For many, making the decision to see a psychologist for the first time can be a daunting process. It’s a scary and exposing feeling to go and express all that is not ok with you to someone who is a complete stranger. A skilled and trained practitioner who engages in exactly this type of work each day yes, but a stranger to you at this point. If you are worried about this step, you are certainly not alone. Whilst the stigma around mental health is breaking down with each decade, and especially off the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still a way to go.
Before taking the step to reach out for professional support, you might take a while to even realise you’ve been struggling. Sure, many things can explain your frequent spells of insomnia, relentless tearfulness (hormones, right?), bad day after bad day or the motivation of a drugged sloth for no apparent reason.
Then you might Google a few self-help options, maybe complete a few online quizzes to find out for sure if you are really screwed up or not, buy a couple of books, listen to some podcasts or however else you roll. Your GP may have suggested a local psychology practice or psychologist who they regularly refer to, if you have gone about undertaking a GP Mental Health Care Plan in order to receive a Medicare rebate. Then you might head back to browsing online at psychology practices and looking at the headshots and making a bunch of assumptions as to why this therapist might be a better or worse fit for you based on how they photograph or their affinity for hiking, baking and psych thrillers…
Then, finally you pick up that phone or go online to book in an appointment. The receptionist is hopefully friendly, helpful, and professional and you start to feel a little more confident about your decision. We get all of this. It takes a lot from contemplating your need for support to booking in and we are mightily respectful of the decisioning that sits behind this for each client.
People come to see us with all sorts of concerns, including questions about relationship counselling, anger management, anxiety treatment, or to get ongoing help with previously diagnosed issues, such as PTSD, panic disorders, depressive disorders, among others. Both our administration team and therapists hear many of the worries that many people have about starting treatment.
People are often anxious about having to open up to a complete stranger about very private things they perhaps haven’t told even those closest to them. Then there are the worries that the person is going to judge you, or not understand or not be able to help. You may be worried about the cost involved, in terms of both money and time. You may have put off going because you hoped the problem would sort itself out, or you may simply not want to face the emotions involved in talking about it. These worries are all totally normal, especially if you have never been to see a psychologist before.
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering taking this big step, which should help you maximise your chance of a great experience.
First session nerves? Unsure of expectations?
The first session is all about getting to know you and your backstory as well as your desired treatment goals and therapeutic needs and preferences. Ideally, this is the time where you and your psychologist will develop early rapport and you will understand how comfortable and compatible you feel with them. It’s important to remember that you are driving the process here – you don’t need to talk about things you don’t want to in the first sessions if they are too difficult. You can wait until you feel enough trust with that person to disclose more difficult things. Also, keep in mind that psychologists are trained to help clients manage distress and strong emotions, so you will be looked after in the session and be given strategies to manage at home if you do feel overwhelmed.
Is the psychologist properly trained?
All registered Psychologists in Australia require formalised tertiary training, accreditation, and ongoing professional development to keep their registered status to practice. Under our regulating bodies, we also consent to practicing only in our areas of competence. This means that some psychologists will not work with certain populations (i.e., children, adolescents, couples, adults, medicolegal, etc.), diagnoses requiring specialist assessments (i.e., Spectrum disorders, attentional disorders, certain forensic presentations, etc.) or presenting issues (i.e., addictions, abuse, cultural or religious concerns. Etc.) if they do not have the requisite knowledge, skills, training, and recency of practice. Your psychologist will gain an understanding of your treatment needs and motivations and if they at all feel that they do not have the sufficient expertise in the space you require, they will on-refer to the most suitable practitioner.
All Cause Effect Psychologists have completed a minimum of Master’s degree training and have further completed post-tertiary certifications, accreditations and formalised training and supervision in their areas of clinical interest. Some are also Professional Supervisors and have obtained Endorsement in specific psychology fields. If you want to double check your psychologists’ training and registration status, you search this information via AHPRA https://www.psychologyboard.gov.au
What if it’s not the right fit?
Good psychologists should also be seeking feedback from you about how sessions are going, and make you feel that all feedback, even negative, is welcome and will lead to constructive conversations about how to improve the next session.
At Cause Effect Psychology, we track engagement statistics across our clinic. This helps each of us to ensure the first couple of sessions are indeed satisfying and helpful for clients. We find that over 80% of first-time Cause Effect Psychology clients engage with their selected psychologist straightaway.
So how can you minimise the risk that you will go and see the wrong psychologist for you? A good first step is to think about what is important to you in a therapist. Would you prefer a male or female? Is their age important to you? What about religious or ethnic background? What kind of professional training and specialisation do they have? What kind of personality would you prefer – methodical and serious, or playful and relaxed?
And if things aren’t working out, don’t ghost your therapist. Let them know you are making a conscious choice to seek an alternate practitioner, as is your right and privilege. Give them feedback (we can handle it!) even if it’s as simple as ‘I think you’re great / lovely / professional / (insert kind adjective), just not for me’ as we are the first to endorse ‘good fit’ above and beyond settling for a therapist who you don’t gel with. We want to you have a great experience and get the support you need and not have an experience of low rapport be a barrier to this. It is more than reasonable to indicate your therapeutic needs and preferences, especially in such a vulnerable setting, and we encourage clients to speak up so that you get the support you need. We find that re-engagement with an alternate practitioner shows a 99% success rate for client engagement and therefore, treatment outcomes.
Ultimately, obtaining support with the right psychologist offers a positive, life changing experience for you and well worth the prior nerves and anticipatory feelings. A therapists’ relationship with their client is a very special, privileged one. We regard our clients in the best possible light so that their insight, growth and transformation is fostered within the therapeutic alliance. I hope this has helped shed a little more light about seeing a psychologist for the first time to allow you to take the very first step.
Written by Kasia Gordon – Cause Effect Psychology