Helping Your Client Get Help

By Sharon Livingstone with Tim Clark

“How did you find your counsellor?”

It was an innocuous question – or seemed to be – from a client during my first week back following a 3-month lockdown break. We’d been discussing how we had coped during lockdown and I mentioned my fortnightly counselling sessions being the best thing I did. I proceeded to provide a long-winded rendition of how I came to see my counsellor, including a few side stories and a quirky anecdote.

It was only after the client had left that I realised they were really asking “How can I find a counsellor?”

I’d missed all of their subtle cues. They had already told me about reaching for the wine bottle earlier and earlier each day, and that they were constantly screaming at their kids and partner while working from home.

I am not a mental health professional and only got a smidgeon of counselling training during my massage course. Therefore, I can’t beat myself up for not realising the indirect comments and questions were a request for help.

Yes, I did discuss this with my counsellor in our most recent session. They made the comment, echoed days later by our own massage therapist and psychotherapist, Tim Clark, that psychologists are currently oversubscribed (probably because doctors are writing more Mental Health Treatment Plans) and many have closed their waiting list but there are plenty of counsellors and psychotherapists with space in their diary for new clients.

What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychotherapist or counsellor?

Tim Clark explained this in his article – The Art of the Counselling Referral – which should be read in conjunction with this article. Tim’s article is packed with great info and details on how to make the actual referral. Here is the relevant part:

“Counsellors and psychotherapists are trained largely in the communication and relationship aspects of counselling and do not provide diagnoses or prescribe medication. Currently, they are not able to offer services covered by Medicare or private health insurance rebates.

Psychologists may diagnose and are more likely to be engaged in clinical research. They are generally able to offer services covered by Medicare rebates but do not prescribe medication. There are many different types of psychologists according to specialisation (e.g. forensic, developmental, exercise) or the extent of focus on counselling (clinical psychologist versus counselling psychologist).

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who offer clinical treatment to people whose mental health problems require medication and close monitoring. Massage therapists do not refer clients to psychiatrists.”

What is a Mental Health Treatment Plan?

This is a treatment plan subsidised through Medicare and created by a doctor following a diagnosis that their patient would benefit from sessions with a psychologist. A Mental Health Treatment Plan is NOT required for someone to access care and, even if they get one, they don’t have to use it. Read more here.

Why now?

If you’ve experienced lockdown, you’ll know how difficult it is. Therefore, you can imagine what your clients’ experience of lockdown may have been. As many of us emerge from lockdown over the next few weeks, having resources for our clients close at hand will help avoid a situation like the one I described earlier. Also, if you’ve been thinking about getting some extra support for yourself, these resources may come in handy. Of course, having this information at hand even if you’re not in lockdown is always beneficial for all the reasons set out by Tim in his Art of the Referral article.

How to find the right therapist

As with massage therapy, we have to find the right therapist for us. It really is a relationship. We trust our counsellor with our thoughts, fears and feelings, and we have to feel comfortable with them. Tim says:

“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP. The ‘type’ of therapist is far less important than the sense that it’s someone who can help, who feels like a good ‘fit’, and that people should shop around to find the one that feels right.”

If you or your clients are in regional, rural or remote areas where counsellors may not be close by, there are counsellors who can provide online sessions (my counsellor and I switched to Zoom during the various lockdowns).

Tim: “There are pros and cons to any method of work, whether online or face-to-face. In my experience, people adjust very quickly to online work, even those who were initially resistant.”

In an article published in March 2020 on coping with the first lockdown, Tim shared some suggestions on finding a therapist.

“Some of the best ways to find qualified, reliable therapists include:

  • Good Therapy Australia – This has really nice detailed profiles of registered counsellors and psychologists, so you can get a good sense of who the therapist is.
  • PACFA Find a Therapist – Featuring therapists registered with The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.
  • ACA Find a Counsellor – Featuring counsellors registered with the Australian Counselling Association.
  • APS Find a Psychologist – Featuring psychologists registered with the Australian Psychological Society.”

You can read the full article here – You Don’t Have To Get Through It Perfectly.

On top of these suggestions, Tim adds:

Psychology Today is probably the most popular starting point for people at the moment. This site includes short introductory videos of many listed therapists.

“The new one in Australia is Talklink, targeting young people in particular. They also have short intro videos of many therapists.”

If you or your clients rely on Auslan to communicate, access to counselling services may be difficult as many Auslan therapists are booked up. This ABC article provides more information.

What else do you need to know?

Tim reminds us that “Many therapists offer a sliding scale of fees, especially if it means people can attend regularly. If the fit feels right but the fee is unsustainable, don’t be afraid to raise it with your therapist.”

If a private therapist can’t be accessed, there are still people we or our clients can talk to through the following phone services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 (also offers an online chat service)

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 18 00

October is Mental Health Month in Australia. Find out more here.

About the Authors

Sharon Livingstone is a Sydney based massage therapist. Tim Clark is a Melbourne based Massage Therapist and Psychotherapist.

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