What do counsellors do?

If you're experiencing difficulties in life, you might consider seeing a counsellor. Counsellors are health professionals who talk to you about issues in your life, and help solve them. There are different types of counsellors, who have different approaches. It may be difficult in the beginning to talk with someone, but you should stick it out if you feel good about that counsellor.

What is a counsellor?

A counsellor is a trained professional you talk to about the challenges in your life. The act of talking to a counsellor about what’s going on helps you to see solutions you didn't know were there. Counsellors often work in schools, universities, technical institutes, community health centres, family planning clinics and in private practice. In Australia, their level of training can vary, and the term ‘counsellor’ can be used to cover different mental health professional roles.

Counsellors specialise in certain areas where their knowledge and methods are required (e.g. grief counselling, financial counselling or addiction counselling). It's a good idea to check that any counsellor you want to see is registered with a professional body like the Australian Registry of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. What do counsellors do?

If you’re feeling stressed, having problems at home, worrying about the future, being bullied – basically, if anything is causing you difficulty – these are all good reasons to talk to a counsellor.

Counsellors also support people with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

What’s it like to see a counsellor?

Many people feel nervous about meeting with a counsellor for the first time. It might take more than one session before you feel comfortable enough to open up about everything that’s going on with you, or you might feel a bit better even after your first visit. It’s different for everyone. If you feel a bit unsettled after your first session, it doesn't mean you should give up on the idea. Talk to your counsellor about it, and plan a way to deal with these feelings. It might take a few sessions before you start to see the benefits, so try to stick with it.

It’s also entirely possible that you don’t like the first counsellor you meet, or you don’t feel a connection with them. This is quite common. Finding a counsellor that is right for you is a bit like making a new friend, it won’t be with just anyone, but someone you trust and like. If you feel like you’re not connecting with the first counsellor you meet, keep trying new ones until you find one you like. You’ll know when it happens.

How do I make an appointment?

Making an appointment will probably involve contacting a counselling service directly. Ideally, you’ll want a counsellor you trust, whose approach and personality suits you. Obviously, you can’t really know how you’ll connect with a counsellor before meeting with them, but you can always change counsellors if you feel that a particular person or their approach isn't right for you.

Can counsellors bulk bill?

Counsellors’ fees vary depending on the counsellor and the number of sessions you need. While Medicare doesn’t cover counselling unless it’s carried out by an allied health practitioner such as a psychologist under a mental health care plan, some private health funds may cover a portion of the fees. Bulk billing is available for certain counselling sessions, but make sure you ask before booking the session.

Free or low cost counselling may be available through community centres, charities and religious organisations. You can find a counsellor in your local area via the Australian Counselling Association.

How do I choose the right counsellor for me?

Even though you won’t really be able to tell if a counsellor is right for you until you’ve met them, there are a couple of things you can do before meeting. Many counsellors offer a short free consult (usually over the phone) to chat about what you want to get out of counselling and to learn a bit more about you. Ask them anything you want to know more about, such as what their qualifications are, what treatments they use and if they think they’d be a good fit for your needs.

What can I do now?

  • Find out more about different types of health professionals.

  • If you don’t feel like you’re connecting with one counsellor, it’s worth trying another one.

  • Learn about different types of mental health issues.