Seeking Professional Help

Seeking Professional Help


seeking professional helpWhen seeking professional help, general practitioners ( GPs ) are usually the first port of call for mental health problems. A general practitioner may conduct a general check-up to identify whether there are any physical causes to the symptoms (whether of depression and/or mania) and assess the nature of the mental health problem. Depending on the nature of the problem, the general practitioner might refer you to a psychiatrist, or suggest psychological therapy with a psychologist or a counsellor. The general practitioner might also prescribe some medication to relieve some of the symptoms of your depression.

When visiting a general practitioner to discuss a mental health issue, it’s best to book a long consultation, as it can take time for him or her to explore all the issues associated with making an accurate diagnosis.

Some general practitioners have a special interest in mental health and undergo further training in this area. Some general practitioners might themselves be skilled in specialised counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy, or other psychological approaches.

If you are not comfortable seeing your own general practitioner about a mental health problem, find another one with whom you do feel comfortable. It is important that you feel comfortable talking to your doctor about how you are feeling, so he or she has as much information to help you as possible.

If you are having trouble tracking down such a general practitioner, you could telephone general practices in your area to find out whether any doctors in that practice have a particularly strong interest in mental health and, if so, whether they are taking on new patients. ( Ask to speak to the practice manager about this. )


Psychiatrists are specialist medical doctors who diagnose and treat mental illness and mental disorder. Qualifying as a psychiatrist involves first obtaining a medical degree and then undertaking a minimum of 5 years’ postgraduate specialisation in psychiatry. To practice, psychiatrists must be registered with an appropriate body.

The nature of their training means that psychiatrists have a strong grounding in both biological and psychological frameworks for understanding mental illness and disorder. They are trained both to recognise and treat the effects of emotional disturbances on the body as a whole as well as the effects of physical conditions on the mind.

Like general practitioners, psychiatrists can prescribe, administer and monitor medication and provide physical treatments. They may also offer psychotherapy – talking treatments – and which involves the psychiatrist and patient discussing problems during regularly scheduled sessions. Depending on the extent of the problem, such treatment may take a few sessions over several weeks or many sessions over a longer period of time.

Psychiatrists work in the public health system ( through hospitals, clinics and community mental health services ), in private practice, and in universities.

A letter of referral from a general practitioner is normally required to visit a psychiatrist and is necessary to claim the Medicare rebate for the consultation.


Psychologists are specialists in human behaviour, development and functioning. They have expertise in conducting research and applying research findings in order to reduce distress, address behaviour and psychological problems, and to promote mental health and rational behaviour in individuals and groups.

In the provision of mental health services ( either public or private ) psychologists vary in terms of the services they provide, their level and type of postgraduate training, and also their degree of clinical experience and/or specialisation. Becoming a registered psychologist requires 4 years’ undergraduate study, followed by either 2 years of supervised experience with a registered psychologist or completion of a postgraduate-clinical-masters or doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Clinical psychologists ( i.e. those who have completed the postgraduate clinical qualifications ) also have to spend some time working under the supervision of another clinical psychologist.

In order to practise, all psychologists must be registered with a Psychologist Registration Board in their state, territory, or province.

Psychologists are trained in a range of different psychological therapies, which can be applied to the particular needs of each individual. Psychologists also have their own preferred treatment methods and so it is wise to find one that suits you. Psychological therapies are useful in both treating the symptoms of depression itself and by addressing some of the underlying ’causes’ or the factors that may be keeping a person depressed.

One commonly used therapy for depression is cognitive behaviour therapy ( CBT ). CBT aims to show people how their thinking affects their mood and to teach them to think in a less negative ( and more ‘realistic’ ) way about life and themselves. CBT can be very beneficial for some individuals who have depression but there will be others for whom it is irrelevant.

Other therapies include Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Counselling and Narrative Therapy.

Clinical psychologists who have completed specialised education and training in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders are particularly helpful when seeking suitable treatment for depression, as most are highly skilled in CBT and/or other psychotherapies.

If you’re considering seeing a psychologist, it would be worth considering the following factors when deciding about getting help:

  • Your individual needs and what you want to get out of the therapy.
  • Whether a psychologist has been recommended to you (e.g. by your general practitioner)?
  • What will be the style or approach used by the psychologist?
  • Does the psychologist have particular expertise or experience in working with your issues?
  • What their consultation fee is, the frequency of sessions, and the duration of therapy.

Before making an appointment with a psychologist, it is reasonable to put in a brief telephone call to him or her to discuss these issues.


There are many different sorts of counsellors and psychotherapists, and their approach will vary considerably from one to the next. Some counsellors may have undergone formal training in counselling ( for example, as part of a psychology degree or through a college ), while others may have come from a nursing or social work background.

Counsellors aim to work cooperatively with people to help them better cope with difficult life circumstances such as grief and loss, communication and relationships, work and career, stress, anxiety and depression, life transitions, parenting, self-esteem, spirituality and difficulties caused by addictions, trauma and abuse.

Like any other health professional, a counsellor should refer their client to another practitioner if the severity of their symptoms suggests an alternative form of treatment (including medication) or assessment is needed.

If you’re considering seeing a counsellor, it would be a good idea to find out beforehand:

  • What approach the counsellor you’re considering seeing will take
  • What training they have undertaken
  • Whether they are accredited by a professional body
  • How many sessions are typically needed
  • How much they charge.