Almost half of all Australians will experience mental health challenges at some point in their life, with women slightly more affected than men.
Despite its impact, many people still go without appropriate mental health care, due to the associated stigma of seeing a therapist, lack of access, or uncertainty of where and how to seek help.
If you want to start taking better care of your psychological wellbeing, here are some tips to help you find the right mental health practitioner for you.
Explore your options
Clinical psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad, of Omnipsych, said that your first step in choosing a therapist will depend on your circumstances.
If you need urgent assistance or are feeling unsafe, immediate help is available from the public mental health system at your local hospital, or through crisis services like Lifeline. Workplaces and universities also often have mental health programs, while organisations like Beyond Blue offer online counselling and forums where you can share experiences with others in a safe and moderated space.
For non-urgent or longer-term mental health care, Dr Nejad recommends starting by visiting your General Practitioner.
“They will do a general assessment of your emotional wellbeing, refer you to a psychologist, and prepare a mental health care plan so you can receive Medicare rebates for your psychology sessions,” she said.
On a mental health care plan, Australians are entitled to at least six rebated psychologist sessions, with the potential for up to 10 sessions upon review, per calendar year.
Seeking mental health care is deeply personal, so you may wish to find your own therapist with expertise in the specific challenges you are facing.
The Australian Psychological Society provides a useful ‘Find a Psychologist’ search tool which filters therapists by location and the issues you are seeking help for.
“Keep in mind that there is often a waiting period, so the earlier you call for an appointment, the better,” said Dr Nejad.
If you face barriers such as physical location or mobility, many clinics now offer telehealth appointments, which may increase the range of therapists to choose from without needing to account for travel.
If the cost of seeing a psychologist is prohibitive, local community health centres provide low-cost counselling for healthcare card holders and low-income earners, while the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) may be able to support funding for people with chronic and severe mental health conditions.
Finding the right psychologist for you
“The most important aspect of therapy according to research is not the form of therapy but the strength of the relationship between the client and the therapist,” said Dr Nejad.
“Therefore, it is important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and respected, and who is helping you work towards your goals.
“If at any time you feel unhappy with therapy or a therapist, it can be useful to discuss your concerns with them. All relationships have their ups and downs, including the one you have with your psychologist.”
If you decide that your current therapist isn’t right for you, you always have the option to seek out someone new.
“If you do decide to discontinue with a therapist, don’t let this deter you from seeking help again,” said Dr Nejad.
“It does mean you have to start over and answer some of the same questions unfortunately, but it will be worth it with someone who is the right fit. You can reduce the time it takes in the initial assessment phase by giving your new and former therapist permission to talk and exchange information.”
Psychologists are bound by strict professional and ethical guidelines, though unfortunately some people do have negative experiences. If you feel your therapist has behaved unethically, complaints can be referred to the Psychology Board of Australia.
Getting the most out of therapy
Finding a mental health professional with experience in your specific challenges, such as anxiety, self-esteem, or relationship issues, can be helpful, however the work doesn’t end there.
Working with a mental health professional is a two-way relationship, so it’s important to fully commit to the process to maximise the benefits.
Here are some ways you can get the most from your psychology sessions:
Be open and honest
“The initial assessment phase of therapy will generally cover orientation regarding the process of therapy, discussion of your current concerns and questions about your mental health, and general history,” said Dr Nejad.
“This should be a collaborative process – it’s important for you to fully express your needs, wants and priorities for treatment.
“Be open and honest about your concerns and your history so your therapist can develop a plan that suits you and meets your goals for treatment.”
Ask your psychologist questions
“When you meet a therapist for the first time, it is okay to ask questions about their experience and training and the form of therapy they plan to use to help you address your issues,” said Dr Nejad.
Provide regular feedback and maintain open and honest communication to work through any challenges that arise.
Actively participate in therapy
“Therapy can assist anyone who is willing to take the very brave step of acknowledging their difficulties, placing their trust in a mental health professional, and actively participating in the process of therapy.
“Active participation includes regular attendance to your appointments, being engaged during the session, doing in-between session ‘homework’ or recommended activities, and continued open and honest communication with your therapist,” said Dr Nejad.
While taking an active role in managing your mental health is not always easy, the healing, self-awareness, and self-compassion you can achieve as a result is well worth the effort.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, immediate support is available from Lifeline. Call 13 11 14.