Finding help and support for your mental wellness can have a positive impact on your life and how you manage your day to day. What that help looks like varies depending on your needs, whether it’s support for crises, regular counselling or just having someone to talk to about some personal struggles. Counsellors (also called therapists and include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other allied health practitioners) are trained mental health professionals. They offer several types of therapies to help you clarify what concerns you and provide strategies to help you with those concerns. Some of the reasons to chat with a counsellor include stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, sexuality, grief and loss, communication and relationship concerns, gender identity, abuse, and addiction.
Knowing where to find help can be difficult, but there are organisations experienced in connecting people with the best support for them.
In Australia there are several ways to get help and support for your mental wellness, giving you choices that can best suit your individual circumstances and needs. Know that the cost of different services can vary, but there are choices available to you.
These services include:
- Support and care that is community-based
- Hospital emergency departments
- General Practitioners (GP)
- Specialists in mental health including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other allied health professionals
- Psychiatric disability support services and
- Supported accommodation services
One of the benefits of different choices is that if you find a counsellor doesn’t quite ‘fit’ your needs, you can look for others that may be better suited, having the style and expertise that can assist you with your mental health goals.
When thinking about your mental health, it’s important to consider if your current need is an urgent one and are you at risk of harm?
Are you in crisis?
It’s important to know where to turn if you or someone you know is at crisis or at risk of harm right now. In Australia, there are several organisations (many are 24/7) you can call for crisis support including:
- Emergency: Triple zero (000) or closest hospital emergency department
- Police Attendance: 131 444
- Lifeline: (personal crisis) Ph 13 11 14 – Web lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service: Ph 1300 659 467 – Web suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Beyond Blue: (For anyone feeling anxious or depressed) Ph 1300 22 4636 – Web beyondblue.org.au
- Kids Helpline: (Counselling for young people aged 5 – 25) Ph 1800 55 1800 – Web kidshelpline.com.au
- QLife: Anonymous LGBTQIA+ peer support and referral service. Ph 1800 184 527 – Web qlife.org.au
- Mensline Australia: (Men with emotional or relationship concerns) Ph 1300 78 99 78 – Web mensline.org.au
- Open Arms: (Veterans & families counselling) Ph 1800 011 046 – Web openarms.gov.au
- 13YARN: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis support line. This service is run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ph 13 92 76 Web 13yarn.org.au
For a more extensive list of resources, check out: mhaustralia.org/need-help
How to Find a Counsellor
Although many counsellors in Australia are qualified, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health social workers, not all people who call themselves counsellors have qualifications. You have the right to ask for their qualifications if they aren’t readily available on their website.
You can look online for a counsellor, with many practices having more than one. They will often indicate their specialities or interests e.g. anxiety, depression, sexuality, relationships. You can also ask a GP who they might recommend. It’s important to choose someone that you feel comfortable with, and it’s ok to look for another until you find one who is the best match for you. You can stop after the first session and ask for another referral. During your first session, consider how comfortable you felt, how did you feel discussing your concerns, did you feel listened to and respected, and did you discuss goals for your mental wellness?
When considering a counsellor, think about costs (will you be able to commit to ongoing sessions) and your ability to attend sessions (daytime, evening, weekends, and location). There are also an increasing number of online services (telehealth) available for people who can’t or choose not to leave their homes. If this isn’t indicated on a counsellor’s website, call and ask if this is an option. Online therapy may not be the best option depending on your needs.
Be mindful that this will likely be an ongoing process so be realistic and gentle with yourself. Finding a counsellor is the first step towards your mental wellness goals. Everyone’s needs are different, so take your time and consider what you need and wish to gain from counselling, and who will be the most appropriate mental health professional to support you.
Referrals and Costs
Do You Need a Referral?
In Australia you don’t need a referral from a GP to see a counsellor (although to see a psychiatrist, a referral is usually necessary). To see a counsellor or allied professional (for example a social worker) without a referral, it is simply a matter of finding one you feel might be a good fit for you and calling to make an appointment. If a referral is required they will let you know.
Without a Referral
It’s important to know that seeing a counsellor without a referral from a GP will mean that you will be paying the full amount for each session. The difference a referral makes is that you can often receive subsided treatment from approved counsellors under the government rebate scheme (Medicare).
With a referral
To get a referral the first step is visiting a GP. If the GP bulk bills, Medicare covers the cost of your appointment, otherwise you pay the full amount and claim some of the cost back. The GP will, with your assistance, develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP) and give you a referral to an appropriate counsellor. The GP will ask you some personal questions about your concerns to best support you in developing the MHTP and may also prescribe you medication. If you have a counsellor in mind that is approved under the rebate scheme, you can also ask to be referred to a specific professional. The MHTP will outline your goals regarding your mental wellness, specific plans and treatment options and what services will best support you in reaching those goals. Most MHTP are designed for anxiety or depression, but other concerns can be treated under an MHTP (ask your GP).
In Australia, some counsellors are covered under a government rebate scheme (Medicare). This means either all or most of your session will be eligible for a rebate if you attend with a MHTP. With a General Practitioner’s referral you are eligible for up to 10 counselling sessions (individual) each calendar year (up to 10 group sessions). If you are considering a particular counsellor, call to ask I that operate under the rebate scheme.
If you have private insurance, some provide coverage for counselling or psychological services. Some insurance policies may also cover part of any medication costs. As these vary, it’s best to contact your insurance company directly for advice.
About the author: Haughty Chicken (she/her) is an Australian Social Worker specializing in trauma informed practice and research relative to gendered interpersonal violence, as well as the provision of safe virtual spaces in content creation and gaming.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, in need of immediate intervention, and based in Australia, please visit Lifeline Australia or call 13 11 14. You can also visit www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au or call 1300 659 467. Information for other countries/areas can be found here.