What to expect when you see a psychologist


4 minutes

19 June 2024

This article was originally published on but has since been revised with new information.

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?

Psychologists study individuals and groups to better understand how people, communities and societies function, and devise ways to empower them and help them thrive. Psychologists leverage their understanding of mental and biological functions that influence behaviour to achieve these goals.4

When you seek help from a psychologist, you might see a psychologist with general registration, or one who also has a specific area of practice endorsement. More information about the approved areas of practice is available from The Psychology Board of Australia.

In this article, we will use the term ‘psychologist’ to include all types of 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.4

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.

Extras explained – how much do I get back?

Certainty feels good, that’s why we’ve created a line-up of extras options that give you a guaranteed % back^ on your visits to popular services like Physio, Chiro, and Dental.

Explore HBF Extras


  1. 1healthdirect – Psychologists and psychology (2019)
  2. 2healthdirect – Mental health resources for adults (2020)
  3. 4Australian Psychological Society – How can psychology help me?
  4. 5healthdirect – Psychiatrists vs psychologists (2019)
  5. 6ReachOut Australia – What do psychologists do?
  6. 7Better Health Channel – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  7. 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.

^Annual limits and waiting periods apply. Percentage back benefits are payable for services, programs and providers approved by HBF, when provider charges in accordance with the Member Plus schedule fee. Excludes Basic Extras and closed products.