Though it’s not talked about as often as it should be, one in five Australians aged between 16 - 85 experience mental illness in any given year. While the stigma around mental health is certainly lifting and the number of services available continues to grow, for many people it’s still an extremely big hurdle to overcome to admit they’re struggling and in need of help.
The fact is, it is ok not to be ok. While speaking out about what you’re going through and reaching out for professional support isn’t easy, it’s one of the most significant moves you can make towards improving your mental health and wellbeing.
In this article, we explore things you may want to consider if you’re in the process of looking for a psychologist, counsellor or other mental health support professional. These tips are here to help you find the best person to suit your personality, your health needs and your goals. This is general advice only. We recommend speaking with your GP or health professional for more specific advice.
Starting your mental health journey
Doing a bit of research can be very beneficial. It’s not only important to do your homework on potential therapists, but it’s also good to familiarise yourself with the different types of psychologists and therapies available. Consider what issues are troubling you and the outcomes that are motivating you. For example, Behaviour Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Humanistic Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) are just four of the styles of therapy available. Doing your own research on these will give you a better understanding of what these are and whether the style and approach is something you think will work for you.
Though it’s good to equip yourself with some fundamental knowledge, it’s important not to go down the research rabbit hole of self-diagnosis and self-treatment. If you’re struggling, it’s important to speak to people around you and seek professional help.
Experience that matters
If your intention is to see a psychologist regarding a specific issue you’re facing, it’s important to determine whether they have appropriate experience or better yet, specialise in that particular field. There are therapists who are at the top of their game in a variety of fields; some specialise in several or just one – so take the time to find one that suits you and aligns with your needs.
Making a human connection
When choosing a psychologist, it’s important that you connect on a personal level and feel comfortable with them. If you don’t, chances are you won’t make much progress.
According to APS president and clinical psychologist Ros Knight, "Psychology remains one of those professions where you have to trust the person to get the best out of it. Talking to somebody, feeling like they are going to listen to you and understand you is really important."
If the option is available, you may even want to book in time to speak with a therapist to see if you’re able to establish a rapport before you book in a full consultation.
Getting to know a therapist
It’s worth finding out if the therapist you’re interested in offers initial consultation. That way you can have a preliminary meeting of the minds to see if you feel comfortable conversing with them and whether they’ll be able to help you moving forward. You might want to ask some questions about their approach to treatment, as well as how they’ve helped others and how they might help you. Other important questions may emerge during this session, so it’s encouraged to open yourself up to the situation as much as you feel comfortable and make the most of the time.
After you leave, take a moment to honestly reflect on your experience. If you feel that the therapist’s manner and approach has potential, that’s great. If not, don’t get down or see it as a poor reflection on you. You just haven’t found the right therapist yet, so keep looking.
Good enough, isn’t good enough
You may find yourself in a situation where you begin with a therapist but feel after the first few sessions that you’re not making much progress. Or perhaps you didn’t really hit it off in the first place. If so, don’t get disheartened. It’s not uncommon to see a few health professionals before you find your right fit.
Questions to ask yourself
- Do you feel comfortable confiding in your therapist?
- Do you feel your therapist understands you and takes the time to consider your perspective?
- How does your psychologist work? Are they more active or passive or are they heavily structured (like requiring you to do homework)?
If any of these raised a red flag with you, it may be worth raising your concerns with your therapist to talk them through so you can make a well-considered decision after that.
Remember, you deserve the best possible treatment and every chance at living a wonderful and fulfilling life – you’re worth it. So, if you feel like you might benefit from a psychologist or counsellor, take the time to do some research into finding a new one. When you find someone that you click with, by remaining open, honest and willing to receive help, the process has every chance of being very productive and beneficial to your wellbeing.
If you’re insured and want to use it to cover your treatment sessions, you should first look into the conditions of your insurance provider, as well as make sure the mental health professional accepts your insurance.
Mental health subsidies
A Medicare subsidised mental health care plan entitles you to six sessions with a psychologist — plus four more if your psychologist thinks that’s needed — per calendar year. It’s important to make sure that during your six sessions that your psychologist determines whether four more appointments will be enough to see you through the year.
If not and paying full price per session isn’t financially feasible, you can enquire about payments options. You could also arrange to space out your sessions, giving you more time to implement treatment strategies in between visit.
It’s a good idea to discuss these options with your psychologist at the onset of your therapy, then reassess as time goes on. That way you can work out an appropriate frequency of visits and if need be, consider other resources.
For an easy and effective way to search for and find psychologists online , visit MyHealth1st. There are also many organisations available that provide free support and advice, including Beyond Blue , Lifeline , Reach Out , Black Dog Institute .