What is Psychological Treatment?
Psychological treatment is a talking method of addressing mental health issues with a trained professional. Initial sessions involve answering questions about your current problems and your history. You may fill in questionnaires during this phase and sometimes (with your permission) the psychologist may ask to speak to others involved in your care (GP, psychiatrist) and/or significant others (family members, partners, friends). The psychologist will use this information to gain a comprehensive understanding of you and the potential targets for treatment. Following the assessment, the psychologist will share her perspective with you and the recommendations for treatment. Once an agreed upon treatment plan is in place, you commence treatment.
Psychological treatments can assist you by helping you to:
relieve and manage symptoms associated with anxiety, panic, obsession, phobias, trauma, depression, emotion dysregulation, and psychosis;
identify and modify self-defeating, risk-taking, and harmful patterns of behaviour;
identify early warning signs to problems and thus reduce the frequency, intensity and/or duration of setbacks and relapses;
improve skills including mindfulness, communication, social, problem-solving,and stress management, and coping;
increase awareness of thoughts and beliefs that affect emotions and behaviour and help to modify unhelpful thought patterns;
identify personal strengths, values and short- and long-term goals;
provide support through a difficult period or situation (loss of job, death ofloved one, relationship breakdown, coming to terms with a mental illness).
Regular reviews of progress are important to evaluate whether therapy has been effective; it may involve filling in questionnaires or surveys as well as open and frank discussion about what has been helpful and unhelpful about therapy and adjusting treatment to improve outcomes.
Psychological methods are useful both on their own and in combination with medical treatments. Issues can be addressed individually, with couples, with families, and within a group setting.
What Works in Therapy?
Evidence-based psychological interventions that address the above issues include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). However, there are other forms of therapy that may be just as suitable or helpful. The most important aspect of therapy according to research is not the form of therapy but the strength of the relationship between the client and the therapist. Therefore, it is important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and respected and who is helping you work towards your goals.
When you meet a therapist for the first time, it is okay to ask questions about his or her experience and training and the form of therapy he or she plans to use to help you address your issues. You also need to find out how often and how long you are likely to be seeing the therapist. It may take a few sessions for you to feel comfortable with the therapist.
Who can benefit from psychological therapy?
Therapy can assist anyone who is willing to take the very brave step of acknowledging their difficulties, placing their trust in a mental health professional, and actively participating in the process of therapy. Therapy can help people with mild, moderate and serious emotional, social, health, and mental health problems.
Just like for a physical health problem, early intervention for a mental health problem can prevent more severe difficulties in the future. Many people wait years before seeking help and only a small percentage ever see a mental health professional. Part of the reluctance of individuals to seek professional help is due to stigma.
What is stigma?
Stigma is a mark of shame, disgrace, or disapproval. Unfortunately, stigma is often encountered in relation to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis. These attitudes to mental health issues are unrealistic, unhelpful, and can prevent people from finding help and solutions for emotional difficulties and mental illness. This is especially clear considering that researchers have estimated that about half of us will meet the criteria for a mental disorder at some time in our lives.
Stigma is caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge due to widespread stereotypes
and myths circulated by individuals, groups, and the media. The lack of knowledge by others about the targeted group causes people to behave as if the stereotypes and myths are true,
e.g., they withdraw, tease, reject, fear, avoid. Stigma is internalised by those who are targeted causing them to feel bad about themselves. Due to fear of stigma, individuals do not share their experiences with others. Because true and valid experiences and stories are not shared, people remain ignorant and stigma continues to lead to marginalisation and discrimination against segments of the population. Those who are targeted can feel worthless and alone, and feelings of shame and hopelessness may prevent them from seeking the help they need.
Ways to overcome stigma are to:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Below are some common questions asked by people who are considering psychological treatment.
What are some common myths associated with mental health problems?
Everyone who has a mental illness is dangerous and needs to be hospitalised. In fact, the majority of people with a mental illness are not dangerous and do not require hospitalisation. Hospitalisations only occur when there is high risk of harm to the individual (suicidal behaviours, acute phase of illness) or to others’ as a result of potential actions by the individual (this is rare). In most cases, people are just doing the best they can and mental health professionals are working with a person to keep them out of hospital.
If you have mental illness, you are weak and you lose your intelligence. Anyone, no matter how strong, how intelligent, or how financially secure, can have psychological problems and difficulties and/or a psychiatric diagnosis e.g. Major Depression, Schizophrenia, Panic Disorder. It is not a sign of weakness. Mental health problems like anxiety or depression can affect your ability to concentrate and your memory but this is likely to be temporary. You do not lose your intelligence.
You can snap out of it, it’s just a matter of willpower. Willpower is not the answer. Willingness is. Willingness to accept that you have a problem and willingness to access appropriate psychological and medical treatment is important. Psychological treatment is not a quick fix, but it will give you the tools to help you build a better life now and in the future.
It will keep happening over and over. Setbacks are a normal part of the change and recovery process. Preparing for setbacks by understanding the early warning signs helps to reduce their frequency, duration, and intensity. Also through psychological treatment, you will have learned and practiced new ways of coping with distress and difficulties that will help you manage setbacks with confidence and a hopeful outlook.
I’ll never be able to change. It is common for people to feel hopeless especially if they have been experiencing difficulties for a long time. However, change is possible. Just like for physical problems, you have to access the appropriate treatment and resources that are available to you to get better with the guidance of an experienced and trusted professional.
How long and how often do I have to attend therapy?
Decisions about the length and frequency of therapy are made in collaboration with your psychologist and vary depending on the your goals for treatment, the number of issues you want to address, the duration and severity of your difficulties, and your internal resources (motivation, sense of hope, coping skills) and external resources (family, friends, support agencies). Frequency is typically weekly to fortnightly and may reduce over time as the individual progresses through treatment. The length of a session is typically 50 to 60 minutes.
Do I need to take medication?
The decision to take medication should be discussed with your GP and/or your psychiatrist. For some disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—medication is considered important for recovery in conjuction with psychological treatment to address psychosocial concerns and symptoms. For moderate to severe depressive disorders, research suggests a combined approach of medication and psychological treatment is often the most effective. Psychological treatment is considered best practice to treat anxiety disorders like panic disorder and phobias. Anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed to assist with anxiety or insomnia; however, they are only a short-term solution due to the risk of dependence on these medications. Psychological treatment, on the other hand, leads to long-term benefits and lower risk of relapse by improving individuals' ability and confidence to reduce and manage anxiety and cope with anxiety-provoking situations.
What if my psychologist does something that upsets me?
If at any time you feel unhappy with therapy or the therapist, it can often be useful to discuss your concerns with him or her. All relationships have their ups and downs including the one you have with your psychologist. If you feel hurt or disappointed as a result of something that your psychologist said during a session, it can be helpful to be open and honest about your feelings so that you can both gain an understanding of what went wrong and how to rectify it or prevent it from happening again. You may feel like you should just stop treatment and this is always an option; but you might miss out on an opportunity to improve rapport with your therapist by discussing how you feel. Of course, the decision to end therapy and/or to change your therapist is always in your hands and whatever course of action you want to take will be respected.
It is also important to note that psychologists are bound by professional and ethical guidelines.
If you believe that your psychologist has behaved unethically (breaching confidentiality, negligence, sexual advances), complaints can be referred to the Psychology Board of Australia.
How do I pay for psychological treatment?
See Fees section on Psychological Treatment page.