finding the right therapist

Finding the right therapist can be challenging, but it’s worth your effort to search for the right one.  Study after study shows that the most important factor in the success of your treatment is the therapeutic relationship you have with your therapist,  your experience of feeling understood.  A therapist’s credentials and modalities might look great on paper, but if you don’t feel connected with that therapist or you feel you can’t trust the person, or you are not comfortable talking about difficult or intimate subjects, then therapy won’t be effective.

Trust your instinct – if there is no trust or connection, find another therapist. A good therapist will respect this choice and should not make you feel guilty.

Here are some suggestions of what to look for in a therapist:

  • The ability to relate to their clients
  • Provide a safe and caring environment for their clients
  • Has a clear and genuine interest in their clients
  • Listen empathically without judgement
  • Being present
  • The ability to perceive and interpret their client’s emotions and respond to them
  • Use the relational skills to challenge their client in a safe and supportive environment
  • Don’t settle for simple, incomplete answers from their clients
  • Believe in their client’s ability to make changes and their will to do even when it’s hard
  • Approach any feedback from clients, especially negative feedback, with a non-defensive attitude and openness that validates their clients’ feelings and concerns

Once you find a good therapist, be prepared to work hard. They’re working with you through the issues that you’ve been avoiding. We avoid things that hurt us for a reason, but sometimes the best way out is to work through it.

In Australia, it can be difficult to understand the differences between various types of mental health professionals and how they operate in their chosen field.


Psychotherapy or the “talking cure”, has been shown to improve emotions and behaviours and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body.  Psychotherapy deals with the deepest folds of the personality and recognises that symptoms in the client’s life now can often be traced back to deep wounds, splits in the personality, or trauma that occurred years ago. By the depth and scope of work, psychotherapy can be a transformative treatment and is traditionally a long term process.

A psychotherapist usually has a minimum of an undergraduate degree in a health-related area, typically 3-4 years and is a member of a governing organisation of psychotherapists/counsellors, such as PACFA or ACA.  Additionally, 350 hours of undergraduate training and 750 hours of post-graduate client contact are required for full registration, which is 4.5 times more contact hours than a psychologist.

Most psychotherapists also undergo a period of personal psychotherapy to ensure they have suitable levels of self-awareness. As part of their membership to a governing professional association, they are required to have regular clinical supervision.

Psychotherapists are trained to treat people for their emotional problems and work with individuals, couples, groups or families. They focus on assisting their clients to understand how past experiences influence and shape their current responses to life events. Psychotherapy aims to empower the individual by freeing him/her from the grip of unconscious triggers or impulses through increased self-awareness.

Currently, clients accessing counselling services through psychotherapists are not able to claim Medicare rebates as this only applies to psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Medicare also restricts the number of therapy sessions up to 10 individual sessions per calendar year and requires a GP referral.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see a psychotherapist and there’s no limit to how many sessions you can attend.


A psychologist has completed a 4-year undergraduate degree in psychology. To be a registered clinical psychologist, and they must have completed a Master’s or Doctoral degree plus a required period of supervised practice.

Most psychologists will use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a basic therapeutic model, however many extend their training and experience to utilise additional approaches such as psychodynamic work and integrated well-being approaches. Psychology is regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA).

A registered psychologist is eligible to provide Medicare-funded sessions for treatment of depression /anxiety, however, you need a referral from a GP for a mental health plan.  Medicare rebate is available for 10 individual sessions per calendar year.


Counselling is a very generic term used to describe the process of discussion, assessment and generally.  Counsellor training can vary widely from a short correspondence course or having attended a college for a year or more. Generally, counselling focuses on short-term solution focus strategies for dealing with specific problems, such as bereavement, relationship counselling, domestic violence etc…

A counsellor learns to listen empathically, provide non-judgemental feedback and guide the client toward finding the best solution for their particular problem. Counselling frequently takes place in shorter time-frames.

Both psychologists and psychotherapists have the skills and experience to provide counselling approaches as appropriate to a particular client’s needs.