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Treatments and health professionals

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Treatments and health professionals

In Australia, there are a number of possible treatment and management options for mental illness and psychological distress. These depend on individual symptoms, diagnosis, severity and cause if it is known.

Effective treatments can include psychological therapies, medication, psycho-social support, psychiatric disability rehabilitation, avoidance of risk factors such as harmful alcohol and other drug use, and learning self-management skills. These approaches are often provided by different health professionals. The kind of referrals your receive will be influenced by your symptoms and recommended treatments.

If you are accessing a number of services or health professionals, it’s important that these providers are connected so they are aware of what each other is doing.

Counselling, psychologists and mental health social workers

Accredited psychologists and mental health social workers trained to provide a range of psychological treatments and interventions for those with mental and emotional health problems. These professionals are experienced in assessing and diagnosing a range of conditions, developing strategies and treatments, and offering guidance and support. Clients are encouraged to become proactive in setting and achieving their goals.

These allied health professionals do not prescribe medications. They tend to draw on a range of psychological techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), interpersonal psychotherapy and psychodynamic therapy.

Both psychologists and mental health social workers attract a Medicare rebate via a GP referral. There may still be an out of pocket expense so make sure you enquire about this before your first appointment. These professionals can also be accessed without a GP’s referral. In this case the fee will not be covered under Medicare. A GP can refer to a psychologist or social worker of your choosing or one from their list.

To locate a psychologist or social worker and learn more about accessing the Medicare rebate contact the Australian Psychological Society on 1800 333 497 or the Australian Association of Social Workers.

If cost is a concern, it can be helpful to contact clinics in your local area and enquire about the gap between the Medicare rebate and the fee. If you have a concession or pension card, the fee may be reduced.

You may also want to try psychological therapies with a provisional psychologist at a university clinic. A GP referral is not required and fees range from $15 to $60 per session depending on your income and the particular clinic. Sessions may be video recorded for supervision. A list of relevant universities can be found via the Psychology Board of Australia.

Additional sources of counselling

Other counselling options include, community health services, local neighborhood or community learning centres, and some not-for-profit organisations.

There is often a wait list for these services, so it is worth enquiring to find out their availability. They may know of other organisations in your area providing low cost counselling. Alternatively, visit the community services directory, Infoxchange, to find local options.


A psychiatrist is a medically qualified doctor specialising in the study and treatment of mental health problems. You’ll need a GP referral to see a psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists can provide psychological treatments, however, the general focus is on assessment, diagnosis and the prescription and management of medication.

The cost of seeing a psychiatrist can be claimed from Medicare. Some psychiatrists bulk-bill whereby their services can be accessed free of charge. Others may charge over the Medicare rebate which creates a gap payment or out of pocket expense. Each psychiatrist is able to set their own fee structure.

Most GP’s have a list of psychiatrists they generally refer to. However, you can also search yourself by contacting the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists on 1800 337 448, or the Australian Health Directory.


You may be prescribed medication as part of your treatment program. Make sure you discuss any questions or concerns with the prescribing doctor.

Some variables to ask about include:

  • short term side-effects and how long they can last
  • how long it should take to notice an improvement
  • how long until a significant change is experienced
  • how long you may need to take them for
  • the duration of time to determine whether they may not be the right medication for you.

You may need to persist If the first medication is ineffective. It is not uncommon for people to try several before the most suitable one is found. This process is undertaken in consultation with a GP or psychiatrist.

For further information see SANE’s factsheets on antidepressant medication, antipsychotic medication and complementary therapies.

Last updated: 7 October 2020

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