What to expect when you see a psychologist


4 minutes

04 October 2021

A young woman sitting on a couch and talking to a psychologist

Your mental health is an important part of your overall wellbeing. Here’s how a psychologist can help support you – and a few things you can expect.

In this article

Are you wondering if you should see a psychologist?

You might be wondering if they could really help, or if your problems are ‘serious’ enough.

But when you’re going through a difficult time – whether it’s relationship trouble, grief, work stress, or you’re living with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety – seeking help can be a positive step forward.1

A psychologist can teach you tools and strategies to help you cope with life challenges and symptoms of mental illness.1

Your mental health is an important part of your overall wellbeing, and seeking help when you need it can make a difference.2

What is a psychologist?

First, let’s take a look at what a psychologist does – and what they don’t do.

There are two key terms you’re likely to come across when looking for a psychologist to talk to:

  • A psychologist is a mental health professional who typically has at least six years of university training and supervised experience. They can help manage a wide range of mental health issues, along with providing general mental wellbeing support.3
  • A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who has completed additional, specialised post-graduate study and training, so that they can treat complex mental health problems that need more tailored treatment.4

In this article, we will use the term ‘psychologist’ to include both psychologists and clinical psychologists.

These are both different to a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who typically has at least 11 years of training, and usually treats more severe mental health conditions.5

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication and admit people to hospital if needed – while psychologists cannot.5

If you’re not sure who you should talk to, a good starting point is to ask your GP for advice.

What kind of problems can a psychologist help with?

There are all sorts of reasons why you might see a psychologist to support your mental wellbeing.

Some of the common things psychologists can help with include:1

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addictions and substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Fears and phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Work stress
  • Relationship problems or breakups
  • Grief or loss
  • Financial stress

Even if you’re not sure what’s going on, but you feel something is different, a psychologist can help you explore what you’re feeling and find some strategies that could help.6

How can a psychologist help?

As mentioned above, psychologists do not prescribe medication. Instead, they use a range of evidence-based psychotherapies or talk therapies.5

One of the most common therapies is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to teach you to identify and change unhelpful patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour.7

This is an effective treatment approach for a range of mental and emotional health issues, including depression and anxiety.7

Your first session with a psychologist – what to expect

Of course, experiences with different psychologists will vary – but there are a few things you can generally expect to happen at your first appointment.

First, your psychologist should talk to you about confidentiality and what you can expect from working with them.6

Your first session will likely involve a lot of background questions, so that your psychologist can get an understanding of who you are, your personal history and what you’re seeking help with.6

Your psychologist can then discuss with you an approach for going forward – including how often you might have appointments and what sorts of things you will work on together. 

How can I access a psychologist?

A good first step is to talk to your GP. They can create a mental health treatment plan and refer you to a psychologist in your area.8

You don’t have to have a doctor’s referral to book an appointment with a psychologist, but you will need it if you want to access a Medicare rebate. 

There are two main options that can help with the cost of psychology appointments:

  • Medicare may give you a rebate for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional per calendar year.8
  • Private health insurance can pay benefits towards sessions with a psychologist or clinical psychologist, up to your annual limit. Find out more about HBF extras cover for mental health.

If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

Talk to your GP about your best options for finding mental health support.

Explore HBF mental health cover

Find health cover that includes mental health services, for extra support when you need it most.

Find out more


  1. 1healthdirect – Psychologists and psychology (2019)
  2. 2healthdirect – Mental health resources for adults (2020)
  3. 3Australian Psychological Society – What is a psychologist?
  4. 4The Australian Clinical Psychology Association – What is a clinical psychologist?
  5. 5healthdirect – Psychiatrists vs psychologists (2019)
  6. 6ReachOut Australia – What do psychologists do?
  7. 7Better Health Channel – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  8. 8Australian Government Services Australia – Mental health care and Medicare (2021)


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.