How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip to the Psychologist

Every year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.

But imagine all of the people who struggle with mental health and still avoid reporting their symptoms to a health professional.

That number would bring up the statistic a lot higher.

The bottom line? Mental health is no small issue. As a nation, it’s in our best interests to take this crisis seriously and ensure that all Australians know what help is available to them and how to access that help.

But why do so many people seem to put off seeing a psychologist? Is there still a stigma around mental health in Australia? Or is there just a lack of education on where to turn in times of hardship?

It can be difficult to get the answers to these questions. What we can do though is help better prepare ourselves and our loved ones for seeking the help we need.

And it’s worth it!

For many, psychology is a deeply therapeutic experience that can facilitate a happier, fuller life.

So if you or someone you know is planning to attend therapy, it helps to know how to organise your visits.

Here we’ve covered a step-by-step approach to getting the most out of your trip to the psychologist, from the moment you decide to book an appointment to the end of your very last visits.

Figure out your goals

The fundamental truth is that we’re all different and so are our mental health needs. What might work for one person may not work for someone else.

For this reason, it’s worth identifying your needs at this point in time.

Before booking an appointment with a psychologist, it can help to jot down your mental health goals. Even if it’s as simple as ‘getting out of bed in the mornings’, having something to work on will help both you and your psychologist measure your progress.

But if you’re unsure what it is you’re trying to achieve except to simply feel better, that’s also okay. Remember: it’s the psychologist’s job to help you have a clearer outline of your issues, and not necessarily the other way around.

Though it still helps to go into your appointment with some ideas. Your psychologist may ask you questions like:

Why have you organised therapy for yourself? How have you been feeling? Has anything happened in your life recently to make you feel this way? What would you like to achieve in these sessions?

Some of these questions may not be necessarily so easy to answer without reflection, so it pays to prepare.

Research psychologists in your area

Once you have a basic idea on what you need help with, it’s time to find a psychologist you’d like to work with.

Many Australians don’t know that they can request to see psychologists with particular specialisations. If you have severe anxiety, for example, you’re potentially likely to experience better success with a psychologist who specialises in treating this condition than just a general counsellor.

This handy online search tool is a great way to discover psychologists in your area that have experience treating your condition. Jot down the names of ones who look promising.

At this point, you can go through list and ring them up to enquire about their services. You’re allowed to give a brief overview of your situation and question their experience in treating similar patients to you. If cost is a concern to you, this may also be a good time to ask about pricing and whether the psychologist offers bulk billing or not.

Over the phone, you’ll be able to get a general outlook on the psychologist’s manner and how they talk with you. This will further assist you in booking the right person for your current needs.

Don’t be afraid to make multiple calls in your search for the right fit.  

At this point, you have two options.

You could go ahead and make the appointment or…

Get in contact with your GP

If you feel comfortable doing so, it’s often a good idea to book an appointment with your GP before making an appointment with a private psychology practice.

Firstly, your GP can perform a simple checklist to assess the severity of your symptoms. Secondly, this information could help you both to identify a suitable professional for your needs.

But if you’ve found an ideal psychologist during your own independent research, you’re perfectly within your rights to request your GP for a referral to this person. You don’t need to agree with a professional your GP recommends.

Finally, your GP can put you on a mental health care plan where up to ten of your sessions may be subsidised. These sessions could potentially even turn out to be free, especially if you agree to see a psychologist your GP refers through the local practice.

Depending on your needs, this could be a suitable option for you – particularly if you’re worried that a private psychologist may be too expensive for your current financial situation.

It’s your GP’s job to help you out with this process, and their input may prove invaluable if this is your first time arranging therapy. Be sure to ask plenty of questions to find an arrangement that works for you.

And remember, price is not necessarily indicative of expertise. Focus instead on what your potential psychologist’s areas of interest are and what level of experience they have in treating your type of condition.

Make use of your sessions

Though you might feel anxious prior to the first meeting you have with your psychologist, there’s no need to back out just yet.

This feeling is completely normal.

It’s no small feat to tell our darkest feelings and thoughts to a perfect stranger.

But remember that this person’s job is to help you. Their prime concern is to understand what you’re going through and then assist you on your journey.

They may do this either by giving you the tools to experience relief from your symptoms, exposing you to a new perspective, or simply by acting as a listening ear. Over the course of your visits, their methods will be revealed to you and you’ll get a better feel for what does and doesn’t work for you.

Whatever form of therapy your psychologist provides, it helps to go into it with an open mind in the beginning and see how you naturally gel together.

In the first session, it’s useful to express to your psychologist what you are trying to achieve so that they have a roadmap for where you want to go.

It may take quite a few sessions for you to notice any progress, so don’t panic if nothing appears to be changing.

However, if you feel no relief after regular appointments and suspect that your psychologist is not giving you the help you need, it’s important to speak out.

If you don’t feel comfortable communicating this with your psychologist, simply return to your GP for an amended referral. Or you can jump back online and find other potentially suitable psychologists available in your area.

Sometimes you won’t connect with the first psychologist you see. It’s perfectly OK to seek a new one, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or the psychologist.

At this point, you can even reach out to family or friends and find out if they’ve ever had a psychologist who worked wonders for them.

Someone you know and trust could be best equipped to direct you in the right direction.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on the search for help if your mental health is still causing you anguish.

Track your progress

Now that you’re seeing a psychologist, when do you stop? When your mental health plan runs out? When you’re feeling just a little better? When and if you’re prescribed antidepressants?

The only person who can answer this question is you. Once you find a psychologist who is right for you, the therapy should run it’s natural course.

You may even decide, after you’re feeling better, that you’d like to continue to see your psychologist once every six months after your treatment just for that extra bit of support.

It all depends on your unique situation and what you’re looking to get out of the experience.

But no matter what you decide…

Always communicate honestly with your psychologist and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re struggling with the process. The psychologist relies on the integrity of your information to offer you the appropriate level of support.

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