What do psychologists do?

Psychologists are mental health professionals who provide psychological therapy to help people overcome a range of difficulties. You might not know what to expect if you’ve never been to a psychologist before. Read below to find out more about how to make an appointment and what seeing a psychologist will involve.

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists are mental health professionals who have completed a minimum of four years at university plus clinical supervision. (This means working under, and reporting to, a supervisor.)

Clinical psychologists have also completed a second university degree so that they can treat complex mental health problems and work in hospitals. Clinical neuropsychologists have completed a second university degree specialising in assessing brain function and abilities.

Why would I see a psychologist?

There are many reasons why you might see a psychologist. For example, you might be experiencing anxiety, depression, stressful life events or any other mental health difficulty. You might not even know what’s going on, but just feel that you haven’t been ‘right’ or that your life has become more difficult. A psychologist is trained to perform a detailed assessment of your mental health and to identify what’s going on for you.

No matter what your reason for seeking help, it’s important to find a psychologist you can connect with and trust. You may have to meet a few before you find one that clicks for you. Psychologists specialise in different areas, so one may refer you to another professional if they feel that someone else can better treat your needs.

How do I make an appointment?

The best place to start is with your GP, who can provide you with a Mental Health Treatment Plan and refer you to a psychologist. Your GP should know of some psychologists in your area, or may recommend that you ring a psychology clinic directly for more information about making an appointment. By getting a referral from your GP, at least some, if not all, of your costs should be covered by Medicare.

What’s it like to see a psychologist?

The first time you visit any psychologist they should always talk to you about confidentiality, which is your right to privacy, and basically means that anything you discuss with them will remain private between the two of you.

The next thing a psychologist will do is complete an assessment of your mental health, by asking you a series of questions about what’s happening in your life, as well as asking for details about your background, family life and personal history. The assessment is an important first step, as it will help your psychologist understand what’s troubling you and, more importantly, how to help you. They’ll discuss with you a plan for continuing, including how often they recommend you visit them, and for how long.

Normally, they will recommend that you visit them weekly or fortnightly for a period of time. The length of time for your treatment can vary from a few weeks to many months, depending on what you need. An appointment usually lasts about 50 minutes but can sometimes go for longer.

How much does it cost?

Some psychologists, like the ones at headspace and community mental health centres, have no fees because Medicare covers their bill. Others might charge you a ‘gap’ fee, depending on the amount that Medicare covers. If you’re seeing a psychologist as part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan (mentioned above), the psychologist will have to send a report to your doctor every few sessions. You can talk to the psychologist about what the report will say. It’s also important to know that a Mental Health Treatment Plan is restricted to up to twenty sessions a year. If you’re unsure about the cost or think you might have difficulty in paying when Medicare runs out, ask your psychologist if they can recommend any other options for you.

What can I do now?

  • Try the ReachOut NextStep tool for anonymous and personalised support options.

  • Go to the urgent help page if you need options for someone to talk to right away.