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How to know if your therapy is effective

Therapy works.  But did you know that about 50% of people drop out of therapy and more than 30% get no benefit from it?  Make sure you’re one of the people getting effective therapy from a good psychologist.

The most important factors in effective therapy

You might think that the specific techniques your psychologist uses are the most important thing.  They definitely play a part, and you should ask your psychologist why the treatment you’re getting is right for you.

But there are two other factors that are even more important than technique. They’re the therapeutic alliance and early change.

Therapeutic alliance is the quality of the relationship between client and psychologist. Many studies have shown that it’s more important than technique when it comes to improvement. People often know whether or not they will have a good relationship with their psychologist from the first session, so don’t overlook this!

Changes or improvements that occur early in therapy also point to long term improvement in therapy. In fact, if you don’t see positive changes by your 6th session, more sessions with the same psychologist probably won’t work for you.

These two factors also affect each other. A better therapeutic alliance will lead to early changes and improvements. In turn, early improvements will make a better therapeutic alliance.

How to know whether you’re getting effective therapy

The way to see if you have early changes and good relationship is by measuring.

Measuring therapeutic alliance and progress every session from the start is important. It lets you and your psychologist know whether things are working. Then you can work together to make changes if your situation isn’t improving or if the relationship isn’t great.

There is a quiz called the “Session Rating Scale (SRS)” that can quickly check the therapeutic alliance. It includes four questions that look at whether you feel understood and respected, whether you worked on your goals, whether the approach used by your psychologist is a good fit for you, and your overall rating for that session.

There is another quiz that can quickly check for improvements in your situation over time, called the “Outcome Rating Scale (ORS). This looks at your individual well-being, how your relationships are going, and your satisfaction with work or school.

What should I do now?

Making sure that you have a good quality therapeutic relationship and you’re getting early improvements means you’re more engaged and reach your goals faster.

Visit our Mindfit member site and make a list of your goals. Then do the ORS quiz to see if your therapy is effective right now. If you think things could be better, discuss it with your psychologist or talk it over with us.

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How to have a great first session with a psychologist

You’ve found yourself a psychologist, great! You’ve even made your first appointment, even better! But what happens in the first session?

The idea of talking about your problems with someone you don’t even know yet can be scary. I’m going to provide you with some information that will hopefully make this beginning stage more comfortable.

What you should take to the first session

Most commonly, the only thing you’ll take along is a referral letter from your GP. The psychologist needs your Medicare number and the GP’s provider number to bill Medicare. If you don’t plan to claim the Medicare rebate you won’t need the letter.

If you have a copy of a mental health treatment plan from your GP, take it along. It can save you having to give the same details twice. You could also ask the doctor’s office to send it to your psychologist for you.

Your psychologist may have asked you to bring paperwork with you, like an informed consent form. Save time by reading it and filling it in before you arrive.

If you know you’re eligible for a private health insurance rebate, remember your private health fund card.

We can also pass along information that you’ve given us about your goals and requirements. This really helps because if your psychologist knows what you want, it’s easier for them to give it to you!

What you should expect

The first consultation with your psychologist is often longer than a normal session. Find out before you go, so you can allow enough time.

Some people see it as almost a “first date”. The psychologist wants to get to know what has happened, what is happening right now and what goals you would like to achieve. In return, they’ll explain how they work, what they expect of you, what the boundaries are and any limits to confidentiality. They may get you to sign an informed consent form that will outline all of this information.

This first session is also a great time to determine whether or not you think you could have a good relationship with your psychologist. The therapeutic relationship is one of the most important factors in determining both your engagement in therapy and long-term positive progress. Pay attention to how you two work together and any “gut feelings” you may have about the psychologist.

Visit our blog on “How to know if your therapy is effective” to find out more about the importance of the therapeutic relationship.

What should I say?

Often, the psychologist will guide the conversation by the questions they ask. It may feel a little odd for the conversation to be focused on you. But remember, the psychologist is helping you to get through your concerns.

Having more information will help the psychologist to make a better treatment plan for you. If you can, go a bit outside your comfort zone in opening up and sharing what’s on your mind.  You should also print out the details you provided to us to better guide this consultation and the following sessions.

Finally, bring up any questions or concerns you may have. It is important that you feel informed and comfortable when seeing a psychologist.

If it doesn’t feel right

The first session is the foundation for your treatment. If you feel like you don’t connect well with the psychologist, you don’t have to continue seeing them.

Let us know if you have any questions about your first session, we’re glad to help. We can also help you find another psychologist if it comes to that. Don’t let one less than positive experience stop you from reaching your goals.

The difference between psychologists and psychiatrists

You’ve figured out that you need some support and help, but what comes next? I mean, obviously you’ll just go and see a psychologist… or is it a psychiatrist? They both help people so aren’t they the same thing?

You’re already going through enough, so the last thing you need is extra confusion and stress around finding the right help for you.

I want to help make the difference clearer for you so that you can take the next steps more confidently.

Similarities

First, let’s talk about the similarities between these professions.

Psychologists and psychiatrists both work to improve the mental health and overall well-being of individuals. In fact, they often work in collaboration to ensure you have more sources of support. They focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues and often work with a wide variety of issues.

Although both do work with a variety of issues, they may also be more experienced or comfortable in working with certain issues. So it’s always a good idea to ask whether they can help with your specific goals. This is why we specifically ask psychologists about their areas of expertise when finding you a great match!

Differences

The differences between these two professions come down to their education and training, and what specific services they can provide to help improve your mental health and well-being.

Psychologists need to complete a 4 year undergraduate course, followed by a minimum of 2 years of further training. After this, there is ongoing training and supervision to ensure they continually learn and refine their skills. Psychologists can’t provide medication and have to refer their clients to a GP or psychiatrist if they think medication would help. Importantly, psychologists can help you by using therapies that have been thoroughly researched to make sure that they’re effective. These include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and many more.

Psychiatrists complete both medical and mental health training, which can take at least 13 years. In other words, psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in treating mental illnesses. This is good because physical and mental illnesses are often linked, and the combined training means psychiatrists can focus on both of these together. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists can give you medication, which is often helpful for mental health issues.

Finding a good psychologist

The more support you have, the better the outcomes. So, even if a psychiatrist is better suited to your needs, also seeing a psychologist will help you further. They both have the same end goal, improved mental health and well-being.

I hope this clarifies the similarities and differences between psychologists and psychiatrists. If you think a psychologist could be useful for you, we’ll help you find the right one. Click here to use our free matching service and take the next steps towards your well-being.