Is it true some EAP counsellors are not registered?

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Selecting an employee assistance program (EAP) - or a modern employee support alternative - can be tricky. Vendor and industry terminology can vary greatly and it can be difficult to compare apples with apples. One great example of this is with regard to accreditations, qualifications, and registrations of different professionals and provider organisations.

So, is it true some EAP counsellors are not registered?

Well, whilst the 2020 "Mental Health" Productivity Commission Inquiry Report reported (on pages 338-339) that the industry body, Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia (EAPAA), had "noted that the increasing awareness of mental health in the workplace had created the opportunity for underqualified and inexperienced clinicians and providers to enter the sector…", the answer to the question about registration is more around whether counsellors have a protected job title that requires them to be registered by their relevant government authority or professions council.

This blog post will explain protected job titles and aim to show why accreditations, qualifications, and registrations can make a difference to the quality of care your employees receive.

What are protected job titles?

Some professionals have protected job titles that require qualification checks. By law, this means that to use their job title they must fulfil certain criteria (education, qualifications, and/or experience) and be registered by their relevant government authority or professions council.

Examples of professionals with protected job titles include:

  • Psychologist = a person who has been assessed as having completed the necessary (usually postgraduate) education, experience, and supervision to be registered by their government registration authority or professions council (e.g. Ahpra, NZ Psychologists Board, HCPC).
  • Registered nurse = a person who is suitably trained, qualified, and registered by their government registration authority (e.g. Ahpra, NCNZ, NMC).
  • Medical practitioner = a person who has completed a bachelor's degree in medicine or surgery but is required to be supervised by a specialist medical practitioner.
  • Specialist medical practitioner = a person who has completed specialist postgraduate (fellowship) medical training that is recognised by their national medical board.

Other professionals have non-protected job titles and require no official qualification checks. This means that whilst they may voluntarily join an industry association to stay abreast of best practices, their qualifications, skills, and experience can vary considerably.

Examples of professionals with non-protected job titles include:

  • Counsellor = a person who typically has completed study to diploma or bachelor's degree level, and may or may not be a member of an industry association or standards authority (e.g. ACA, PACFA, NZAC, Professional Standards Authority).
  • Therapist = a person who typically has a bachelor's degree or postgraduate qualification in counselling, psychology, or social work. They may have completed specialised training and supervision with a dedicated training provider.
  • Social worker = a person who typically has completed study to at least a bachelor's degree level in social work.
  • Coach = a person who has received some training and may or may not hold membership to an association relevant to their area of practice.
EAP accreditations and qualifications - vertical - copyright Sonder
Insider Tip - Step 4 - Accreditations and qualifications

What is healthcare accreditation?

Healthcare accreditation typically applies to providers rather than to individuals. Most EAPs in Australia currently neither hold healthcare accreditation nor are required to.

However, some new-style providers (such as our company, Sonder - an EAP alternative) consider this a critical component of ensuring clinical governance is applied to their services.

In Australia, the peak body for healthcare accreditation is the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS) - an independent, highly-respected, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the quality in health care. Eighty-two per cent of Australia's public hospital sector is accredited by ACHS, plus 63 per cent of Australia's private hospital sector.

ACHS accreditation "is public recognition by a health care accreditation body of the achievement of accreditation standards by a health care organisation, demonstrated through an independent external peer assessment of that organisation's level of performance in relation to the standards".

"The five key elements of ACHS accreditation are:

  • Governance or stewardship function;
  • A standards-setting process;
  • A process of external evaluation of compliance against these standards;
  • A remediation or improvement process following the review; and
  • Promotion of continuous quality improvement."

In 2022, Sonder became the first technology company to become accredited by the ACHS to their EQuIP6 Standards (a four-year, continuous, quality assessment and improvement program). Our association with ACHS has also allowed us to benefit from their healthcare expertise and mentoring.

ACHS accreditation was important to us because, on the surface, we are a business using technology to provide holistic wellbeing support for employees and students. But under the surface, our greater mission is to democratise access to health care so people can get the right care at the right time; we see too many barriers to access help, and too much complexity in the system - which is preventing people from getting help how, when, and where they need it.

In England, the peak body is the Care Quality Commission (CQC) - the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England.

In New Zealand, there is no equivalent peak body, but best practice organisations abide by the Health Quality & Safety Commission.

Did you know?

  • EAP member associations can share knowledge and best practices but cannot enforce service quality and clinical governance.
  • Providers can seek healthcare accreditation if they pass a rigorous external audit process and agree to annual audits and an ongoing quality assessment and improvement program.
  • Strict adherence to privacy and confidentiality is further assured when providers are accredited by healthcare councils or regulators that require external audits of clinical governance.

[Video] How Sonder's medical team supports a workforce in distress

This video is an excellent example of how our registered doctors, psychologists, and nurses work together to provide employee care to workforces in distress.

Panellist 1:

Dr Jamie Phillips MB ChB, AFCHSM, DIMC, RCS(Edin), MRCGP(UK), FACRRM(EM)

Dr Jamie Phillips is a Commando-trained Military Officer, who served for 20 years in the UK Armed Forces and Australian Defence Force as an embedded doctor and operational Commander on multiple combat operations around the globe. He is a specialist rural and remote physician, with advanced specialist training in emergency medicine.

As Medical Director and Head of Member Support at Sonder, Jamie shapes the health culture within the organisation. Fulfilling both leadership and clinical roles, he is responsible for the quality, safety and responsiveness of the support provided. A practising physician, Jamie maintains his currency working in emergency medicine and as a lecturer at Bond University.

Panellist 2:

Louise Butler

Louise Butler is an endorsed clinical psychologist and authorised supervisor who has spent her career treating and supporting people experiencing a mental health crisis. Louise is the Head of Psychology at Sonder.

In her former position as the clinical psychologist in a secure adolescent mental unit in a children's hospital in Sydney, Louise delivered advanced mental health care and support to children and adolescents, and their families, who were experiencing significant and complex mental health issues.

Prior to this, Louise worked with the Department of Communities and Justice, providing life story and mental health care to young people in out-of-home care.

Panellist 3:

Kimi Powell

After spending many years in emergency care, Kimi now manages Sonder's 24/7 team of nurses. She brings a unique approach to holistic care, influenced by the Mãori health model "te whare tapa whã".


This blog post is provided for informative purposes only and should not be relied upon as professional advice. Any views expressed within are not necessarily reflective of Sonder's policies and views. We recommend seeking further advice before taking any action based on issues addressed within this blog post.

Download our deep-dive report

Today's blog post shares excerpts from our new 'How to compare EAPs' guide, which we invite you to download here. This insider's guide to employee assistance programs will help you:

  • Define a typical EAP offering
  • Summarise why employee uptake has been low
  • Discover what makes EAP alternatives different
  • Learn how to compare vendor offerings
  • Gain insider tips and statistics
  • Write a convincing business case

Want to learn more?

For more information about how Sonder can help you rethink your employee and/or student support, we invite you to contact us here.

About Sonder

Sonder is an Active Care technology company that helps organisations improve the wellbeing of their people so they perform at their best. Our mobile app provides immediate, 24/7 support from a team of safety, medical, and mental health professionals - plus onsite help for time-sensitive scenarios. Accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS), our platform gives leaders the insights they need to act on tomorrow's wellbeing challenges today.

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