How to find a good psychologist

Want some professional support but don’t know where to turn? Here’s how to tackle the waiting lists.

Psychologists and other mental health professionals are busier than ever, thanks to the overwhelming pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, Beyond Blue reports demand for help is up to 30 per cent more than pre-pandemic levels.

Here’s how to get the ball rolling to find a good psychologist preferably sooner rather than later.

Start with your GP

Booking an appointment with your doctor is an ideal start, says psychologist Dr Lefteris Patlamazoglou.

“Your GP will conduct a brief assessment to determine whether to refer you on to a counsellor or psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker or another mental health professional,” the Monash University psychology lecturer says.

Your GP can also draw up a mental health treatment plan entitling you to claim Medicare rebates on up to 20 sessions (but you’ll need to return to your doctor for a review after six sessions) each calendar year.

Dr Patlamazoglou says your GP will likely know which mental health professionals have long waiting lists, or are accepting new clients – saving you the run-around.

If you prefer, you can also ask to be referred to someone specific.

If money’s an issue

While the Medicare rebate should cover some of the cost, in most cases you will have to pay the gap.

If you’re struggling to afford an appointment, it’s worth talking to your mental health professional about fees and potential payment plans.

“Some mental health professionals may have a sliding scale – especially if you’re a student or you’re working part time or you’ve been affected by the pandemic,” Dr Patlamazoglou says.

You can also seek free, funded mental health help through your high school or university, or via your work employee assistance program (EAP).

How to find a good match

How do you know if your new psychologist is a good fit?

Psychologist Betty Chetcuti says you are probably a winner “if you feel good, if you feel that they’re listening to you and that they’re hearing you”.

But Betty, a board director with the Australian Association of Psychologists, says you if you feel uncomfortable, you should speak up.

“You can say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t quite working for me. What would work for me is if we did it that way – would that work for you?’,” she says.

What makes a good therapist?

US researchers found an effective therapist:

  • Builds trust and understanding
  • Offers hope
  • Has sophisticated interpersonal skills
  • Has a flexible treatment plan

How to look after yourself before your appointment

Betty says the added pressure on the mental health system means you might be waiting a few weeks or more for an appointment.

“So it’s really, really important to do that self-care,” she says.

Betty recommends:

  • Exercise (preferably in nature)
  • Healthy meals
  • Trying to get some good sleep
  • Staying connected to your community

Betty says it also pays to remind yourself that you’ve got more control than you think.

“Seek the help, but at the same time have faith and hope and trust that you will somehow be able to do this, even when it feels like you can’t,” she says.

More urgent assistance is just a phone call away at helplines including Lifeline, Kids Helpline, MensLine Australia or Beyond Blue.

Written by Larissa Ham.