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Two women are sitting at round white table next to a window, facing each other. One woman has her back to the camera, and the other appears captured mid-conversation with her hands out in front of her.

How to find the right mental health practitioner

If you’re one of the 45% of Australians affected by mental health issues, you’ve likely wondered how to go about finding the right help. What sort of qualifications should you be looking for? And more importantly, how do you find someone you’ll gel with?

Deakin graduate, Sarah de Witt, is the co-founder of mental health service provider, talklink. After starting as a mental health podcast, talklink is now Australia’s first anonymous online mental health directory.

‘People started to reach out to us asking for support on specific topics we were discussing on the podcast and we found it difficult to connect them with the right practitioner – directories we found were old school and stuffy and didn’t seem to hit the mark on making mental health conversations modern, approachable, and simple, so we launched our own,’ Sarah explains.

‘We clearly list pricing, have filters available for people to search for specific practitioners with a certain gender, religious familiarity, therapeutic style, etc. We also have videos of our practitioners so clients can get a feel of whether they’d connect with the practitioner before booking a session.’

Why is it important to find the right mental health practitioner?

Finding someone you’re comfortable with and trust is one of the most important factors to successfully receiving mental health support.

‘Rapport and connection is one of the biggest predictors of therapeutic success. Basically, if you don’t trust or like your practitioner you are less likely to talk openly and get the help you need,’ Sarah explains.

‘At talklink we have a short video of each clinician so you can get a sense of their communication style before paying to see them. They will also have a 10-minute free call with you beforehand as a next step to get to know them a bit first – you’ll be the best judge to know if they’re someone you’re likely to connect with.’

The type of help you need will also help determine the type of practitioner you should look for – for example, should you seek out a counsellor or psychologist?

‘It’s important for your practitioner to have the right professional experience and training to be able to help the issue at hand. Look for years of experience, degrees and qualifications, and general life experience,’ Sarah explains.

‘Psychologists (general or clinical) are great for helping people with more complex issues and mental health diagnoses. Their approach is the scientific method (i.e. treatment is typically evidence-based with a focus on cognitive (mind) processes. They have to study for a minimum of six years at university and are well-equipped to manage complex mental health issues.

‘[A counsellor’s/psychotherapist’s] approach often focuses on more than just the mind, with body, lifestyle, feelings, emotion, and identity work. The education is varied with some practitioners having a PhD while others have no formal training.’

If you’re looking to engage a psychologist, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate, which means you can get back a portion of the cost of your session fee. For sessions with a counsellor or psychotherapist, there is no official Medicare rebate available.

‘It’s worth noting, however, that many psychologists still require a gap fee. Psychologists charge more than counsellors and psychotherapists, and often, by the time you apply the rebate, the out-of-pocket is similar to the cost of seeing a counsellor,’ Sarah says.

To qualify for the rebate, speak with your GP about a mental health care plan.

'Rapport and connection is one of the biggest predictors of therapeutic success. Basically, if you don’t trust or like your practitioner you are less likely to talk openly and get the help you need'

Sarah de Witt,
Co-founder, talklink

What to look for in a mental health practitioner

Once you know what type of mental health practitioner you need to look for, then comes the process of actually finding one that you feel comfortable with. So what should you look for? Sarah suggests considering what kind of communication style you best respond to.

‘Some practitioners have a very soft, backseat approach while others are a bit more directive, challenging and assertive. You will know what style is most likely to work with you,’ Sarah says.

‘talklink’s analytics have shown us that clients are 14 times more likely to engage with a practitioner if there is a video on their profile.

‘If you watch a video of a practitioner and think “Nope, I won’t feel comfortable opening up to them,” then trust your gut. There’s plenty of other practitioners out there that could make you feel comfortable to talk and process your problems with.’

Another thing to consider is whether you prefer to see someone in-person, or online. For some people, speaking to a practitioner online offers them a sense of privacy if they are able to connect with someone from the comfort of their own home, whereas others might prefer a face-to-face connection.

But whatever kind of mental health practitioner and mode of communication you prefer, the most important thing to rely on is what will work best for you.

For immediate support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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