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Psychologists and psychology

If you are unhappy, stressed, confused or finding it difficult to cope, then seeing a psychologist might help. Knowing what psychologists do and how to get the right psychologist for you is a good first step.

What is a psychologist?

Psychologists are experts in human behaviour. They have studied how the mind works and how people think, react and behave.

Psychologists usually have a 4-year university degree in arts or science with an emphasis on psychology. After university, they typically complete a further 2 years of education and training to obtain 'general registration'.

General registration as a psychologist enables someone to work in areas of psychology in which they are competent and use the title 'Psychologist'. Some psychologists choose to complete further training to become endorsed in specific areas of psychology, such as clinical psychology.

Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. Learn more about the differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist here.

Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist who will let you know what is the best treatment for you. If you are a child’s parent or the carer of a child who needs treatment by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, they will work with you and other health professionals.

Practising psychologists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). You can check this at the AHPRA website.

What do psychologists do?

Clinical psychologists work in areas such as schools, hospitals, community health services, courts, prisons, businesses and private practices.

They may specialise in helping children, teenagers or families. More information about the types of psychologists is available on the Australian Psychological Society (APS) website.

You might visit a psychologist for help with problems such as:

Before you start seeing a psychologist, have a short chat with them on the phone. Talk about how you feel, and how you would like to feel. Ask them about their experience working with people like you and in your situation. Ask them what type of therapy they usually offer, and think about whether or not it suits you.

Other questions to ask may include:

  • How can you help me?
  • How many sessions do I need?
  • How often do I need to see you?
  • How much do you charge?

Read more about speaking to your doctor about mental health here.

What are the costs and subsidies involved?

If you see your doctor, they might refer you to a psychologist with a mental health treatment plan. If so, Medicare covers some or all of the costs. You can see a psychologist without a mental health treatment plan, but then Medicare doesn’t help with the fees.

Private health insurance may not cover costs. If you have private health insurance, speak to your doctor or psychologist about what is covered.

You can find out more about costs, including Medicare rebates, on the APS website or get more information here about low cost or free mental health services.

How to find a psychologist

You can find a psychologist by using the APS search engine, or a clinical psychologist by using the Australian Clinical Psychology Association’s search directory.

You can also search for mental health services using the healthdirect service finder, or read more about where to get help with mental health here.

More information

The Black Dog Institute website has lots of information on psychologists and clinical psychologists.

beyondblue has information about different types of treatment for depression.

Last reviewed: May 2016

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