So You're Thinking About Seeing a Psychologist for the First Time?

You've made the first step to feeling better, here's all you need to know before you see a psychologist for the first time in Australia.

Dr Lizzie Stewart

Clinical Psychologist BA(Psych)(Hons), D.Psych/PHD

Deciding to see a psychologist for the first time can feel like a big step, and it's perfectly normal to have questions or feel a little apprehensive. This article is designed as a comprehensive guide to help demystify the process, answer your questions, and provide you with the information you need to feel more comfortable and confident about your decision.

We'll cover a range of topics including knowing when you might need therapy, understanding the pros and cons of seeing a psychologist, what your first appointment might be like, and much more. We hope this guide will be a valuable resource in your journey towards better mental health.

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

It's not always easy to know whether you should continue going it alone or whether you need therapy. Life can be challenging, and it's normal to experience periods of stress, sadness, and worry. However, if you find that these feelings are persisting for a long period, affecting your daily life, work, or relationships, it could be a sign that you could benefit from therapy.

Other indicators could be persistent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, or finding it hard to cope with daily problems or stress.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Seeing a Psychologist?

Seeing a psychologist can provide numerous benefits. It offers a safe, confidential space to express your thoughts and feelings without judgment, allowing you to gain insights about yourself and your behaviors. Psychologists can provide you with tools and techniques to manage stress, cope with life's challenges, improve your relationships, and promote overall mental well-being.

However, therapy also has some potential downsides. It requires a commitment of time and resources, and sometimes discussing sensitive topics can be emotionally challenging. Moreover, finding the right psychologist who you feel comfortable with can sometimes take time.

Please remember that the benefits of therapy often outweigh the downsides, and the challenges encountered are part of the healing process.

Why Would Someone See a Psychologist?

People seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Some might be going through a major life transition (like divorce, a new job, or grief) and need support. Others might be struggling with severe symptoms of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Some people might not have any specific issues but want to understand themselves better, improve their emotional well-being, or achieve personal growth.

How Many Sessions Will I Need to Have?

The number of sessions required can vary greatly and depends on the individual's needs, the nature and severity of the problem, the treatment goals, and how the individual responds to treatment. Some people might find significant improvement in a few sessions, while others may require long-term therapy spanning months or even years.

How Much Will It Cost?

The cost of seeing a psychologist can vary based on several factors, such as the psychologist's level of experience, the length and frequency of sessions, and the region you live in. In Australia, the Australian Psychological Society suggests a standard fee of $260 per session, but this can differ.

Private health insurance or a Mental Health Care Plan from a GP can often cover a portion of these costs. It's important to discuss fees with your psychologist upfront to avoid any surprises.

Does a Psychologist Give Advice?

Psychologists mainly help individuals explore their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a safe and supportive environment. They may provide guidance and help you develop coping strategies, but they typically avoid giving direct advice. Instead, they empower you to make your own decisions.

Can a Psychologist Tell Me What's Wrong with Me?

Psychologists are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a range of psychological problems and mental health disorders. After a series of consultations and using various assessment tools, they can provide you with a diagnosis if you have a specific condition. However, the goal is not just to label, but to understand your experience better and provide the most suitable treatment.

What Mental Illnesses Do Psychologists Deal With?

Psychologists are equipped to handle a broad range of mental health conditions, including but not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, stress-related problems, trauma and PTSD, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Do You Need a Referral to See a Psychologist in NSW?

In New South Wales (NSW), Australia, you can directly make an appointment with a psychologist without a referral. However, if you want to avail of the Medicare rebate, you'll need a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP, which requires a referral.

Can You Go to a Psychologist Instead of a Therapist?

Yes, you can directly see a psychologist instead of a therapist. The terms 'psychologist' and 'therapist' are often used interchangeably, but they have different educational backgrounds and areas of expertise. Both can provide mental health support, but psychologists are more likely to offer a diagnosis and are usually more specialized due to their extensive training.

What is the First Appointment with a Psychologist Like?

The first appointment, often referred to as an intake session, is an opportunity for the psychologist to understand your concerns and for you to see if they are a good fit for you. You'll be asked about your current issues, personal and medical history, and your goals for therapy. Remember, it's also a space for you to ask any questions you may have.

What Kind of Therapy Will the Psychologist Do with Me?

Psychologists use a range of therapeutic approaches based on the client's individual needs. These could include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Psychodynamic Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), or others. The type of therapy used will depend on your specific issues, treatment goals, and the psychologist's area of expertise.

Do I Need to Go to a GP Before I See a Psychologist?

While you don't necessarily need to see a GP before seeing a psychologist, doing so can be beneficial. A GP can assess your overall health, discuss your concerns, and provide a referral for a psychologist if needed. In Australia, having a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP allows you to receive a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment.

What is a Mental Health Care Plan or Mental Health Treatment Plan?

A Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP), also known as a Mental Health Treatment Plan, is a plan made by your GP for treating a mental health issue. It outlines what services you will receive, what treatments are recommended, and defines your goals for treatment. In Australia, having an MHCP allows you to access a Medicare rebate for up to 10 psychology sessions per calendar year.

How Can I Overcome My Worry About Seeing a Psychologist?

Feeling anxious or worried about seeing a psychologist for the first time is completely normal. Here are some strategies that may help:

  1. Knowledge is Power: Understanding what to expect can help reduce anxiety. We hope this article has given you a better idea of what the process involves.
  2. Choose the Right Psychologist for You: It's important to find a psychologist you feel comfortable with. It's okay to "shop around" and try different psychologists until you find the right fit.
  3. Remember it's Confidential: Everything you say in your sessions is confidential unless there is an immediate risk of harm to you or others.
  4. Go at Your Own Pace: You don't have to share everything in your first session. A good psychologist will understand and respect your pace.
  5. Focus on the Benefits: Think about your reasons for seeking help and the potential benefits you stand to gain from therapy.
  6. Reach out to Support Groups: Speaking to others who have been through similar experiences can help normalize and validate your feelings.


Taking the step to see a psychologist for the first time is a significant move towards better mental health. It's normal to have questions and concerns. However, with the right information and a bit of preparation, your first experience with a psychologist can be the start of a fulfilling journey towards greater understanding and emotional well-being. Remember, seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a courageous act of self-care.

Dr Lizzie Stewart

Clinical Psychologist

BA(Psych)(Hons), D.Psych/PHD

Lizzie is a Clinical Psychologist based in Sydney's Inner West who has been seeing children, adolescents and families for the past 10 years.