We know navigating your way around mental health services and deciding who you’d like to see can be confusing and difficult.  That’s why we have put together some answers to common questions.

Whether you see a psychiatrist or psychologist, a lot of information is going to be obtained and processed during your first consultation.  Where appropriate, we will get you the best person for your individual need, whether it’s a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health nurse, or any other allied health or external services.

If you need more information or you’d like some direction and advise, call us and we’ll happily help.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Mental health problems can be distressing. Whether a one-off or an ongoing concern, feeling distressed or unwell for a reason that may not be easily apparent or may not be well understood by family or friends, or the wider community, is disconcerting and disruptive to everyday life.

Helping people cope with these types of concerns is the job of a wide range of professionals with skills in providing assistance, support and specific treatments. People who feel mentally unwell are commonly encouraged to contact many different types of experts in order to access effective treatment. This list often includes counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists as well as doctors in general practice. All these people can often provide excellent support and make a valuable contribution. However in the health environment there are two key experts in mental health who people are most likely to be referred to: a psychologist and a psychiatrist. This page aims to highlight their respective roles and to provide more clarity for people seeking assistance with mental health concerns.

Training to be a psychiatrist or psychologist

Both psychiatrists and psychologists undertake  training to provide treatments for mental health problems. Both are commonly accessed after a discussion with your family doctor, and generally appointments with both can be claimed under Medicare (Australia only) or private health insurance; both work in private practice and in hospitals and publically funded community mental health services. Which treatments they deliver however, and how they diagnose illness are very different.

Psychiatrists are specialist medical doctors. Like all doctors, psychiatrists complete a medical degree at university (generally taking six years) which covers human anatomy, biochemistry and physiology, function of the body’s organs including the central nervous system and the effects of all drugs. After university and an intern year as a new graduate doctor at a hospital, psychiatrists choose to undertake specialist training in psychiatry. This involves additional study and assessment on top of full-time work as a hospital and community doctor called a ‘Registrar’ over a period of at least a further five years. This study focuses on teaching registrars about psychiatric and psychological treatments and social and other health impacts in addition to their biological knowledge. By the time a doctor becomes a psychiatrist they have usually completed a minimum of twelve years medical training.

There are many types of psychologists. Clinical psychologists are trained to provide psychotherapeutic treatments for mental health problems. They usually complete a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science at a university with Honours in psychology which generally but not always includes substantial practical experience in a clinic helping people with everyday problems such as stress and relationship difficulties. Clinical psychologists then complete a clinical Masters or a Doctorate which provides additional experience in a hospital or community mental health service environment and enables them to specialise in treating people with a mental illness. All together this will generally take six to eight years, during which they will receive extensive training in psychotherapy and research methodology.

These different training methods mean that psychiatrists and clinical psychologists have different approaches to diagnosing and treating disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is commonly accepted that psychiatrists use their broader biological-psychological-social knowledge effectively with patients at the more severe end of mental illness and especially those in hospital environments. They also often provide support for people who are not always severely unwell but are having a serious episode, and might work with these people as part of a multi-disciplinary team including psychologists and other doctors. Psychiatrists also see people with less serious disorders, sometimes offering direct care and sometimes providing guidance to other health professionals who are involved in providing care.

Some psychologists may not have trained in a hospital environment and should refer a patient who is not responding to psychotherapeutic treatment on to a psychiatrist who will review the nature of the person’s problems and assist with diagnosis and who can then also explore other treatment options. In some cases a psychiatrist may refer the person back to a psychologist for ongoing psychotherapeutic treatment or work together with the psychologist to provide a broader range of treatment. Both psychologists and psychiatrists help people to develop the skills needed to improve their function and to prevent ongoing problems.

Why do people see psychiatrists?

People come to see a psychiatrist for many reasons. Some people have severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Some people are simply having trouble coping with the many stresses of modern life.

Some people are already seeing a counselor who has suggested that medication might help them feel better.

Most people who see a psychiatrist are simply trying to find ways to cope better with difficult feelings or behaviours and see psychiatric treatment as an opportunity to improve their lives.

Contrary to popular belief, most people who need a shrink don’t actually have a mental ILLNESS per se.  It is often the early stages of intervention that prevents the development of a mental illness, and  reduce the impact of socio-vocational dysfunction in their lives.

What types of treatments might a psychiatrist prescribe?

