What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a university-trained health professional who has studied human behaviour. Psychologists are experts in the ways people think and behave.

Psychologists work in many different areas. Most psychologists work directly with people when they're upset or troubled - for example, when someone has anxiety or depression or is experiencing stress. They also work with people who are going through challenges in life, like parenting or relationship problems. Psychologists can help people find better ways of coping or managing parts of their lives.

Psychologists also help people improve performance, health and learning. They sometimes work in research, training and education.

Psychologists don't prescribe medications to help people feel better. They work on changing thoughts, behaviour and emotions using different therapies and approaches.

Why you or your child might see a psychologist

You're most likely to see a psychologist if you or your child needs:

  • counselling to help with life's problems including grief, trauma or relationship issues
  • educational and developmental support to help with learning difficulties, disorders like ADHD and difficult behaviour, or with developing social skills
  • help to deal with mental health problems like childhood depression, teenage depression, childhood anxiety, teenage anxiety, teenage stress and adult stress
  • help with rehabilitation after brain injury or stroke.
You don't need a GP referral to see a psychologist, but your GP is always a good place to start if you're worried about your child's health or development. Your GP can help you decide about seeing a psychologist and help you find someone who's right for your child.

Before going to a psychologist

Before seeing a psychologist, it's a good idea to find out about the following things:

  • Why you're going to the psychologist: talk with your GP about why your child needs to see a psychologist.
  • Waiting list: how long before you can get an appointment to see the psychologist?
  • Is there anything you can do while you're waiting to get an appointment?
  • Making an appointment: it might take you more than one phone call to make an appointment.
  • Cost: how much will the appointment with the psychologist cost? It might be expensive, so you could check whether you're eligible for Medicare, private health insurance or another rebate. You might be able to get a Medicare Mental Health Treatment Plan through your GP, which can help with the costs of seeing a psychologist.
  • Location: find out where you have to go to see the psychologist - for example, a public or private hospital, or consulting rooms. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child's needs.
  • What to bring to the appointment: for example, you might need to bring your child's referral letter, school reports or assessments from other specialists like speech pathologists.

You can talk about these things and any other questions with your GP before you go to the psychologist. You could also ask the psychologist's clinic when you make the appointment. It's a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don't forget.