If you have been thinking about visiting a mental health professional, it can be difficult to know where to start.

You may be feeling unsure about where to go, who to see and what to expect. These questions are completely normal – and the answers are not as complicated as you would expect!

The main difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist is their training. A psychologist is a mental health professional who has completed an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree in psychology and sometimes a doctorate too. Whereas a psychiatrist is a doctor who has completed a medical degree then undertaken specialist training in psychiatry.

Psychologists and psychiatrists both focus on psychological assessment and psychotherapies however due to variations in their training, a psychiatrist can also prescribe medications – if medication is required. Director of Strategy and Operations at the Epworth Clinic, Maya Zerman said that whilst there is often an expectation that psychiatrists will solely concentrate on medications, most modern psychiatrists will focus on psychotherapies and other adjunct therapies.

In terms of who to see – Ms Zerman said the first step to any mental health journey is to visit a GP who will be able to refer you to the appropriate professional. The recommended service depends on many factors including what you want to deal with, how unwell you are and your safety. In general, a psychiatrist will be more heavily relied on when the illness is acute, if someone is more at risk or the need for more expert assessment and management. Some people may also see a psychologist and psychiatrist concurrently – but it depends on each patient’s needs.

Being patient, persistent and finding someone who you can connect with is important – even if this means visiting various professionals until you find a match.

“Everyone’s story is different. What’s important is individualised care and coming up with a really good plan that works for you in your context, with your supports.”

“Remember that if you’re willing to give it a go, you’ll end up finding the right pathway for you. It can be super frustrating, and it can feel like every door is the wrong door. But at some point, you’ll click, and you’ll find the right thing and it can actually make a really significant difference to your life.”

Epworth Clinic in Camberwell is a multidisciplinary team which offers a range of private health services for various mental health needs – including psychiatric consulting, inpatient therapy, outpatient day programs and one on one private practice. There is also a Telehealth service available. To participate, a GP referral is required. Private health insurance may cover some services please check with your individual insurers, but self-funded patients are also accepted.

For more information, please visit the links for the clinic and fees.

For immediate assistance, do not hesitate to call Lifeline on 13 1114. 

Author Kristyna Stepnicka

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