Psychologists are university-trained health professionals who have studied human behaviour. Psychologists are experts in the ways people think, feel, behave and learn.
Most psychologists work directly with people who are dealing with mental or emotional difficulties – for example, when someone has anxiety or depression or is experiencing stress. They also work with people who are going through challenges in life, like parenting or relationship problems.
Psychologists help people:
- understand where their difficulties come from and why they’re dealing with these difficulties now
- change the thoughts, behaviour and emotions that might be causing their difficulties
- find better ways of coping with their difficulties or managing parts of their lives.
Psychologists also help people improve performance, health and learning.
Psychologists use various therapies and approaches to help people. They don’t prescribe medicines. If a psychologist thinks a child might need medicine, they can refer the child to a psychiatrist or paediatrician.
Psychologists train and specialise in various areas, including counselling, educational or developmental psychology, sports psychology, clinical psychology and so on. And psychologists work in many places including community mental health services, public and private hospitals, private clinics, schools, research organisations and private companies.
If your child has health, development or wellbeing concerns, health professionals like psychologists are there to care for your child and help you understand your child’s condition and treatment. With the support and expertise of these professionals, you can help your child thrive.
Why your child might see a psychologist
Your child might see a psychologist if they need:
- counselling to help with grief, trauma or other issues
- educational and developmental assessment and support to help with learning difficulties, disorders like ADHD and challenging behaviour, or social skills
- help to deal with mental health issues like childhood depression, teenage depression, childhood anxiety, teenage anxiety or teenage stress
- help with rehabilitation after brain injury or stroke.
Your child doesn't need a GP referral to see a psychologist, but your GP is always a good place to start if you’re worried about your child’s health or development. Your GP can help you decide about seeing a psychologist and help you find someone who’s right for your child. You can also go to Australian Psychological Society – Find a psychologist and Australian Clinical Psychology Association – Find a clinical psychologist.
Before going to a psychologist
Before seeing a psychologist, it’s a good idea to find out about things like the following:
- Why you’re going: talk with your GP about why your child needs to see a psychologist.
- Appointments: do you need to make the appointment, or will the GP make it for you? Does the appointment need to be in person, or can it be via telehealth?
- Waiting lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the psychologist?
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment? For example, is there anything you can do at home to help your child?
- Type of therapy: how will the psychologist work with you and your child?
- Costs: how much will the appointment with the psychologist cost? Your child might be able to get a mental health treatment plan through your GP, which gives your child Medicare rebates for up to 20 mental health services sessions a year. You might also be able to get private health insurance or other rebates.
- Locations: find out where you have to go to see the psychologist – for example, a public or private hospital, or consulting rooms.
- What to bring to the appointment: for example, you might need to bring your child’s referral letter, school reports or assessments from other specialists like speech pathologists.
- Qualifications: psychologists in Australia must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This means they’ve met all requirements to work as a psychologist in Australia.
You can ask your GP these and any other questions before your child sees the psychologist. You could also ask the psychologist’s clinic when you make the appointment. It’s a good idea to write down your questions, so you don’t forget.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health or behaviour, get immediate professional support. You can speak to your GP or call Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. You can also take your child to the nearest hospital emergency department.