How to find a psychologist and what to look for

I recently wrote about why everyone needs to see a therapist, and in this post I’m going to tell you how you can find one and what to look for in a therapist. Also about how you can see one for free or very cheap.

Therapists are expensive, they can also be free

I feel one of the main reasons people are put off going to see a therapist to talk about any issues they have is the cost. Therapists are extremely expensive, coming in at anything from $100-$300 per hour. That’s a lot of cash!

But do not despair! There are ways you can see them for no, or very little cost to you.

Mental health plan

The Australian government has a mental health plan, which allows you to have ten sessions per financial year with a therapist which is partly subsidised by Medicare. The government will pay $124.50 towards the session and you need to pay the remaining. For example if your therapist is $150 per hour, you will only need to pay $25.50 from your own pocket for each of the ten sessions. If you find a therapist which is $124.50 or less per hour, your sessions will be free.

To get on the the mental health care plan you need to see a GP to diagnose you with a mental illness. Now before you start panicking and thinking that you don’t want to call yourself sick or mentally ill, remember this is very common in Australia and you don’t need to be a psychopath to have a mental illness. You might have been feeling slightly sad for a number of weeks and not know why, you might have started becoming more anxious in situations that you never used to. All these are potentially signs of developing a mental illness. Talk to your GP about how you’re feeling and ask about the mental healthcare plan.

There’s no need to feel shy when talking about this with your GP, as 1.2 million Australians used the mental health plan in the 2016-2017 financial year.

Once the doctor has assessed you he will then refer you to a psychologist, which either your GP or you can choose.

If you’re not from Australia you should see if your country has a similar plan by talking to your doctor.

Get free treatment at universities

Some universities will offer free treatment with a fully qualified psychologist as part of their curriculum with their students. What this usually involves is you having a normal session with a therapist, however during some sessions, in a different room, a group of students will also be listening. Both the psychologist and students are bound by confidentially, so whatever you say is private.

Obviously this might not be for everyone, but if you don’t mind some senior students sometimes listening to your sessions then this is a vary viable option. You can choose to know if the other students are listening or not. To see if this is an option send an email or visit the university.

What to look for in a psychologist

Female or Male?

First you should decide if you’d prefer to talk to a female or male therapist, and this is obviously personal preference. I prefer to talk to women therapists, and when I was looking for some I did speak to guys, but for some reason I feel more comfortable talking to women about my problems. Male and Female therapists aren’t any better or worse than each other, and each will be fully qualified to talk to you.

What if you don’t like the first therapist you see?

It’s quite normal to see two or three therapists before you find one you seem to connect with, or find one that you simply like better for whatever reason. It could be their personality, how they intend to treat you, their office, their location, their cost: all these can be factors. Keep in mind that if you’re on a mental health plan and you see a therapist and decide not to continue, it will still count as one of your ten subsidised sessions. A therapist won’t take it personally if you decide not to continue with them, it’s part of their job.

Therapists’ approach

Some therapists have a much more hands on approach, others have a more ‘sit back and listen’ approach. For example a more hands on approach might be suggesting things you can do, like keeping a diary or suggesting coping mechanisms for you. Other therapists will choose the more traditional route of simply getting you to talk about how you feel and helping you understand why you feel that way. I’ve been through both types and I find that the second option takes longer but is more beneficial in the long run. I feel it is more beneficial because emotions rule our lives and we base decisions on emotion, so the better and deeper you can get into them the deeper the understanding you will have. Essentially the more you talk about them and not try and ‘cover them up’, the better you will be for it.

As a comparison lets say you suffer from panic attacks, the first type of therapist might suggest ways you can cope during an attack, such as slowing your breathing, sitting down or taking yourself out of the situation. Whereas the second type of therapist might spend more time understanding why you have them, the root cause. And though more talking you might discover that the cause can be traced back a long time to a particular event, so you can understand how you felt then and see how that compares to the situation now.

Of course both types of therapist should do both for best results, but one might focus more on one way than the other.

Do you like them?

When you first talk to a psychologist see what they say, ask how they can help you and see how they react to what you say. I remember seeing a guy once and I said something and he laughed and said “really!?” Well, clearly this wasn’t the guy for me, another person might not mind that as they might feel that what they said was silly as well, so you might feel a connection, but I didn’t.

Do they interrupt you? Do they listen properly? Do they ask questions? Do they seem like a nice person? It will be different for everyone and you can usually tell within a few seconds if you like someone or not. It could be as simple as the way they greet you, the tone of their voice, how they dress etc.

It’s ok to have a single session and if you don’t think it’s a right match you can tell them that, and they won’t be offended as it’s part of their job. If you don’t want to say it in person that is ok, you can phone or email or even text if you want. Don’t feel like you need to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation by telling them in person, just do it in whatever way is easiest for you.

Do you trust them?

Trust is built over time, and sometimes it could be months before you start to talk about a particular subject with them. So it’s ok to keep things to yourself until you feel you can voice them. Trust is also earned, and the therapist will earn it by the way they treat you during your sessions. You have lots of experience dealing with people and how you choose your friends, you can apply the same rules when looking for a therapist.

 

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