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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.

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How to find an awesome psychologist, without asking your friends

A story I’ve heard a lot

You ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist, maybe as part of getting your mental health treatment plan. The doctor doesn’t know the psychologist all that well, and you just don’t click with them.

So you search Google for psychologists near you who work with the issue you’ve got, and check out their websites. You go with one who sounds good, but what they’re like in person is different to what they wrote on their site.

Finally you ask a few of your good friends if they’ve ever seen a psychologist. It turns out they have, they just don’t talk about it, and you get a recommendation. This psychologist was helpful for your friend, and they end up being helpful for you.

Can you relate to any of that? Or maybe you’re at the start of your search and feeling a bit lost and worried.

I don’t want to tell my friends

I hear you. Mental health can be some of the most private stuff in your life, and it can be scary to discuss even with close friends. So we’ll look at why friend recommendations seem to work well, and how you can get the same good result without having to reveal things you’re not ready to.

Friend recommendations have a few things going for them.

For a start, you’ve got proof that the psychologist has been helpful to someone else. It’s like when you’re choosing a hotel. Reading reviews on TripAdvisor tells you more than just reading the hotel’s website. You can get some independent information on what your friend’s psychologist was like.

Plus your friends are probably similar to you in some ways — maybe their personality, their values, and where they’re at with their lives. That’s why you’re friends! If the psychologist is good for people like you, they’re probably good for you.

So first, you’ll need to work out what you really want from a psychologist.

You already know what you want, sort of

If you trust your intuition and let yourself be honest, you’ll find that you can answer some basic questions about who your right psychologist will be.

  • What gender?
  • How old?
  • Married? Divorced?
  • What religion, or none?
  • Sexual orientation?
  • Personality and style?

It’s ok to say “it doesn’t matter” to some of the questions.  Just don’t say “it shouldn’t matter” if your intuition is telling you that it does. For example, if you feel you need to see a older female psychologist who’s been through a divorce, there’s no point seeing a young male psychologist who’s never been married. If you know in advance that someone won’t fit what you need, just don’t do it.

How to find out what you don’t know

There’s more to it than the basic things above. You need a therapy style that works for you, and a treatment mode that suits your issues and goals. But you probably don’t know about therapy styles and treatments. How can you find out?

First, think about what you’re after:

  • Do you want to change your thoughts and the way you talk to yourself?
  • Do you want to deal with the here and now, rather than your past?
  • Do you want to work through things that happened when you were young?
  • Do you want to work through family stuff?
  • Do you want to look at the unconscious parts of your mind?

Second, do some reading. Here’s a good article on the different types of therapy. So many! Two that you need to know about are acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These are very widely used and lots of people get good results from them.

Third, we have a quick online quiz that helps you think about how you want a psychologist to help you. It gives you a result you can use when choosing psychologists, and take with you so you have better sessions. Get a MindFit account and then take the Ways of Being Helped quiz.  If you’re already signed up just follow the link from your Member Home page.

Getting help with getting help

If you’ve worked through the tips in this post then you’ve got some more clarity on what you need. Now, how do you find psychologists who match? What do you say on the phone to check that they’re right for you? How do you know they’ve got a good track record with people like you?

You don’t have to do it all yourself! We know over 2000 psychologists in Australia and we’re happy to do some searching for you. Send us a quick message and we’ll get started.

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How to get money back on your psychology sessions

The basic facts

  • A mental health treatment plan (MHTP) can save you $1245 a year
  • You can get one from your doctor, or any GP
  • It lets you claim a Medicare rebate on your psychologist sessions, up to 10 a year

How do I get one?

Mainly, go to a doctor and ask for one. If your doctor is the kind where you make an appointment first, mention that you need an MHTP when you book. They might have to give you a longer appointment than usual so that your doctor has time to do the plan. If you’re going to a medical centre or your doctor does walk-ins, just walk in.

You don’t have to see your family doctor. It doesn’t even have to be a doctor that you’ve seen before.

What happens when I’m at the doctors?

It will depend on the GP. Some doctors will collect a full history, give you a questionnaire, make a diagnosis, discuss your treatment goals, and talk you through the treatments they’ve planned for you. This is what they’re meant to do and it takes a bit of time, maybe 20 minutes. You will have to talk about your mental health stuff with the doctor, so be prepared.

Other doctors will quickly fill out a plan template with the minimum required information. This is bad if you’re relying on the GP for care, because they don’t understand your needs and their plan won’t be very tailored for you. It’s not so bad if you’re taking more responsibility for your own care, because now you’ve got your plan so you can get your Medicare rebates. You can do all the goals and treatment planning with the psychologist.

Almost certainly you’ll get a referral to a psychologist. If you already have one in mind, you can ask for the referral to be written to that psychologist. The doctor is allowed to give you a blank referral to “any psychologist”, but they probably won’t. Keep reading for why this doesn’t matter.

What if I don’t like the plan or the psychologist?

Your MHTP lets you get Medicare rebates for 6 sessions with any registered psychologist. If you don’t like the psychologist named on the plan, you can choose a different one. You still get your rebate, and you don’t need a new MHTP or updated referral letter.

If you don’t like one of the goals or treatments on your MHTP, discuss it with your psychologist and do something different.

If you want some help finding a psychologist who’s right for you, get started with us.

Already registered with MindFit and want to update us on what’s going on for you? Update your profile here.

How much is the rebate?

The rebate amount varies, depending on whether the psychologist is a “general psychologist” or a “clinical psychologist”.

  • General psychologist: $84.80
  • Clinical psychologist: $124.50

Psychologists set their own fees. When you’re choosing between psychologists or booking a session, make sure you ask how much it will cost and which rebate amount you’ll get.

How do I get my rebates?

You’ll need to pay the full fee for the session on the day. If your psychologist has electronic claiming you can then get your rebate on the spot. If not, you need to send your receipts to Medicare.

If your psychologist bulk-bills, you don’t have to pay anything. Hardly any psychologists bulk bill.

How many sessions do I get?

Your MHTP gives you 6 sessions. When you’ve used them you can go back to the doctor and get another 4 sessions. Then that’s it for the year.

You can still have sessions with your psychologist, but Medicare won’t give you any money back for them.

On January 1 each year you’re eligible for 6 sessions again. You don’t need a new MHTP each year.

What makes me eligible for an MHTP?

Most MHTPs are for depression or anxiety. Here’s the full list of conditions that are eligible:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Depression
  • Conduct disorders
  • Bereavement disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sleep problems
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Co-occurring anxiety and depression

Do I have to see a doctor to access psychology services?

No, but you can’t get a Medicare rebate without an MHTP.

(Technically you can get a Medicare rebate if you have a referral letter from a psychiatrist or paediatrician. But if you had a psychiatrist or a paediatrician you probably wouldn’t be reading this.)

Can I meet with my psychologist before getting an MHTP?

Sure, but you can’t get rebates for sessions that happened before the date your MHTP was filed with Medicare. (Your GP does the filing.)

Why does my doctor need to be involved?

People have different opinions about this.

On the one hand, your GP might be familiar with your medical and personal history which can be useful. They can help manage your medication, and prescribe things for you, which your psychologist can’t do. So if you have a good doctor they can be part of your mental health care team.

On the other hand, all the stuff the doctor does to prepare an MHTP probably gets re-done by the psychologist. You might decide to make the psychologist a more important part of your care, and just get through the MHTP formalities.