We receive dozens of requests every week from people seeking psychological help for parents, or for children, who are struggling with the demands of 2020 living. Mood disorders (like depression and anxiety) or atypical development disorders (like autism spectrum or ADHD), as well as behavioural challenges (things like OCD or ODD) are regularly asked about.
We receive questions regarding school refusal, friendship difficulties, tech tantrums, and more. There are parents who are at their wit’s end, children who are falling apart, and people who are simply wanting a compassionate ear and some practical advice.
Unfortunately we aren’t able to provide help directly. And while we are grateful for the positive feedback we receive regarding the blogs, podcasts, books, webinars, and other content that we provide to help, we know that sometimes it just ain’t enough.
So this is a quick, easy guide to help you to find the right professional help for your family.
What to try before you seek a shrink
Before we dive in, it’s important to highlight that sometimes we don’t need a psychologist. A psychologist can be expensive (depending on the way you go about it, and the amount of therapy required).
Sometimes family life can improve with simple things like improvements to:
- diet (eating more ‘real’ food and less processed food),
- exercise (getting out and moving more can do wonders for mental health and relationships)
- sleep (we are a consistently sleep-deprived people!)
- nature, or as I call it… fuel for the soul
- reduced screen time
- reduced alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use
- routine and structure
Additionally, as “woo-woo” as they sound, I’ve been astounded at how many people I know who have been helped (or whose children have been helped) with things including:
- taking time to connect more (usually meaning less screen time and earlier bed time, as well as good quality time together)
- meditation or mindfulness
- using smell (aromatherapy) to calm things down
- muscle relaxation techniques
and so on.
And there are so many great resources out there to help. Things on my website include my books, webinars, and programs. They obviously cost. But if you google the issue you’re struggling with you’ll usually find loads of free, useful, practical resources online too – often written by yours truly!
When you really need outside help
There are some times when we really do need outside help. If this is the case, your first visit is to the GP. Your doctor will talk with you about what the issues are and set you up with a referral for a psychologist. You’ll also be able to access the Federal Government’s Mental Health Plan for 6 subsidised visits (in a 12-month period). This is typically upgraded to 10 visits if required. More on this in a moment.
Please note – you do NOT have to visit the psychologist your GP suggests. I actually suggest you shop around. Look carefully for the psychologist who will best meet your needs.
This is tricky though. Why?
Psychologists aren’t allowed to advertise themselves in any particularly meaningful way. Regulations prohibit it. They can’t provide testimonials. They can’t suggest they have a specialty. They can’t promise breakthroughs or specified outcomes. They can only tell you that they’re “here to help”.
The other tricky thing here is that while one psychologist might be brilliant for your friend going through a separation or divorce, they may not be useful at all for your child with an eating disorder. Referrals from friends might be helpful, but they could also be a total waste of time.
BUT… choosing the right psychologist is crucial. Researchers have found that the relationship between psychologist and patient/client is more important than qualifications, cost of session, the fancy suburb they’re in, or any other consideration. We call it the “therapeutic alliance”, and it is critical in recovery and progress.
So what do you do?
First, when you go to see a psychologist (with that GP referral), you need to be sure you’re seeing someone qualified. This means a university-educated psychologist is going to be the best bet. There is a range of different ways someone can qualify as a psychologist, but all you really need to worry about is the following:
- Are they registered as a psychologist with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency)?
If the answer is yes, they can see you on the mental health plan. They tick all the boxes. You’re good to go.
At this point you have 6 visits to make things right. That’s not many. And you want the alliance to be strong.
If you get one or two sessions in and you don’t think it’s working out (because your child won’t open up, or you feel that your child doesn’t experience a sense of safety, or any other reason), talk to that psychologist and consider seeing someone else. It’s ok to chop and change. In fact, it’s important that you’re open to this.
It’s a pain. You’ve used up government subsidised visits. And you’ve invested time and emotion. You’ve told your story. Your child has had to go through a lot. But you need the right person. It’s ok to shop around. I encourage it as do most psychologists. So don’t feel beholden to the first psychologist you talk to.
(As an aside, someone close to me did exactly that. After two visits, he told me that the psychologist had a provocative style of questioning that he felt awful about and had also expressed some ideas that were deeply uncomfortable. He changed psychologists and got a result within two short visits with someone new.)
What do I do when I run out of visits?
You can keep visiting the psychologist once the 6 (or 10) visits are used up. It’s just that the government won’t subsidise them any longer, but if they’re good, it’s worth the money. (Private health care usually covers some psychological services too, but there’s always a cap, and sometimes it won’t kick in until you’ve used up your other options.)
So… that’s the summary. If you need help, see your GP. Get the guidance you need. And don’t wait too long. Do it early, before things get even more challenging.