What is psychotherapy?

Wikipedia describes Psychotherapy is an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to aid clients in problems of living.  It aims to increase the individual's sense of well-being and reduce their subjective sense of discomfort.  Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, conversation, communication and behaviour change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships.

Psychotherapy varies depending on the personalities of the psychologist and client, the particular problems that the client wants to work on and the therapist's skills.  Therefore, there really is a unique treatment for each client.  Psychotherapy is not like most medical doctor visits where you complain about something and get a prescription and hope you don't have to go back with the same complaint.  There are many different methods that psychotherapists use to address the problems that you bring to the therapeutic relationship.  As such, it involves a very active relationship between you and the therapist.  In order for the therapy to be most successful, you will have to work on things that the two of you talk about both during the sessions and at home.

If you have never been in therapy before, you need to know that therapy is a collaborative effort between the psychologist and client, and as such results cannot be guaranteed.  Progress in therapy depends on many factors including the client's motivation, effort and other life circumstances as well as the "therapeutic connection" and the interaction between a therapist's skill set and the client's presenting problem.

Are there risks to psychotherapy?

Yes, psychotherapy can have risks.  Because therapy often involves sharing unpleasant and painful aspects of your life, you may experience uncomfortable feelings like grief, sadness, fear, guilt, anger, frustration and loneliness.  Because of the changes you might make as a result of the work together, your relationships might also change and the people in them might not be happy about that.  On the other hand, psychotherapy has been proven to have benefits for people who go through it.  Although there are no guarantees of what you will experience, therapy often leads to feelings of well-being, better relationships, feelings of empowerment and efficacy, solutions to specific problems and reductions in feelings of distress.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Psychologist and psychiatrists both work in the area of mental health, and often work together.  However, there are some significant differences between the two professions in the following areas:

Psychologists help mentally healthy people find ways of functioning better. Some psychologists specialise in treating people with a mental illness. They study human behaviour in their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees before undertaking supervised experience and gaining registration. They do not have a medical degree, and cannot prescribe medication.  Their treatments are based on changing behaviour without medication. There is a considerable amount of evidence showing psychological treatments are effective.

Psychiatrists have a medical degree, which involves six years of studying general medicine, followed by further study to specialise in psychiatry.  They can prescribe medication and mainly treat people with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

What happens in the beginning of therapy?

Our first few sessions will involve a clinical assessment of whether my skill set matches your needs (i.e., whether I can be of service to you) and whether we feel we can work together as a team. By the end of that time, I might recommend that you consult with someone else who might better help you (e.g., someone with an area of specialisation I do not possess);  suggest that you further consult with your GP to rule out possible underlying medical causes for your concerns; or a psychiatrist for a medication consultation, and/or discuss our treatment plan - what our work together will include based on your identified needs and/or goals for recovery.


You should take this information, along with your own sense of whether you feel comfortable working with me, to make a decision about whether to continue therapy with me. Therapy involves a real commitment of time, money, and energy, so you should feel good about the therapist you select. If you have questions about my clinical assessment, my treatment plan, or anything else that might concern you, I welcome you to discuss them with me. I know that I can't be the best fit for everyone, so if we decide I am not the right therapist for you, I will be happy to refer you to another mental health professional who might work better for you.

What is a "clinical diagnosis?"

As interpreted by many people and organisations, a "clinical diagnosis" is the naming of a specific disorder (e.g., Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Psychologists and other mental health professionals use the DSM IV (the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the American Psychiatric Association, as a reference for informing clinical diagnosis. This book describes the symptoms for many mental disorders, as well as the criteria that must be met to receive a diagnosis of each disorder.  However, a clinical diagnosis is more than a label. It is a question, or a series of them: "Why does this person (or couple or family) have this problem?" "How did this problem come about?" "What maintains it?" "What can we do about it?" The answers to these questions are often theoretically and research driven and more important to the process of therapy than a diagnostic label itself.

The things I want to talk about in therapy are very personal. Will you keep my therapy private?

The privacy and confidentiality of our sessions is extremely important to me.  In all aspects of my practice, communication between my clients and me (or between me and those who my clients have authorised me to contact) are protected by confidentiality regulations as per the privacy act, and by professional standards and ethics.  I am a member of the Australian Psychological Society and as such follow their code of ethics and professional standards. To the degree allowed by law, information about your therapy will not be disclosed to any person or organisation unless you give me a specific, and when possible written, release to do so. While you are free to discuss anything that occurs in our sessions with anyone, I may not discuss you or our communications without your authorisation. However, you must know that there are some situations written into law that deny me complete control over confidentiality.  If you are accessing my service via Better Access (Medicare) I am required to provide a brief progress report to your GP.