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1. HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED THERAPY?

People often wonder whether only "crazy", "weak" or "unsuccessful" people seek therapy. This is certainly not the case! Mental illness is something that affects males & females, people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic status. In my time I have treated doctors, lawyers, school and university students, businessmen and business-women, teachers, nurses, those who have retired, just to name a few. You get the point...people from all walks of life!

What are the benefits of seeing someone like a psychologist rather than just confiding in friends, family or partners?

While our support networks are vital in helping us with life's challenges, people find it helpful to speak to a person who is not a part of their personal "everyday" world. This is for privacy reasons as sometimes the issues you are dealing with involves or affects those who are closest to you. People also find it helpful to speak to a person without having to worry about burdening them. This is what your therapist is there for! Sometimes it can be a way to alleviate the pressure from those who are involved in supporting and caring for you as you deal with emotional struggles. Sometimes, family or friends may not have a good understanding of the nature of various mental health problems and to have a therapist who understands the nuances of mental illness can be of great benefit.

Other reasons for seeing a psychologist: Therapy can be helpful to address the thinking and feeling aspects to mental health problems in addition to taking prescribed medications or as an alternative to taking prescribed medications. A psychologist is able to help you clarify underlying causes to a particular issue and to develop skills for responding to difficult emotions and problematic behaviours.

2. WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT FROM THERAPY?

Each session is usually 50-60 mins with the first appointment sometimes longer (e.g. up to 90 mins) as it takes time to gather information at the beginning of therapy. The number of sessions typically required varies depending on the individual. On average, between 12-18 sessions is a good upper estimate. Some of the factors that will affect the number of sessions required include severity and complexity of symptoms or issues and openness/willingness of the client to approach their issues and make changes.

In terms of the experience of therapy, one thing I observe is that as a client becomes more aware of difficult thoughts and feelings, the harder it can be to continue with therapy. They often ask themselves why they would choose to feel the pain or discomfort of awareness! "Thinking about it and feeling the feelings makes it worse! I'm coming to therapy to feel better not worse!" Sometimes the only way to get to the other side is to go through the hard stuff! There are no short cuts, no way of avoiding the thoughts and feelings if you want to properly deal with the issues you struggle with.

In terms of privacy & confidentiality, APS psychologists are bound by a Professional Code of Ethics. This is also typically in line with a code of ethics outlined by the state Registration Board. In summary, psychologists are required by their professional governing bodies to maintain confidentiality regarding information disclosed by a client and to ensure that their personal information is stored in such a way that their privacy is maintained. Confidentiality may be breached when there is sufficient evidence that the client is in significant danger of harming others or themselves or engaging in reportable criminal behaviours. In the event that your information needs to be disclosed to others, this will usually be discussed with you first where possible. With your consent, letters are periodically written to your referring doctors or other people involved in your care. You are able to request to be informed of the content of these letters.

3. WHAT ARE YOUR QUALIFICATIONS?

Dr Linda Nguy was trained at the University of Sydney where she gained a Bachelor of Psychology, Doctor of Clinical Psychology and Master of Science degree. She is a member of the national body representing psychologists in Australia (The Australian Psychological Society) and she is registered with the NSW Psychologists Registration Board.

4. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PSYCHOLOGIST & OTHER MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS?

People often ask what the difference is between a psychologist and other mental health professionals. Here is a summary of the differences:

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a medically trained doctor who then specialises in the area of psychiatry. Psychiatrists are responsible for determining whether a person requires an admission to hospital, formal diagnosis and prescription of medication.

Psychologists & Clinical Psychologists adopt a research-oriented approach in their practice. They assist people with assessment, diagnosis (not formal), prevention and treatment of problems at an individual, group, organisational and community level. Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists must become registered with the NSW Psychologist's Registration Board to be able to practice as a "Psychologist" in NSW. There is a difference in the training of those who practice under the term "Psychologist" & "Clinical Psychologist". They are as follows:

  • Psychologists will have completed a 4-year Undergraduate degree in Psychology. They will have then undergone two years of supervised training by an accredited supervisor in order to become eligible for registration with the state board.
  • A Clinical Psychologist is a person who in addition to their undergraduate training in Psychology, has completed post-graduate training in Clinical Psychology (Masters, Doctorate or PhD). During their post-graduate training they are taught theory, are closely supervised as interns, learn how to administer and interpret psychometric tests (i.e. intelligence testing, testing cognitive abilities) and undertake a research project.

