Worried about seeing a psychologist for the first time? These steps can help you have a positive experience.

 

For many people, taking the plunge and going to see a counsellor or psychologist is a daunting prospect. If you are worried about taking this big step, you are not alone. There are many potential worries about the process that can stop you getting the help you need.

People come to see us with all sorts of concerns, including questions about relationship counselling, anger management or anxiety treatment, or to get ongoing help with with previously diagnosed issues, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or panic attacks, among others. During the free counselling consultations that we offer at the clinic, our team of therapists hear many of the worries that many people have about starting treatment.

People are often anxious about having to open up to a complete stranger about very private things they perhaps haven’t told even those closest to them. Then there are the worries that the person is going to judge you, or not understand or not be able to help. You may be worried about the cost involved, in terms of both money and time. You may have put off going because you hoped the problem would sort itself out, or you may simply not want to face the emotions involved in talking about it. These worries are all totally normal, especially if you have never been to see a counsellor or psychologist before.

There are a few things to keep in mind when considering taking this big step, which should help you maximise your chance of a great experience.

  • Getting the right fit

    If you have decided you would like to receive some cognitive behavioural therapy, schema therapy, or some other form of psychotherapy to help you with your difficulties, obviously you would like to find a psychologist who is experienced in the area you are struggling with. You can find this information out by searching through online profiles of psychologists, calling clinics, or seeking a recommendation from your GP.

    A further important consideration is that you are able to build a strong therapy relationship with your psychologist. If it doesn’t feel like you ‘click’ in those first couple of sessions, then therapy with that person is more than likely not going to work very well for you. So how can you minimise the risk that you will go and see the wrong psychologist for you? A good first step is think about what is important to you in a therapist. Would you prefer a male or female? Is their age important to you? What about religious or ethnic background? What kind of personality would you prefer – methodical and serious, or playful and relaxed? If the clinic you are considering has profiles of their psychologists online this will help you start to figure out who might be a fit. Then a further step would be to call the practice and ask further questions about each psychologist to find out more.

  • Discussing private or emotional issues

    How do you feel about discussing private things that will bring up strong emotions with the counsellor? Often there are some painful memories and experiences that will need to be talked about in the course of psychological treatment. It’s important to remember that you are driving the process here – you don’t need to talk about things you don’t want to in the first sessions if they are too difficult. You can wait until you feel enough trust with that person to disclose more difficult things. Also, keep in mind that psychologists are trained to help clients manage distress and strong emotions, so you will be looked after in the session and also be given strategies to manage at home if you do feel overwhelmed.

    Therapy provides a place for you to talk about your issues with someone who has no agenda other than to help you get better. They don’t know anyone in your life, and what you talk about stays completely confidential between the two of you. There are only three exceptions to this: if your or someone else’s safety at risk, if there is a law requiring the psychologist to disclose the information (eg. they have their notes requested for by a Court), and finally – if you have signed that you consent to the psychologist releasing the information to a named person or body.

  • Feeling judged, misunderstood, or that the psychologist can’t help

    Clinical Psychologists have undergone extensive training in how to work with difficult and sensitive mental health issues such as grief, trauma and PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks. Treating these issues well requires that the psychologists have learned how to deal with people in a way that is validating and empathic, assess each person’s particular issues to work out how to treat them, and then apply scientifically proven treatments in a sensitive way to the problems.

    Ideally, a good first session with a psychologist should leave you feeling accepted, understood, confident that the clinician has a plan to help you achieve your goals, a rough estimate of how long treatment might take, and you should go home with a first technique or piece of work to get started on. A good clinic should employ psychologists who are actually looking for and are receptive to feedback if you feel something was missing, and also you should be made aware that you can change therapists if you didn’t feel it was a fit for you.

  • Minimising the risk of wasted money and time.

    Try to find a service which offers a free consultation with their counsellors or psychologists, so that you can get a feel for them and how they work. This will help you reduce the risk that you have wasted your time and money with the wrong person. Good psychologists should also be seeking feedback from you about how sessions are going, and make you feel that all feedback, even negative, is welcome and will lead to constructive conversations about how to improve the next session.

    In Australia, Medicare supports many people to access treatment with a psychologist. This help can be accessed by seeing your GP first for a chat about what has been going on for you. If the GP considers you are eligible, then they can set up a ‘Mental Health Plan’ for you, which can reduce your out of pocket costs hugely. Sessions with Clinical Psychologists, due to their more extensive training in treating complex mental health conditions, attract a higher rebate than sessions with other registered psychologists. You can also be assured that they have received a Master, Doctorate or PhD in the area, and undergone a structured training program.

So how can you guarantee you get it right first time?

Although there is no guarantee you will get the right fit the first time when you are trying to find a psychologist to help you, the steps we have gone through should take a lot of the risk out of the equation for you. We understand the difficulty involved in finding that right person to help you. Booking a brief complimentary consultations with a psychologist to get to know them before you embark on your journey to recovery  and discuss your issues in person to see if they feel right for you is a good first step. If you have been struggling with your issues for a while, but worried about going to see a counsellor or psychologist for the first time, give it a go. What have you got to lose?

 

Martin Hood
Martin HoodBrisbane City Psychologist
Martin is a Clinical Psychologist with a proven track record in producing good outcomes for clients across a broad range of presenting problems, including stress, anxiety disorders, depression, grief, OCD, eating disorders, anger management, and couples therapy.