What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychology is the area of psychology that specializes in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of major mental illnesses and psychological problems. Clinical psychology is one of the most widely known areas of psychology.

Clinical Psychologists have a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology. They have received specialist training and are qualified to provide expert opinion in clinical and compensation areas. ?Clinical psychologists are trained in the delivery of a range of evidence based techniques and therapies to treat mental health disorders. “They are specialists in applying psychological theory and scientific research to solve complex clinical psychology problems requiring individually tailored interventions.” (Australian Psychological Society) Many clinical psychologists are also involved in research and teaching.

Clinical psychologists frequently consult with individuals or families about their personal or relationship problems.  They help people learn to cope more effectively with life issues and mental health problems. They help by using a variety of techniques based on the best available research and ensuring that their client’s unique values, characteristics, goals and circumstances are taken into consideration. Practicing psychologists help a wide variety of people and can treat many kinds of problems. Some people may consult a psychologist because they feel depressed, angry or anxious or they want help for a chronic problem that is interfering with their lives or physical health. Others may have short-term problems they want help navigating, such as the transition into a new job or grieving the death of a family member. Psychologists can help people learn to cope with stressful situations, dysfunctional behaviour or overcome barriers that stop them from reaching their goals.

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All psychologists must be registered with AHPRA (the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Agency). Many psychologists are members of the Australian Psychological Society which means that they are bound by the Australian Psychological Society Charter for Clients of Psychologists (PDF) , and the Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (PDF).

Frequently asked Questions

Q:    What happens in the first session?

A:     Usually the psychologist hears a short history of the presenting problem and then helps the client determine appropriate goals of therapy. They will explain confidentiality issues and briefly outline the framework they use and the number of sessions that are likely to be required. If there is insufficient time in the first session, the second session may be used for some of the above.

Q:    How do I know if I have chosen the right therapist for me?

A:     You should feel comfortable with the psychologist and the framework that they use should make sense to you. Therapy is not always easy but you should feel as if you have begun to make some progress after a few sessions. It is important that you discuss any concerns that you have with the therapist rather than just discontinuing your sessions. However, if you still don’t feel comfortable it is important that you consider changing therapists as fit between therapist and client is important.

Q:     What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a counselor?

A:     The term counselor refers to the process of counseling, however, it does not provide any information about the qualifications of the counselor so it is important that you find out what qualifications the counselor has before you commit to therapy.

Q:     What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist?

A:     A psychiatrist has a general medical degree as well as a specialist degree in psychiatry (the branch of medicine that specializes in mental illness). As medical practitioners, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication and as such usually treat more serious conditions such as psychosis where medication is indicated. Clinical psychologists have specialized in the branch of psychology that deals with mental illness but as they do not have a medical degree they do not prescribe medication.

Q:     If psychologists don’t prescribe medication then what does therapy involve?

A:    Psychologists use therapies that involve understanding and possibly modifying thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Homework will involve behavioural and cognitive tasks that help people find helpful ways of thinking and acting that allow them to reach their goals.

Q:     I have always assumed that I would have to be seriously mentally ill to see a psychologist?

A:    Clinical psychologists see people with a range of problems and a range of severities. Some people even see psychologists for self-development and self-actualization reasons in order to further their goals. Many don’t meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis.

Q:     If I want to see a psychologist do I need a referral from a G.P.?

A:     No. Anyone can make an appointment to see a psychologist. However, if you have a referral from a doctor and you attract a diagnosis for a mental illness, your G.P. will put you on a mental health care plan. This means that you are eligible for a rebate from medicare. With a mental health care plan, you are entitled to ten sessions per calendar year. This means that you will be required to pay the gap between the psychologist’s fee and the rebate fee unless the psychologist bulk bills.

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