Social Workers assist individuals & communities with a variety of personal & social problems. They are trained to provide counselling, develop and implement social policy & and to assist various community groups. They must complete a Bachelor of Social Work (4 years) degree. They do not require legal registration in any Australian State or Territory. However they often are required by employers to be a member of the Australian Association of Social Workers where membership requires training via an approved course.

5. WHAT ARE "EVIDENCE-BASED TREATMENTS"?

The term "Evidence-Based Treatments" refers to treatments that have undergone controlled research studies, the results of which inform decisions regarding treatment approaches that the therapist should adopt. There are existing treatment approaches which have not undergone adequate research and therefore are not considered "evidence-based".

Evidence-Based Treatments used by Clinical Psychologists
Psychologists & Clinical Psychologists attempt to adopt only evidence-based therapies in treatment. The most well known of these are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy. More recently, there has been growing interest in an approach known as "Acceptance & Commitment Therapy" and Mindfulness-based therapies. They are in their infancy with regards to treatment outcome studies but the initial results are promising! For a brief summary of each approach, see below.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This is a time-limited therapy approach which explores the thoughts and feelings that arise in response to various situations or events. It encourages people to examine and challenge unrealistic thoughts and assumptions by exploring alternative explanations and considering the evidence for thinking particular thoughts (e.g. if I hear a noise and automatically assume that it must be a thief, thereby provoking anxious feelings what could be an alternative explanation?). The goal is to work towards an alternative response (thought & action) that is more helpful and realistic. The premise is if we are able to achieve this, then this will help to improve our emotional experience. Studies have shown CBT to be effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship problems and anger.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a form of therapy that emphasises the centrality of relationships in understanding conditions such as depression and anxiety. IPT is a time-limited therapy approach and does not focus on understanding the underlying causes to depression or other psychiatric illness. Rather, it is interested in improving relationships which in turn is proposed to improve the symptoms. The research has shown IPT to be particularly effective in the treatment of depression.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of treatment that is part of what is being dubbed as the "third wave" in cognitive and behavioural therapy. It encourages people to take a stance of acceptance towards their thoughts and feelings (pleasant or otherwise) and give up the agenda of controlling the things that cannot be controlled. (NB. Acceptance is not the same as resignation). ACT approaches are also committed to encouraging people to reconnect with and clarify their values - the bigger picture for their lives - and to commit to living with their values as the 'compass' for the actions they choose to take in responding to life. This form of therapy while based in the behaviourist models of the 1970's, is still in its infancy with regards to scientific data. Preliminary studies however, have shown the effectiveness of this approach for a range of conditions including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, addictive behaviours, stress and psychosis.

Mindfulness, also a part of what is considered "third wave" therapies, focuses on training our mind to practice awareness in a way that helps us to be grounded in the here & now. One method for developing mindfulness skills is through the practice of meditation. However, mindfulness can be practiced at any given moment of the day. It has been shown to be helpful with conditions such as depression and managing chronic pain.

6. WHAT DO I NEED TO DO IF I WANT TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT?

Usually it is preferable to get a referral from your GP or a psychiatrist before your first appointment, however this is not always necessary. If you seek treatment under the Better Access to Mental Health scheme, you will require a mental health care plan (i.e. a detailed mental health assessment) from your GP first or a written referral from your psychiatrist or paediatrician before you are able claim a medicare rebate. The mental health care plan may require a longer session with your GP and it may be helpful to check beforehand whether your GP is able or willing to conduct one.

The Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme was introduced by the Australian government in November 2006. Under this scheme all registered psychologists endorsed by Medicare Australia are able to provide treatment for mental health problems whereby the client is able to claim a medicare rebate. Currently, clients who are seen by a registered specialist clinical psychologist are able to claim back a rebate of $112.45 per session for a 50+ mins consultation for 12 sessions per calendar year.

For information about costs involved in treatment go to the Fees page.

For contact details go to the Contact page.

7. WHAT DO I DO IF A FAMILY MEMBER/FRIEND NEEDS HELP?

You can help them gather information about the support that is available for them to access. Ultimately they will need to be spoken to directly by the therapist and they will need to consent to therapy. Some helpful things to keep in mind as a support person: Ask them directly how they wish to be supported. Sometimes our ideas of what is helpful for a person may not be a good fit with the person who requires the support. Taking the time out to understand the condition they are dealing with can be helpful. However, it is often said that unless a person has experienced a particular illness, they are limited in their ability to understand the full extent of the experience. Stick by them through thick and thin! Though the person suffering from mental illness will fluctuate in their experiences and at times may want to withdraw from those they care about, they will always value and benefit from family and friends who care for them unconditionally. Finally, as a carer, make sure you look after your own health as you care for others. You will only be able to do a good job as a carer when you are cared for yourself!