As noted on the Australian Psychological Society website: “Psychologists study the way people feel, think, act and interact. Through a range of strategies and therapies they aim to reduce distress and to enhance and promote emotional wellbeing. Psychologists are experts in human behaviour, and have studied the brain, memory, learning and human development. Psychologists can assist people who are having difficulty controlling their emotions, thinking and behaviour, including those with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, serious and enduring mental illness, addictive behaviours and childhood behaviour disorders.”

This does not mean that only people who are experiencing severe mental illness can seek the assistance of a psychologist. Many people who have never been diagnosed with a mental illness see psychologists – people who have “normal” jobs, families and relationships and who do not “appear” to need help.

Whether due to a particular challenge at work, a difficult social situation, nervousness when speaking in public or using lifts, difficulty dealing with conflict, relationship stress and for many other reasons, it is absolutely okay to ask for help to learn new skills and to have support in order to manage your life more effectively.

A psychologist studies a science or arts degree with a major in psychology (the study of human behaviour) followed by a postgraduate degree specialising in a particular field of psychology (such as clinical, organisational, forensic etc). A psychiatrist completes a medical degree before continuing study in psychology and pharmacology – hence they are able to prescribe drugs and psychologists cannot.

When you or your child see a psychologist you have the right to expect that what you say to them will be kept with them and not disclosed to any other people. However, there are some exceptions to this: By law, a psychologist must seek the assistance of a third party if you tell them that you are going to a) harm yourself, b) harm someone else, or c) engage in an activity which threatens to harm your wellbeing. Also, your psychologist will usually keep notes regarding the sessions that you have, and if you are involved in a legal situation, their file can be subpoenaed by the court. And, if you are referred through the Medicare system your psychologist will need to have contact with your GP.

Usually, psychologists also engage in regular supervision themselves to improve their practice, and they might raise your situation with their supervisor to receive feedback about the approach they are using.

This depends greatly upon the situation your child is experiencing – every child and situation is different. For some children, 3-4 sessions may be sufficient while others may need 12 or more sessions. It is not so much the severity of the problems that determines the length of the therapy process, but the nature of the issues and therefore the chosen therapeutic modality. This is something to discuss with your psychologist.

When there is concern about a child’s intellectual, behavioural, social, and/or communication abilities, a referral to a psychologist for an initial assessment is advised. This will provide information about whether the child is developing at an appropriate level for his or her age. For example, a child should be referred for assessment by a psychologist if he or she is exhibiting unusual levels of fear, stress, or anxiety; has difficulty socialising; is experiencing difficulties with learning; or is engaging in unusual behaviours.

After the initial consultation appointment the psychologist will develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your child’s needs. Psychologists use a range of techniques including behavioural strategies, skills training, and emotional regulation to help children cope better in their everyday lives.