We get by with a little help from our friends – and sometimes this includes a psychologist. If you’re feeling overwhelmed while trying to manage challenging situations or emotions that seem to be difficult to handle, you may need to find a trained professional to help you improve your mental health.
When should I find a psychologist?
You may want to consider starting the search to find a psychologist if you or a close family member are struggling with mental health issues. This could include:
- Difficulty concentrating during work or daily activities
- Worrying all the time, feeling constantly on edge or always assuming the worst will happen
- Feeling overwhelmed, helpless or sad most of the time and your problems don’t seem to be getting better
- Experiencing irritability, aggression or turning to substances such as alcohol as a coping mechanism.
What is a psychologist?
A psychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology and often has a PhD or PsyD. Psychologists have expertise in human behaviour, the human mind, psychotherapy, and counselling. They can make mental health assessments, diagnoses and treatments.
They can work with you to process the thoughts and feelings you have and make changes so that you develop healthier patterns of thinking and behaviour. One example of a therapy that psychologists often use is cognitive behavioural therapy, where patients identify and change thoughts and perceptions they have of themselves and the world.
However, most psychologists will use multiple therapies, treatments and approaches which are tailored to your specific condition.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and can prescribe drugs. They are also experts in psychotherapy.
How to find a psychologist
You can get access to the Find A Psychologist service by the Australian Psychological Society that lists psychologists across Australia that are APS members. APS members can access special offers on products and services as part of their APS membership but licensed psychologists don’t need to be APS members.
You can type in your location and find a psychologist with an APS membership near you, which may be a better alternative to searching for “psychologists near me” in Google. You can view their profiles, email them or visit their websites for more information.
If you prefer to have someone else do the search on APS for you, you can email or phone the APS office.
You can also get recommendations for a psychologist from your doctor, family, friends or local community health centre.
Experiences and credentials
Psychologists have to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After that, they can either obtain a master’s degree in psychology, a doctorate in psychology, or one to two years of supervised practice similar to an internship before practising independently.
Some psychologists go on for further supervised practice and professional development to get an area of practice endorsement which will be noted on their record in the public register of practitioners which you can access.
Psychologists are licensed by the Psychology Board of Australia and while they can opt for an APS membership, it is not compulsory for licensed psychologists to have one to offer their services. It simply allows them to access special offers on products and services as part of their APS membership.
How to choose a psychologist
Determine if your psychologist is licensed by the Psychology Board of Australia. If you’ve used the service by the Australian Psychological Society to find APS members (click here), you can easily search and access qualified psychologists providing their services. If you’ve found your psychologist by Googling “psychologist Melbourne” or “counselling Melbourne”, you may even want to access the Psychology Board of Australia’s website to check the registration of a practitioner.
The next step is to assess how comfortable you are with the psychologist and whether the psychologist is experienced with handling your concerns. You can ask them the following questions:
- Explain your emotions and what you are feeling and then ask what experience do you have that will help me?
- What areas do you specialise in? (Your psychologist could have certain expertise working with families or older adults.)
- What kinds of treatments do you use and how effective are they? (You may want to find a psychologist that uses evidence-based treatments which research has shown to be effective in treating your concerns.)
- What are your fees and how long is a single session?
- What kind of therapy sessions do you offer? (Psychologists may offer individual therapy, group therapy, short-term therapy or long-term therapy sessions and you can assess if the services offered are a fit for what you need.)
- What are your opening hours and are you available in an emergency?
You can then set up an initial appointment with one or two psychologists to find out how comfortable you are with them. It’s important to take your time to find a psychologist that you feel comfortable sharing your concerns with as that can affect your treatment outcomes.
Your first appointment
Be as honest and transparent as possible about what you are feeling and what is happening to you… And you must bring a positive mindset to your first counselling session. You may want to ask yourself the following questions after your first appointment:
- Is the psychologist is listening to you and asking enough questions?
- Has the psychologist asked you what outcome you want to achieve through therapy?
- Are you satisfied with the resources and services?
- Does the psychologist’s advice make sense and does it help you?
You should feel that the professional has created an inclusive space where you have been understood and accepted and that they want to help. If you feel like you need to change the way you talk and censor some of the things you are saying, you might want to try another psychologist who you may feel more comfortable with.
Some psychologists will assign you a task to complete at the end of the session so that you can start doing something different and developing new, healthy habits.
Many psychologists now offer telehealth and online counselling options so that you can access a psychologist even if you live in a remote area. You can also use the APS Find A Psychologist tool and the results will show you if the APS member has telehealth services available.
Sometimes you may prefer to use telehealth services to avoid the stigma of being seen at a mental health clinic or if you prefer to get support over email, phone or chat.
Will it help me if I see a psychologist?
Counselling has been proven to be effective in decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that a person may be experiencing. A growing number of studies have established a link between mental health and physical health and poor mental health can also show up as physical symptoms such as insomnia and poor digestive health. Medicare now allows people who have a GP referral up-to 20 counselling sessions with a registered psychologist.
When will I know if therapy works?
Your psychologist should define the goals of your therapy with you within the first few sessions. This might be overcoming a significant fear in your life or managing feelings of anxiety and excessive worrying. If you start to feel more positive about the challenging situations in your life or life in general, that is generally a good sign.
The treatment cost varies between providers but you may be able to get Medicare rebates on some sessions. You can also email or phone your insurance provider to find out any coverage they provide for mental health services.