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The most requested answers to your questions

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein

It’s important to ask questions before entering therapy or counselling. Good therapists will be open to hearing and answering these questions. We’ve detailed some of the common questions we’ve been asked along the way and hope these may be of help to you. Feel free to contact us to discuss any other questions you may have.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker, counsellor and a life coach?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialised training in psychiatry and mental health. As medical doctors, they are able to prescribe medication and diagnose mental illness.

Psychologists have specialised knowledge in human behaviour. They study the brain, memory, learning, human development and are interested in how we think, feel, behave and react. Psychologists can help people to find ways of functioning better. For example, they can assist people to handle stress, communicate better, regulate feelings and resolve family problems. Psychological therapies are also widely used by groups and organisations. Some psychologists specialise in treating people with a mental illness or disorder or may work with specific populations including those who have experienced trauma. Psychologists study human behaviour in their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees before undertaking supervised experience and gaining registration. Psychologists do not have a medical degree, however many study for a similar number of years to specialise in various aspects of psychology. For example, clinical psychologists study for at least six years to attain their qualifications. Psychologists do not prescribe medication. Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists are registered providers under the Medicare, Better Access to Mental Health Scheme, which means that eligible clients can claim a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions (with a referral from a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician). Some of the above information was adapted from the Australian Psychological Society. www.psychology.org.au

Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists are registered by legislation with the Psychology Board of Australia and The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Social Workers hold a minimum 4-year university degree and have between 800-1000 hours of supervised practical experience prior to graduating. Social Work is a diverse field with some social workers choosing to work in community development, social policy development, individual casework and case management, in mental health and in counselling and psychotherapy (often in private practice). Social Work is a holistic approach and has a dual focus of working with individuals (groups or organisations) as well as promoting greater social change (structural or ‘systemic’ change). Social workers have sound training in the applications of counselling and evidenced based therapies and have usually studied psychology and behavioural science in their undergraduate degrees. Social workers locate individual experiences within the wider social and political contexts and work to promote change at the individual and community level. Social workers are bound by a code of ethics which promotes a commitment to social justice. Mental Health Social Workers and/or Clinical Social Workers have specialised training and experience in working with mental illness/disorder. Mental Health Social Workers are registered Medicare providers under the Medicare Better Access to Mental Health Care Scheme which means that eligible clients can claim a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions, with a referral from a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician.

Despite popular opinion, psychologists are not automatically a better treatment option for those suffering a mental health issue and many clients will benefit from the holistic focus that social workers employ. Social workers have a long and proud history of working with complexity including trauma and complex trauma presentations.

Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are members of the Australian Association of Social Workers.

“The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) currently adheres to the following draft definition of social work that is jointly endorsed by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Association of School of Social Work (IASSW)”

“The social work profession facilitates social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. (March 2013)”

Source: https://www.aasw.asn.au/information-for-the-community/what-is-social-work

Counsellors. There are many different views as to what counselling is and there is much diversity within the counselling profession in terms of training. Some counsellors have studied for a relatively short period of time, where others may have university degrees and post graduate qualifications.

In life, events or situations can occur after which the need for counselling may arise. People may find themselves in situations where they need an objective and trained person with whom they can discuss a difficult or traumatic event, relationship or emotion.

There may be considerable overlap between what a psychologist, social worker and a counsellor do, however they may have different theoretical bases on which they apply their skills and knowledge. Many psychologists and social workers will refer to themselves as ‘counsellors’ in addition to their other qualifications as counselling techniques and theory are usually part of their undergraduate training.

Counsellors listen, provide feedback and assist a client to gather resources and formulate options to move forward from such circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, counselling is not giving advice to, pathologising or labelling a person. Good counsellors seek to help clients clarify issues, form perspectives and move forward.

As professionals, counsellors are expected to have suitable tertiary qualifications in counselling or the behavioural sciences and membership of a peak body such as the Australian Counselling Association, www.theaca.net.au.

Life Coaching is a process that is i) directed, ii) task and future focussed and iii) about developing a mentoring relationship between client and coach that assists a client to move from their current to desired situation.

Coaching is about identifying client goals and aspirations and working with a client to ensure that these are achieved within a framework that empowers and inspires the client. Coaching identifies client resources, builds upon these and empowers a client to seek development and guidance in areas that need to be built upon. Once again you are best to check the training and experience of a Life Coach prior to seeing them.

There is currently only one university accredited coaching program, offered at the University of Sydney. Other life coaching training is provided within the private sector including RTO’s (registered training organisations).

Coaching can focus on:

  • Career and workplace issues
  • Performance
  • Communication

Tips for choosing a good therapist or coach?

