There is a tendency towards misconception when people start seeking out therapy.
It seems everything that we see, read, and hear directs our understanding of what is actually available to us. As an individual person who is already struggling to make decisions and find solutions we actually become very easy to manipulate in this way.
The familiar solution that springs to mind when seeking therapy is to see a Psychologist. Seeing a Psychologist gives you access to a range of therapeutic models and assessment tools that can help you understand your current psychological needs and experiences, and work through important issues to improve your condition. Further information about what Psychologists do can be found on the AAPi (Australian Association of Psychologists Inc) website.
Are you aware that there are also many other types of Therapists that can help you? Many people are completely unaware of the many therapy professions available to them when they are seeking therapy. A significant reason for this is that we are dictated to flow in the direction that funding is available for services in the form of rebates.
As a Psychologist who has practiced for over 20 years, some people may question why I would choose to educate people about the broad range of therapy practitioners that are available to them, additional to Psychologists, in their community? It is really a matter of ethics.
Currently in our communities, access to mental health services are stretched and often difficult for people to financially afford. It is only ethical to ensure that our public are aware of all options available when needed, rather than supporting a continued monopoly-of-sorts on mental health provision by only a few selected professions. Afterall – it is not a profession or industry that determines whether you will get what you need from therapy – it is the Therapist that you choose based on best fit for you, and all people should have choice about who they access to work with.
So who are these many faces of therapy that are available for you?
One such profession that can support your mental health needs through therapy is Social Work. Many Social Workers are highly skilled, qualified, and trained in providing therapy for a broad range of mental health issues. You can find a Social Worker on the Australian Association of Social Workers website.
The AASW explains “Accredited Mental Health Social Workers (AMHSWs) are recognised providers with Medicare Australia and other programs, delivering clinical social work services in mental health settings and utilising a range of evidence-based strategies.”
You can also choose to work with a Counsellor. I have met many highly skilled and compassionate therapists who are Counselling trained, who pride themselves on providing professional therapy to clients that present to them. There is an assumption that Counsellors are not educated at a degree level – this is incorrect. In fact, Counsellors who are members of ACA (Australian Counselling Association) are required to have completed accredited courses of training, and maintain ongoing professional supervision and professional development – hallmarks of a professional and skilled Therapist.
Another rarely considered profession for therapy services are Occupational Therapists. Yes it is true that Occupational Therapists are more commonly known for working with mobility issues, however many are also mental health trained to work in therapy with clients.
OTA (Occupational Therapy Australia) explains “Occupational therapists in mental health use individual and group programs/activities to enhance independence in everyday activities. An occupational therapist may help to develop coping strategies for people overcoming their mental health issues or improving confidence and self esteem in social situations.”
Also often overlooked are our highly skilled Mental Health Nurses Practitioners who have been nursing trained and done further additional training in the mental health industry to provide therapy. You can find some additional information about Nurse Practitioners here .
Let’s not fail to highlight the profession of Psychotherapy. Often people assume that this is the same as seeing a Psychologist or a Counsellor, however this is not entirely true. While there are similarities, there are also vast differences in terms of the therapies experience that you will engage in. Psychotherapy is a diversely skilled profession in its own right.
PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) explain “Although counselling and psychotherapy overlap considerably, there are also recognised differences. While the work of both Counsellors and Psychotherapists with clients may be of considerable depth and length, the focus of Counselling is more likely to be on specific problems, changes in life adjustments and fostering the client’s wellbeing. Psychotherapy is more concerned with the restructuring of the personality or self and the development of insight.”
Every profession brings with them a cast of quality skilled professionals who can guide you through therapy to achieve the outcomes that you are seeking. Every profession brings with them different tool kits which have emerged from different models and theories, to help you do this. The key value in acknowledging all therapy professions exists in precisely this diversity. After all – I am sure that you are not a one- size-fits-all person right?
Possibly the key factor that gave Psychology it’s stand out profile as the one-stop-shop for mental health treatment, is the feature that Psychologists use psychometric testing for assessment and diagnosis as congruent with the medical system. It can label you to determine which treatment protocol or medication applies.
Think about it – while such assessment and diagnosis has its place in the therapeutic realm, is this all that YOU are looking for? Is this EVEN what you require? Is this the therapy ingredient that will get you living life well again? Do you even WANT this as a part of your therapy experience? Because therapy IS an experience! It is an important and transformational experience when provided by a Therapist who knows how to bring the essence of humanity to their therapy.
I may cop some flack for that previous comment, however it is important that the everyday person can easily understand what is offered so that they are also able to make informed choice about who they wish to see.
So how do you choose a Therapist to work with you through your difficult times? There is much credible research that demonstrates that the key to client outcomes in therapy is the ability of the Therapist to create a sound and safe working relationship with their client (1)
This is barely something that can be taught while achieving our degrees at university. This is a quality that is specific to the Therapist’s nature and intention in choosing their profession. It is a skill that Therapists develop through experience with other humans (clients). This is determined by the Therapist that you choose simply because they are a good fit for you and what you need.
So next time you are seeking therapy during a difficult time, make sure that you choose a Therapist that you feel comfortable with and that you feel is a good fit for you in the way that they work. Also, if you choose wrong the first time – shop around until you find the right person.
Psychologists, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are ALL potential therapy professionals that you can access – each with varying provision of medicare or private health rebates available.
Don’t allow yourself to be limited by the restricted information and direction that you are sold. If you are going to invest in your own wellbeing by attending, then also invest by looking around for the best person for the job – not the closest, not the cheapest, not the one you were told to go to – invest in yourself more than that.
To share space and vulnerability with another human being, with the aim of improving your own mental health, is daunting at least and terrifying for most. So allow yourself the time to find the Therapist, regardless of degree or profession, that is going to work the best for you and your therapy goals.
Therapy is a human art.
Humans are individuals.
The Art for Individuals.
As such it can not be ‘owned’ or delivered effectively by any single professional pathway.
(1) Martin, D. J., Garske, J. P., & Davis, M. K. (2000). Relation of the therapeutic alliance with outcome and other variables: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(3), 438–450. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.68.3.438