What is a psychologist?
As noted on the Australian Psychological Society website:
“Psychologists study the way people feel, think, act and interact. Through a range of strategies and therapies they aim to reduce distress and to enhance and promote emotional wellbeing. Psychologists are experts in human behaviour, and have studied the brain, memory, learning and human development. Psychologists can assist people who are having difficulty controlling their emotions, thinking and behaviour, including those with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, serious and enduring mental illness, addictive behaviours and childhood behaviour disorders.”
This does not mean that only people who are experiencing severe mental illness can seek the assistance of a psychologist. Many people who have never been diagnosed with a mental illness see psychologists – people who have “normal” jobs, families and relationships and who do not “appear” to need help.
Whether due to a particular challenge at work, a difficult social situation, nervousness when speaking in public or using lifts, difficulty dealing with conflict, relationship stress and for many other reasons, it is absolutely okay to ask for help to learn new skills and to have support in order to manage your life more effectively.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A psychologist studies a science or arts degree with a major in psychology (the study of human behaviour) followed by a postgraduate degree specialising in a particular field of psychology (such as clinical, organisational, forensic etc). A psychiatrist completes a medical degree before continuing study in psychology and pharmacology – hence they are able to prescribe drugs and psychologists cannot.
What does confidentiality mean?
When you see a psychologist you have the right to expect that what you say to them will be kept with them and not disclosed to any other people. However, there are some exceptions to this: By law, a psychologist must seek the assistance of a third party if you tell them that you are going to a) harm yourself, b) harm someone else, or c) engage in an activity which threatens to harm your wellbeing.
Your psychologist will usually keep notes regarding the sessions that you have, and if you are involved in a legal situation, their file can be subpoenaed by the court.
If you are referred through the Medicare system your psychologist will need to have contact with your GP.
Usually, psychologists also engage in regular supervision themselves to improve their practice, and they might raise your situation with their supervisor to receive feedback about the approach they are using.
How many times do I need to see a psychologist?
This depends greatly upon the situation you are experiencing – everyone is different. Some things are shifted in 3-4 sessions while others need long-term deep psychotherapy. It is not so much the severity of the problems that determines the length of the therapy process, but the nature of the issues and therefore the chosen therapeutic modality. This is something to discuss with your psychologist.
What if I don’t like the psychologist I see?
Finding a psychologist that you “click” with is just like finding a GP that you feel comfortable with – sometimes it takes a while to find the right person. Different psychologists also have different approaches, so while the first person you come across might not seem right for your situation, it is always worth trying someone else.