A Step by Step Guide to Finding the Right Therapist for You

find a therapist

If there’s one good thing to come out of 2020, perhaps it’s the fact we were all more open about our mental health than ever before. More specifically, we were all more secure in seeking out mental health resources — including first responders, and an initiative specific to them — to support us than we ever have been previously. Whether journalling, meditation, new hobbies, or more serious support, we did it.

And this isn’t just me saying this. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that between March and September of last year, almost 7.2 million mental health-related services were subsidised through Medicare. Calls to crisis support services have seen a significant uptick, increasing by 14.3%-21.3%.

So how do we keep this mental health momentum moving forward in 2021? Well, first we have to remove the stigma around mental health — something seen in reports of mental health and domestic violence. And one way we can do that? Encourage people to go to therapy.

It’s a well-known statistic that one in five Australians will experience mental illness in any given year, with 45% of us experiencing it at least once throughout our lives. What difference does seeking out support make?

According to psychotherapist, counsellor and group therapist, Amber Rules, “people who get support are more likely to have better physical and mental health outcomes and generally speaking, start to feel better quicker than those who don’t.”

Rules, who is also the director and founder of Rough Patch, an affordable counselling and mental health care service, spoke to The Latch about how to find the right psychologist — or psychiatrist, counsellor, psychotherapist – for you.

What’s the difference between mental health professionals?

I’ve had depression for 15 years, and this is still an area that trips me up. Rules clarified that: “All four practitioners aim to help people with emotional distress and improve mental health.” The difference between them? Training and approach.

If you’re looking for a diagnosis of a mental illness, and medication prescription for that illness, the best person to seek out is a psychiatrist.

Psychologists? They specialise in certain areas: Neuropsychology, forensic, educational or developmental psychology, sports psychology… you get the gist. A clinical psychologist is who you’d see for the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues. So if you’re looking for a high level of care or specific expertise, then a psychologist would be right for you.

The advantage of counsellors and psychotherapists? They’re often more affordable and have shorter wait times than psychologists. According to Rules, “Counsellors have a unique approach because of their varied and eclectic training methods.” As this area isn’t as heavily regulated as others, make sure to look for those who have been registered with professional associations.

Then we come to social workers — who tend to be more hands-on with helping people get supports they need from government agencies. They also see clients for counselling, case management and advocacy.

How do I figure out who to go to?

Glad you asked! For counsellors and psychotherapists, you can self-refer — you don’t have to go through your GP and can reach out directly. If there are certain personal reasons you don’t want a referral recorded — if you work in government or the defence force — this is the way to go.

As for psychologists, psychiatrists and counselling social workers, you need a referral from your GP. Why? So you can get Medicare rebates.

I want to seek help for my mental health, but I’m embarrassed. How do I get past that?

First things first, remember that whoever you’re seeing has heard it all before. And that’s good! It’s like Rules says, “I wish I could communicate to my clients how similar we all are — we all have worry, embarrassment, and pain.” Another thing to keep in mind? Needing support for mental distress is totally normal.

You don’t have to disclose anything to your family and friends if you don’t want to — especially if you know they won’t be respectful. Rules emphasises that: “You deserve care and support, and finding the right counsellor will help you with that.”

I’ve decided to go to therapy… Now what?

“It’s really important to find a therapist you click with!” Rules enthused.

When searching, Rules suggests looking at their website and asking if they use language that fits with your values, or if they seem like someone you’d feel comfortable talking to.

See if you can have a quick phone consultation via phone, or chat to them on email. Rules says, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions that are important to you — a good practitioner will be able to answer your questions with ease and respect.”

Some questions you can ask them directly? “How long have you been practicing? What are your qualifications? What professional association are you registered with? Have you worked with people with my experiences before?”

Beyond this, you can ask them more specific questions that relate to your identities and values: Whether they’ve completed cultural awareness training, whether they’ve undergone any personal or professional development that considers the impacts of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, disability justice, and more.

Rules likes to think of it like dating: “Sometimes you have to go on a few dates before you decide if it’s a match.”

Do I need to see a therapist of the same sex?

It shouldn’t matter, as long as you feel comfortable. Rules does advise that people who have experienced violence or sexual trauma may feel safer with someone of their own gender. Gender-diverse people can find it important to see someone who understands gender diversity, or who is gender-diverse.

What matters is your preference and your comfort.

I’ve found a therapist. How often do I see them?

“You can and should see a practitioner for as long as you need to,” suggests Rules. There’s no hard and fast rule, it’s all dependent on your experience and needs. For those who’ve experienced trauma or addiction, Rules reassures that “sometimes therapy can take a little longer and that’s completely normal.”

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