These days there is increasing conversation around mental health and the importance of speaking up when you’re not feeling ok. It can be incredibly difficult to take that first step, considering the level of stigma that still remains around the concept. Even among my most progressive millennial friends, there are still people who hold some very strong and largely uninformed opinions with regard to therapy, diagnosis and medication. The revelation that a friend or family member has started seeing a therapist or taking anti-depressants is still often viewed as a signal that they’re failing in some way. In reality, this news should be celebrated. It means they’ve taken the massive step of seeking professional help. They’re looking after themselves and are making their way to a better situation. It’s one thing to say to yourself “Hey, me. We’re not feeling so amazing” and another to reach out and say the same to somebody else. So….what happens next?
There are a daunting number of options available when thinking about how best to approach your mental health needs. The best place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed is a visit to your GP. They’ll be able to assess your situation and talk through your options with you to help you decide what might be a good first step. One option is to get a Mental Health Care Plan. A Mental Health Care Plan is a support plan for people experiencing mental health issues. It may include things like strategies to improve and maintain your mental health, options for the types of mental health care that can support you, and principally a referral to a psychologist, occupational therapist, or social worker. A Medicare rebate will then cover some or all of the cost of up to ten sessions with the clinician of your choice.
If you’re not sure who you would like to see, your GP will be happy to recommend someone for you, and fill out the referral accordingly. Having said that, it’s important to note that there can be vast differences between clinicians when it comes to things like cost and modality. Not only that, but every therapist is also a human being, and as such their own personality and quirks are inevitably as big a part of the therapeutic experience as their choice of modality. You’re going to be working intimately with this person for potentially quite some time! This isn’t to say that you need to find someone exactly like you, in fact sometimes it takes someone strikingly different to ourselves to shift us out of patterns we may not have realised are no longer serving us. It might take a little shopping around to find someone who is the right fit for you.
You might also like to do some research before heading in for your appointment to make sure you’re going to get the most out of your sessions. At this stage in NSW, counsellors and psychotherapists are not covered by the medicare rebates offered under a MHCP. This is a massive shame, as these clinicians can be just as knowledgable as their psychologist counterparts, and often have undertaken even more training when it comes to the face-to-face relational aspect to therapy. They can also be a little less restricted in terms of their choice of modality, which means if you don’t feel that the more traditional forms of talk therapy are entirely your vibe, you might have a higher chance of explore things like art therapy, sand tray, music, gestalt, play, movement, hypnosis etcetera with a counsellor over a psychologist. If you’re financially able, keeping yourself open to the option of choosing a counsellor or psychotherapist despite the lack of rebate may lead you to your perfect therapeutic match. Some clinicians will also price their services on a sliding scale, making therapy more accessible to those experiencing financial hardship. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask the question when you make your enquiry!
At the bottom of this post I’ve listed a series of links to various directories that can help you to locate clinicians in your area, but it may help to know a little bit about the types of modality that these therapists may provide. Expect to discover a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms here. Many therapists will employ a combination of two or more approaches, depending on the client. The most common modality employed by counsellors and psychologists alike is CBT. CBT stands for Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy. It works on the premise that our thoughts affect our feelings, our feelings affect our behaviour, and our behaviour affects our lives. By addressing the way we think, we can theoretically begin to set off a domino effect of change. CBT is so commonly employed largely because its well defined parameters make progress and outcomes easily measurable, and it’s effectiveness is well documented. However, there are many other types of intervention outside of this, and something different in place of or in combination with CBT may suit your personality or needs a little better. Again, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Some of the other highly effective modalities commonly used by Australian therapists include Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Art and Play Therapy. There really are almost endless options, which is fantastic because our mental health needs are as unique as our personalities. Do a bit of research into these different approaches and see if you’re drawn to anything in particular. Don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the options. Any good therapist will be able to get an idea of the best way to work with you during your first session, but it can be empowering to arm yourself with some background information on the types of interventions out there.
The most important thing is to get a clear vision of your goals. Have a think about where you want to be further down this road and what you want to achieve. Keep that image strong in your mind and work steadily towards it. If you start to feel discouraged, do something small to keep yourself moving forward, and continue to ask for and accept help from your support system when you need it!
By Rosie Jackson
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