5 First Steps for Seeking Professional Support with Your Mental Health

by Kat & Aimee of the Psychology Sisters Podcast

Our family and friends often provide us with comfort and support during difficult times. However, it can be helpful to have an objective perspective from a therapist that family and friends aren’t always able to provide. 

Therapists are trained with specific skills to assist you by getting to the cause of your problems, we give you tools to support you during emotional challenges, which aid in developing self-awareness and insight to create positive changes. However, seeking support from a psychologist or therapist can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming to start with. You may have questions like, where do I even start? I’m not diagnosed with anything, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to go? Who should I go to? What’s the difference between a counsellor and psychologist? Should I see a life coach? How much does it cost? What if I don’t get along with them?

All of these are extremely common and normal questions during the initial phases of seeking help from therapist, but we hope these tips will ease some anxiety and answer some questions about seeking help...

1: Consulting your General Practitioner

Generally, the best place to start when seeking professional support is an appointment with your GP. The internet can be helpful in providing information but it’s often very overwhelming when you don’t know where to start or what you’re looking for! Your GP is also able to assess psychological symptoms any physical factors that may be contributing to your current presentation, provide you with information on services and treatment in your local area, take your preferences into consideration and if appropriate, will be able to develop a Mental Health Care Plan with you which entitles you to Medicare rebates. They may also be able to link you up with a recommended psychologist or counsellor. 

2: There’s no time like the present

It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong time to seek professional support. You do not have to fit a diagnostic criteria to benefit from therapy. Contrary to many misconceptions, a lot of people seek support for everyday challenges such as stress management, relationships and self-image. The first step is not to look at if you “need” therapy but rather, identifying your concerns and a therapist who is experienced in treating the concerns that you have. Psychology is very broad and there are many areas of focus, such as depression, eating disorders, trauma and so on. The more experience a therapist has in a specific field, the deeper insight they will have in treatment. For concerns like eating disorders, trauma and PTSD seeing an informed and experienced therapist is crucial. Knowing what your concerns are and the focus of support also decreases the often-overwhelming plethora of practitioners to chose from.

3: Different strokes for different folks 

Again, there are numerous psychotherapeutic orientations in which therapists practice under. It may be beneficial to ask questions about which model a therapist practices under because it can affect how your therapist relates to you and the general length of treatment. For example, are they person-centred or cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness based or psychoanalytic therapy? Often therapists will practice a blend, however, it is worth exploring as treatment not only varies in duration but cost as well. 

4: Like a glove

Choosing the right therapist can take time. You may need to trial different therapists until you find the right “fit” for you. We are all unique individuals therefore your support needs to be tailored to your concerns, circumstances, capacity, needs and preferences. Generally, a “good fit” is someone who makes you feel safe and respected, you can trust them and there is no judgement. The connection you have with your therapist is essential. Connection and feeling safe is paramount because you need to feel comfortable to explore intimate topics, painful or unpleasant emotions and personal secrets to benefit from therapy. Therapy won’t be effective if you feel awkward, judged or the connection just isn’t there. This will look different from person to person, think about whether you would like someone older than you or a similar age, male or female, gentle or challenging. Be patient in the initial stages and allow yourself time to shop around, ask questions and never feel guilty if the fit isn’t right. If you are not sure, it can be helpful to ask yourself questions such as: does it seem like they care about what I’m saying? Do I feel understood? Can I be honest and open? 

5: Your registration please.

For some, it can ease nerves knowing the person you are trusting at your most vulnerable is indeed, a qualified professional. Mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychotherapist, social workers, family/ relationship therapists and psychiatrists are registered and certified by their respective governing bodies. Be mindful that credentials do not always determine the quality of the therapy for your individual support. For example, some have found life coaches helpful in providing positive changes to their daily life. It comes back to identifying your concerns and finding a good fit for you. 

Thank you to Kat and Aimee, mental health care professionals and amazing hosts of the podcast The Psychology Sisters, for taking time out of their busy schedules to share these tips with us. You can listen to their podcast here and follow them on instagram @thepsychologysisters

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