Mental health practitioners disappointed by 'non-essential' status of psychological treatment under Covid-19 circuit breaker measures

Psychologists say relying on tele-consults is less than ideal as it is much harder to make out the expressions or emotional nuances of clients.
Psychologists say relying on tele-consults is less than ideal as it is much harder to make out the expressions or emotional nuances of clients.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Private mental health practitioners were left disappointed by the removal of psychological treatment from the "essential services" exempted from workplace closures, which took effect last Tuesday (April 7).

This is especially so following calls in Parliament last Monday for more mental health support to be made available as Singapore battles the Covid-19 outbreak, they said.

The New Paper understands that psychological treatment was initially included but subsequently removed from the list of "essential services" on the Ministry of Trade and Industry Covid Go Business website.

Community mental health services, which made the list, have also been asked to be delivered remotely where possible.

The Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) had said on April 5 that it had successfully requested for face-to-face psychological treatment to be allowed for clients who are unstable or unable to benefit from tele-consults.

On April 6, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health told TNP that although outpatient psychological services should be delivered remotely and not at clinics, face-to-face consultations would be allowed for patients with unstable mental health conditions, such as those at risk of harming themselves or others.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong said she was disappointed by the omission of psychological treatment from the "essential services" list.

"It shows that mental health is still not a national priority, and it does not synchronise with the set-up of a national care hotline," she said.

Ms Ong felt the move may be explained by an "entrenched" and "medicalised" view of mental healthcare that she believes should include psychological and psychiatric treatments.

SPS president Cherie Chan said of the omission: "It sends a message suggesting that it is less important during this time of need."

Dr Thomas Lee, consultant psychiatrist at Resilienz Clinic, which offers both psychiatric and psychological treatment, said it is shocking that a haircut is deemed "essential" when psychotherapy is not.

"It may be too late for some patients to come to the clinic only when they have reached the point of being unstable," he added.


In the meantime, psychologists are relying on tele-consults to continue serving their clients, even though it may be less than ideal.

Dr Chan said: "The work of therapists involves a lot of emotional presence. With tele-consults, it is much harder to make out the client's expressions or emotional nuances, and that affects the therapy."