Finding a Psychologist in Australia—Where to Begin
August 07, 2020
This post was written by Alex Phillips, Co Founder of Saint Belford.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. I’m writing this guide from my own personal experience. Please speak to your GP for professional advice.
The Federal Government has just announced its decision to provide Victorians with an additional 10 sessions of psychological treatment under Medicare.
This means people in Victoria who are subjected to further restrictions can receive up to 20 sessions through Medicare. You’ll need to see your local GP for a referral before making your first session.
Your mental health matters.
Whatever emotions you are currently struggling with—you are not alone. There is support available and you will get through this.
Just remember, seeking out help is a sign of strength. You’re recognising what you need and doing something about it—that’s self-respect.
Ultimately, getting the support you need is an investment, not only in your mental health, but in your quality of life.
I started seeing a psychologist in 2017 to work through some emotional baggage and it’s hard to express how much value I’ve gotten out of each session.
Yes, it’s exhausting at times. Yes, you might experience resistance attending a session every now and then (I do). And yes, you have to put in the work.
But, the breakthroughs, the progress and the deeper understanding you have of yourself will make every teary session worth it. Plus, you can’t put a price on feeling LIGHTER.
You’ll need to see your local GP and let them know you would like to be on the mental health care plan.
They’ll ask you to complete a questionnaire to make an assessment of your mental health. Based on their assessment, they’ll write you a referral to see someone. This is the “letter” you’ll need to take to your chosen psychologist.
Under a mental health care plan, you can choose your own psychologist or you can ask your GP for recommendations.
You don’t need to choose a psychologist before seeing your GP.
What does the mental health care plan give me exactly?
The mental health plan prepared by your GP will entitle you to six sessions. After the sixth session, your psychologist will determine whether an additional four sessions would be beneficial.
Once your psychologist sends the paperwork through to your GP, you’ll need to see your GP again to sign off on these four sessions.
How do I find a psychologist that’s right for me?
Try to identify the underlying issue.
This will help you narrow your search and find a psychologist that is appropriate for your needs.
Ask yourself: What issues do I want to work through?
This could be anxiety, depression, phobias, eating disorders, stress management, relationships, addiction, anger, family violence, trauma or something else.
If you’re drawing a blank, that’s perfectly okay.
Ask trusted people for recommendations.
Ask friends or family members for recommendations. You’ll want to ensure the recommendations provided are relevant to the issues you’re facing. Some psychologists specialise in one or two areas while others focus on broader issues.
Identify some criteria
These are just a few examples of criteria you might use to search and shortlist psychologists.
In person vs online/telehealth sessions: You might have a preference for one or the other. Note: Depending on your location, clinics may have moved to telehealth sessions.
Location: You might want to search for a psychologist within a 10km radius for convenience. The closer it is, the easier it is to commit to.
Professional experience and additional qualifications: If you have a specific issue in mind, it’s worth looking at their experience in that area.
Age/gender: you might feel more comfortable with a male or female depending on the issues you want to work through. Baring your soul and being 100% vulnerable in front of a stranger is a big deal. It’s okay to have preferences. You need to be 100% comfortable with who you are speaking with.
Cost: Although a significant amount is subsidised by Medicare, it does not always cover the full session rate. The rebate from medicare is $126.50 for a one hour session with a clinical psychologist. Psychologist fees will vary based on qualifications and experience. You will need to call or email them directly to ask about their fees if they are not listed on their website.
Appointment times: Consider your current schedule. What days and times would suit best?
Use the APS search engine
The Australian Psychological Society’s “Find a Psychologist” tool allows you search for practitioners based on their specialties and location.
Knowing what issues you want to work through will help you filter through the list. The added criteria you’ve identified will also help you narrow your search and create a shortlist.
Search results are generated based on the issues and location selected.
Create a shortlist
View each profile with your criteria in mind. Each profile features a professional bio which covers their qualifications and experience, plus location, available appointment times and contact details.
Contact the people on your shortlist
Call or email them to verify fees and appointment availability. A phone call will help you get a feel of the person. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask them any questions you couldn’t find answers to online.
Personally, I called a number of local psychologists before I found one with availability. Don’t be disheartened if the first few are unavailable. Keep trying. You’ll find “the one”.
You might need to modify your criteria. For example, I initially wanted a psychologist that was within a 10 minute drive, but I eventually had to change that criteria to 20 minutes.
Before your first session:
If it’s clear what you want to work through, write it down and send it to your chosen psychologist before your first appointment.
Last year, I moved from Melbourne to Geelong, so I had to find a new psychologist. I wasn’t looking forward to “regurgitating” everything I had worked through to get my new psychologist up to speed.
To ease the transition, I decided to summarise the main reasons why I wanted to continue therapy and a bit about my past for some context. I sent this through before my first session and we both agreed it was extremely helpful for both parties!
After your first session:
If it’s not a good fit, give yourself permission to make a switch.
How did the first session make you feel?
Did you feel listened to? Understood? Empowered? Hopeful? Relieved?
Remember, this is vulnerable work you’re doing. If you feel it's not a good match, trust your gut and give yourself permission to find someone more relatable.
The investment of time is worth it, just you wait and see.