developed professional practice standards, codes and guidelines to ensure individuals using these titles and practicing in these fields are qualified to provide these services.

You can check the status of a health practitioner by searching APHRA’s online database. Practitioners not listed here are unregulated and are not required to uphold Australian standards of practice*.

What to do next?

If you have been caught up in one of these elaborate scams or have been receiving a service from an unregistered health practitioner, please do not be hard on yourself. These individuals and organisations are very good at marketing, advertising and converting individuals to champion their cause. 

Your mental health matters and it is too important to entrust to anyone less than an experienced and qualified practitioner. We encourage you to discuss your experiences with your GP to obtain a referral to a registered health practitioner and allow your recovery journey to begin.

At Lawson Clinical Psychology all of our practitioners have completed a minimum of 6 years of university training in psychology, they are registered psychologists and provide treatments backed by objective, scientific evidence. Click here to find out more about our team.

* Social workers are not required to register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency but are required to meet accreditation standards to provide services under Medicare.

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