What does a psychologist do?
There are lots of myths and misconceptions about what psychologists do, which can contribute to people’s discomfort. Movies and television often don’t help much with this image.
“A lot of people think we’re magicians,” Knight says. “They think we can mind-read and will pick them apart, and that all their weaknesses will come to the fore. That’s not what we do at all. What we do is help people to change, from a science-based perspective. How far that goes is up to the person who sits in front of us.”
Psychologists in Australia must have at least six years of university training and supervised experience. Many hold Masters degrees or PhDs, and have specialised training in specific areas of practice. The Psychology Board of Australia has a strict code of ethical and professional practice that all registered psychologists must follow, and they are required to engage in ongoing professional development to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.
Unlike psychiatrists, they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication. But psychology is a science, and therapists do much more than just listen to you vent. “There’s definitely a perception that we’re going to sit on the couch and talk all about childhood, and that it’s just a long-winded chat that goes nowhere,” Knight says.
There are lots of different therapies and techniques a psychologist might use to help you. Some of the most common ones include cognitive behavioural therapy (which teaches you to challenge helpful thinking patterns) and interpersonal therapy (which focuses on solving relationship problems).
“You should have a sense of something changing, either through that conversation or through doing things between sessions. It’s really essential to understand that it’s aimed to be proactive and productive.”
Referrals, costs and rebates – what you need to know
A good first step in seeking mental health support is to talk to your GP. You can see a psychologist without a referral, but you will need one to get a Medicare rebate.
After asking you some questions about what’s going on and how you’re feeling, your GP may decide to refer you to a psychologist and write you a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to a Medicare rebate on six sessions with a mental health professional, to be used within the calendar year.
You should be aware that in many cases the rebate does not cover the full cost of a psychology session, and you will likely also have to pay an out-of-pocket fee.
Once you’ve had your six sessions, you can return to the GP for a referral for an extra four sessions, bringing you to a total of 10 Medicare subsidised sessions per calendar year.
For more than 10 sessions, you will need to pay the full fee. This is where private health insurance can also help. If you have Extras cover that includes psychology, your private health insurer may pay benefits towards further psychology sessions, up to your annual limits.