Treatments and tests

Clinical psychology

Psychology is the study of human behaviour.

Psychologists, including clinical psychologists, use the science of psychology to help people who may be experiencing difficulties with mental illness or managing difficult life events.

Psychologists have university-supervised clinical training and are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (external site).

Areas of work

Clinical psychologists can work with people across all ages (children, adolescents, adults, older adults) and may work one-to-one with:

  • couples
  • families
  • groups.

Clinical psychologists offer treatment for many issues.

Mental health:

  • diagnosable mental health disorders, such as:
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • phobias
    • bipolar disorder
    • psychosis
    • personality disorders
    • eating disorders.
  • difficulties that impact on your mental health, including:
    • stress
    • grief
    • anger difficulties
    • low self-esteem
    • self-harm
    • addictions
    • suicidal urges
    • relationship problems.
  • trauma or major life events:
    • sexual or other abuse
    • post-traumatic stress
    • bullying
    • domestic violence.
  • adjustment to physical or other difficulties, such as:
    • illness for example heart disease and cancer
    • physical disabilities
    • acquired brain injury
    • chronic pain
    • other chronic conditions.

Neuropsychology:

  • Clinical psychologists and clinical neuropsychologists also assess and treat people with brain functioning and corresponding behavioural issues. These may include conditions involving:
    • brain damage, for example head injuries and dementia
    • functional issues such as attention deficit disorders.
What does a clinical psychologist do?

When you visit a clinical psychologist, they will work with you to:

  • conduct a psychological assessment, which usually involves an interview and may also involve some pencil-and-paper questionnaires
  • share their ideas about why you are having these present difficulties, based on the information gathered during the assessment
  • offer treatment suitable for your condition based on a plan that you develop collaboratively, or recommend a more appropriate service for you.

What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Although clinical psychologists and psychiatrists may see individuals with similar types of difficulties, there are important differences between these two professions.

  • Clinical psychologists use the science of psychology to understand and help you.
  • A psychiatrist has medical training and will consider medications and other biological approaches in their treatment approach.

You may benefit from seeing both a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist.

Clinical psychology while you're in hospital

In mental health inpatient units, clinical psychologists:

  • will provide treatment for mental health disorders
  • provide advice or assessment about the nature of your difficulties and offer recommendations for supporting you.

In other hospital wards, clinical psychologists work in multi-disciplinary teams to support you when you are recovering from major traumas or other conditions.

They may also support people in the ongoing management of these conditions.

Clinical psychology outside of hospital

The majority of clinical psychologists work outside of hospitals, in public community mental health clinics, such as:

  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
  • Adult Mental Health Services
  • Older Adult
  • Child Development Services.

Clinical psychologists may also work in:

  • rehabilitation
  • neuropsychological services
  • forensic services.

Clinical psychologists in these settings will provide the range of services outlined above.

Can I access a clinical psychologist privately?

Yes, many clinical psychologists (and other psychologists) practice privately.

You may be eligible for 10 rebated sessions per calendar year through Medicare’s Better Access scheme.

  • For this, you will require a GP referral (a ‘Mental Health Care Plan’) and your GP can advise regarding your eligibility for the scheme.
  • There is usually a gap to pay when you see a clinical psychologist privately.
  • If you have ancillary private health insurance, you may be eligible for a rebate on sessions. However, you cannot use your private cover rebate if you have already claimed through Medicare for a session.

You can find a privately practising psychologists via the Australian Psychological Society (external site) or searching online. Otherwise, your GP should be able to recommend someone in your local area.


Acknowledgements

Office of the Chief Health Professions Officer


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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