  • Check the credentials and professional memberships of the person. Are the qualifications or training recognised in Australia, and if so, by whom? Therapists have a professional responsibility and ethical imperative to answer all questions honestly.
  • Ask whether the therapist has experience in treating your particular concern, particularly if you are presenting with a long standing or complex issue.
  • Ask about fees prior to your first appointment. Are they reasonably priced? The Australian Psychological Society and Australian Association of Social Workers set recommended fees for practice. Medicare and health rebates are payable for some professions (psychology, social work (Medicare only). There are no recommended fees for counsellors and Life Coaches and the fees can vary quite a bit.
  • Consider the way in which the therapist relates to you. Are they courteous, punctual and genuinely empathic towards your individual situation? Do they keep you informed about any changes that may affect you (e.g. leave taking, cancellation policies, fee increases etc.). If not, then trust your instinct and make further queries elsewhere if necessary or try to raise the issue with them.
  • Be wary of therapists who claim to have magical cures or the ability to ‘fix your problems’. Therapy and counselling are collaborative processes. Sometimes quick fixes lead to bigger problems down the track.
  • Consider the setting in which the therapist runs their practice, if they work from home do they offer privacy and a professional consulting environment? Do you feel comfortable in the environment?
  • If you believe your therapist has behaved unethically or unprofessionally you can make a complaint to the relevant professional association of which they are a member. It is best to check the process for making the complaint as most organisations will only receive complaints of a serious nature.
  • All therapy has a beginning, a middle and an end (the closure process). You are however, free to conclude counselling and therapy at any point in time and whilst it is advisable to speak with your therapist prior to making this decision (so they can help in planning this process), they cannot force you to attend counselling and therapy if you feel it no longer helps you to do so.

How many sessions of counselling will I need?

This all depends on the presenting concerns and the particular goals that are sought. It is important that a thorough assessment of your situation occurs and this will help your therapist to customise a session plan for you.

‘I’ve had bad experiences in previous therapy, why should I trust you?’

Unfortunately, not all therapeutic experiences are positive. There can be many reasons for this and it’s important to consider the many reasons why therapy may not have worked for you.

If you have had several negative experiences of therapy it can be understandably difficult to reach out and trust in the process again; made even more difficult if you are continuing to suffer and need to experience the benefits of good therapy.

It’s impossible to detail an exhaustive list of reasons why therapy may not have worked or been positive for you, however here are a few considerations:

  • The therapist wasn’t the right fit for you.
    Perhaps it was the tone of their voice, idiosyncratic gestures or the way they asked certain questions. Perhaps they appeared inconsistent or unreliable, ran late or weren’t good at communicating significant issues with you (e.g. changes to their availability etc.). This need not necessarily be a complete roadblock to therapy and good therapists would encourage a discussion about any of this (without fear of repercussions). Sometimes a discussion and a recommitment of focus can be all that is needed to get the sessions back on track. It’s important to remember that therapists are human too, flawed and imperfect. However, this is not to excuse bad behaviour or blatant unprofessionalism.
  • The therapist lacked the knowledge and experience in which to assist you.
    A high level of transparency needs to exist between therapists and clients in terms of their experience in working with specific conditions. ‘Just talking’ about a problem or the sense that this is all you are doing is not likely to reach the outcomes you need.
  • It came time for me to make changes or try out new things and I got scared.
    There’s not enough space to write an adequate response to the importance of this factor. Whilst therapy can be immensely rewarding it is also often hard work, sometimes very confronting and challenging and there are times, frequently when clients may choose to stop attending because this appears the better option. Ironically, it’s when therapy gets hard and confronting that you are most likely to make the most significant break throughs. If you are with the right therapist and feel supported, ‘stick with it’.
  • My therapist keeps talking about boundaries and I don’t like this.
    Boundaries are an important part of therapy and can include factors such as i) attending sessions regularly and turning up on time, ii) paying for the sessions on time, iii) finishing the therapy session on time, iv) paying a cancellation fee, v) notifying the therapist if you can’t make the session or are running late and vi) completing therapy related homework. Your therapist may discuss these issues with you if they become thematic or problematic as they are likely to impact and possibly interfere with this success of your therapy. Boundary related issues are also likely to be thematic or symbolic of other issues in your life so it’s important that these opportunities for growth be explored. If you feel like your therapist is taking a punitive approach to these issues, it’s important to discuss this with them.

Please complete this form if you would like to be contacted regarding making an appointment at our Camden practice or online via telehealth. Please include your email, telephone number and best contact times to receive a phone call. To protect you privacy, please do not share any detailed personal information relating to why you are seeking help as we cannot respond to this via email. We would be happy to discuss details with you during your initial appointment, after ascertaining the appropriateness of making an appointment for you via telephone.

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