Sometimes it can feel like we’re the only one who’s grappling with this thing called life. We convince ourselves that no-one else lies awake at night wondering how we got it so wrong when others seem to effortlessly get it so right. As a psychologist, I have had the privilege of hearing thousands of stories from people just like you and I, which has confirmed to me that regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, profession, education, or even smoking hot good looks, no-one has all the answers, and we all feel rudderless sometimes.
Talking to a third-party professional can help us glean new insights, garner support, gain a fresh perspective, learn new strategies, and ultimately help move us towards desired change. Even when we are blessed with a full and supportive social network, a professional perspective can shed new light.
Whether you’re seeking help for the very universal struggles and challenges associated with relationships, parenting, career, mental health, separation, infidelity, family estrangement, job loss or change, or general feelings of stuck-ness, take heed that there’s a good match out there for you.
But just like dating, there may be some false starts before finding a therapist that feels like a good fit.
Let’s start with the easy stuff.
It’s important to minimise barriers to therapy so when the going gets tough the tough can keep going. Location, fee structure including Medicare or private health rebates, and availability/after-hours options are all worth considering. In 2016/2017, more than 2.4 million Aussies used a Mental Health Care Plan to subsidise at least some of their therapy sessions.
A 2014 study from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that 54 per cent of people with mental illness do not access any treatment; and couples wait an average of 6 unhappy years before seeking relationship help.
Not all psychologists are trained in the same areas of expertise or therapeutic modalities It’s necessary to ensure not only do they hold appropriate registration and qualifications, but also that they have current knowledge in the issues you are seeking help for.
Your GP and the Australian Psychological Society’s Find a Psychologist service are both excellent places to start your search. Don’t hesitate to contact therapists of interest and request a quick phone call before attending your first appointment. This is a useful step for both parties to address any concerns or questions, ensuring increased odds of a good match being made. Clients can help refine the process by clarifying what they hope the outcome of therapy will be. In addition to discussing the issue at hand, I often ask new clients “what would different look like” and with regards to seeking therapy, “why now?”
Once you’ve found a potential professional that feels like a good partnership, don’t expect rainbows and unicorns, or even someone who agrees with everything you’re saying. Therapy can be uncomfortable and challenging at times, but should always feel respectful, non-judgmental, supportive, and collaborative.
Let me debunk the myth that a psychologist has all the answers to your problems. I actually think it’s an arrogant assumption for any therapist to suggest they hold all the solutions to the problems that a person has tussled with over time, often for years.
Instead, consider therapy as a joint process, where the way forward is the responsibility of both client and psychologist.
Depending on the issue and capacity of the client, this ratio may swing between both parties, but ultimately, accountability sits with the client, and the therapist respects the wisdom the client brings. Personally, I believe that therapy should also be peppered with generous dollops of laughter and humour. This doesn’t negate the often serious and sometimes painful nature of what’s being discussed, but can help facilitate difficult conversations, and make the therapy experience something that people look forward to, rather than put off!
After one or two sessions, give yourself permission to assess how the therapeutic relationship feels. If something’s not right, and it doesn’t feel like avoidance or denial is at play, continue your search. Research tells us that the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in psychological efficacy. This means that the connection and rapport you share counts for more than the therapist’s years of practice, gender, area of expertise, or any other single factor. Perhaps the most salient guide to finding a good match is how you feel in the session. Through all the twists and turns that therapy can bring, you should like your psychologist, and feel like their only priority in that moment is you. It’s important to sense their genuine curiosity and interest in your story, experience and needs; and to believe they are ready to walk alongside you, holding hope when you have none, and sharing the load when your resilience grows. And don’t forget the laughter. Every healthy partnership needs humour to accompany the heartache, fears, triumphs, challenges, and aha moments that therapy brings.
By Sabina Read
(Originally featured in The Sydney Morning Herald )
I am a psychologist who works with organisations, groups, individuals, couples and families in the areas of relationships, well-being, stress, mental health, career development, leadership, change, life transitions, job loss, and parenting. I am also the Resident Psychologist and Social Commentator on Channel 7’s The Morning Show and The Daily Edition; and the top-rating Afternoons program at Radio 3AW. I was the host and mentor on Dream Job, an original 8-week TV series airing on Channel 9, following 16 Australians on their journey to finding a new career path; was an expert on Season 1 of Channel 9’s observational documentary, Married at First Sight; and my expertise and comments are regularly sought in lifestyle, business and women’s media nationally.
Realestate.com.au, Resident psychologist / writer
3AW Radio, Resident psychologist
SEEK, Resident Psychologist and Ambassador
Kids Under Cover, a not for profit dedicated to the prevention and early intervention of youth homelessness, Expert Ambassador
Saxtons Speakers Bureau, Speaker
Private practice: I currently work in a private practice in inner south-eastern Melbourne where I help clients seeking to manage life’s personal and professional challenges.