How can a psychologist help…?
We all experience feelings of sadness or moodiness from time to time, but for some people those feelings can be more intense and last longer – from weeks to months, and sometimes even years.
On average, 1 in 6 people (1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men) in Australia will experience depression at some stage of their lives.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness that affects the way that people feel and think; leading them to experience persistent low mood. It is also associated with a variety of physical and psychological symptoms that can get in the way of daily life.
However, the good news is that symptoms of depression are responsive to psychological therapies.
How can I get help?
The first step in seeking help for depression is to speak to your GP who can give you more information about depression and your treatment options. They can provide you with a Mental Health Treatment Plan (MHTP) and a referral for psychological therapy.
Under the Medicare Benefits Scheme you can get a rebate on 10 sessions of psychological therapy in any calendar year with your MHTP; often there will be a gap fee payable by you.
While a referral from a GP and a MHTP is recommended, it is not necessary; you can contact a psychologist directly and make an appointment.
What can I expect at my first appointment with a psychologist?
Your referral letter from your GP will provide the psychologist with information about the reason you are attending, and they will therefore have an idea of whether or not you might be seeking help for depression.
At your first session with a psychologist it’s likely that there will be some questionnaires for you to fill in, and questions to answer about the symptoms that you’ve been experiencing. They might ask you if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms in the past few weeks:
· Low mood/sadness
· Loss of interest in activities
· Changes in your motivation and energy levels
· Changes to your sleep pattern
· Changes to your appetite
· Feeling slowed down
· Increased feelings of agitation
· Difficulties with concentration/focus
· Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
· Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
A psychologist will also ask you broader questions about your work, social life, your family, and any history of depression in your family. This is so that they can get a sense of the supports that you have around you, and the impact of depression on your functioning. They might also ask you about anything that’s helped you with your mood recently, or in the past.
Overall, the focus of the first appointment is for the psychologist to get a sense from you of the main issues you’re struggling with, and your goals for therapy, i.e. what your priorities are in terms of what you want to work on in relation to your depression. It’s also very important that your psychologist can answer any questions you have about depression or psychological therapies.
How will a psychologist choose the right treatment for my depression?
At your first appointment your psychologist will discuss your goals for therapy with you, and will suggest treatment options to help you meet those goals and alleviate your depression.
Your psychologist will use their knowledge of research into the effectiveness of different types of therapies for depression to choose the most appropriate therapy for you.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is heavily supported by research, and used commonly with people suffering depression. CBT is a structured therapy that can help you to learn to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviours to improve your mood.
If CBT is not for you, your psychologist can suggest other treatments supported by research.
What happens next?
Your psychologist should have a clear plan and timeframe for your treatment, and it’s likely that you will regularly review your progress with your psychologist and re-set goals if necessary.
If you think you need further support with depression, or you already have a MHTP from your GP you can get in touch with Marsden Clinical Psychology for further information on how to access psychological therapy with one of our registered psychologists.
Written by Dr Ashley McColl (Clinical Psychology Registrar and Associate of MCP).