Psychiatrists provide a wider range of treatments for severe or persistent mental illness. In addition to psychotherapy, psychiatrists prescribe medications or medical interventions such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or electro-convulsive therapy, when required. They can discuss with patients and their families and friends as required which of these various forms of treatment may offer most benefit.

As medical doctors, psychiatrists are always considering whether a person’s mental health problems might be caused by an underlying medical/physical health problem, as well as considering whether the mental health problems might contribute to another type of health problem. Guidance can be provided about these other health problems, often in conjunction with a general medical practitioner or other specialist doctor.

It is very important that people who are looking for assistance with their mental health are provided with enough detail about diagnosis and treatment to put  them in the best position to make informed decisions about the care they are offered.  At times when urgent treatment appears to be required, a referral to a psychiatrist is most appropriate  to enable prompt access to advice that is based upon the widest consideration of possible contributions to the problems being experienced and the best evidence available to support  the treatment options.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists make a valuable contribution to the mental health of our community. However psychiatrists continue to play a crucial role as the lead clinical experts in the treatment of mental illness both with and without psychotherapeutic techniques. Ensuring that the broader community have a better understanding of this role is key to helping them make the best decisions for people with mental health problems and their families should the need arise.

What will happen when I see a psychiatrist?

The first time you meet with a psychiatrist, the appointment will usually last for up to an hour. The psychiatrist will need to do a full assessment. They will be trying to get a picture of the difficulties you are facing, how they affect your life, and what might be the causes and triggers of your problems.

This means they will listen to you talk about your concerns and symptoms, and ask you questions about your health in general and your family history. They might do a physical examination or ask you to fill out a questionnaire. They might also ask your permission to talk to other health professionals you’ve seen, or members of your family. After getting all the information they need, they will tell you what they think your diagnosis is, and work out a treatment plan with you.

After the first visit, further appointments will focus on checking your progress and adjusting treatments.

We encourage having a family member or a close confidant to be present for your first appointment.

What will happen when I see a psychologist?


The initial appointment will last around 50 minutes, with subsequent sessions between 30- 50 minutes. The initial consultation is designed to ensure that subsequent sessions are relevant and helpful to you. When you attend your first appointment, a comprehensive assessment will occur, along with a discussion about your goals and expectations of treatment. At the end of each consultation, your Psychologist will give you a couple of homework tasks to undertake, which are designed to reinforce and extend beyond the content of our session to help facilitate your progress. The information you disclose to your Psychologist, in this and subsequent sessions, is determined by what you are comfortable with.


Your psychologist will discuss how your mood has been since our previous session, your personal history relevant to your issue, and report on your homework and any progress (or new insights gained) from the previous counselling session. The ultimate purpose of counselling is to help you bring what you learn in session and apply these skills/insights into your life. Some sessions will be talk-based, whereas others will be more educational and interactive and involve learning new skills to manage your distress. Therefore, apart from the work you do in counselling sessions, your Psychologist will suggest things you can do to support your progress – such as reading a relevant article, keeping a journal and writing on specific topics, noting particular behaviours or taking action on your goals.


The number of sessions can vary from person to person, depending on the issues brought into counselling. Generally 6-10 sessions will be sufficient to notice some progress. Follow-up sessions are recommended for ongoing treatment and maintenance of existing skills. In order for therapy to be most advantageous you will benefit from scheduling regular sessions with your Psychologist usually weekly or fortnightly. Most clients will then taper the frequency of appointments to fortnightly/monthly once some confidence and skills have been gained. For longstanding or complex issues, individuals may benefit from long-term therapy.

Do I need a referral from somewhere?

In order to obtain Medicare rebates for both psychiatric and psychology consultations, a valid referral from your GP is required.  This is by far the most common way of getting a Medicare rebate.

There are numerous referral pathways, which attract different rebates.  Please refer to the referral pathways  for more information, or contact us  for more information.  Referrals must be dated on or before the initial consultations, and must be brought to the appointment, otherwise rebates cannot be processed.

What rebates are available?

We are a mixed billing practice.  Patients are eligible for rebates from a variety of sources, including Medicare and private health funds.  Depending on your circumstances you may also be eligible to be seen under WorkCover, private (non-health) insurance, Employee Assistance Programs, to name a few.

For more information about rebates that may be available to you, please click here or contact us.

How do I make appointments?

All consultations are by appointment only, and appointments can only be made by contacting the admin team.