Booking your first appointment with a psychologist can be scary. It can be a confusing and overwhelming process at a point when you are already feeling vulnerable. There are hoops to jump through. I’m going to the doctor to get a what now? And what is this with medicare, is it free or not? How do I actually find someone? And what would I even say?
Never fear! We are here to answer all the big questions about getting that first appointment booked in and what you need for your first appointment.
What do I need to do when I decide to see a psychologist?
There are lots of different avenues on taking the first step, and usually the best starting place is booking in to see your regular GP. Have an open conversation with them about your symptoms and your concerns so they can make sure any physical causes can be ruled out. If you’ve got a good GP, they’ll probably spend a lot of time listening to what you have to say, they’ll ask you some questions about how long it’s been happening and they’ll probably get you to fill out some kind of questionnaire about your symptoms so they can keep in on their records and also send it along with your referral so your psychologist can see what was happening at the time you visited the doctor. They will help you by preparing you what's called a Mental Health Care Plan, which is pretty much just a document that you take to your psychologist so that you can access your medicare rebate.
Once you have that document, your next step is to book your appointment!
Okay cool, but how do I find someone?
Excellent question. Again, a great place to start is to ask your GP to recommend someone. Usually, GP’s will know some psychologists that work in your area. It is also helpful to do it this way because it is important for the referral to say your psychologist’s name or the place that they work.
You can also turn to good old Google. Try googling something simple like “psychologists near me”. Have a read through some of their websites and see what jumps out to you. Give them a call to see if they have availability or how long their waitlists are, and then book in your appointment. If the person you choose is different from who your doctor referred you to, you may need to give your doctor a call to get the name on your referral letter changed.
What do I ask on the phone?
When speaking to a psychologist, they will usually ask you all the questions they need to to get the information they need to book you in. They’ll probably also tell you what you need to bring to your appointment with you. This will likely include your mental health care plan, your medicare card, your wallet, and any other reports or letters from other doctors, psychiatrists and allied health professionals.
You can also ask about the cost of the session.
The cost? Isn’t it free?
While some of the cost is covered by medicare (from about $88-$121 might be covered, depending on who you see), there will probably be a gap fee. The cost of your session could be anywhere from $150.00 to $200.00 or more. You’ll usually be required to pay the full amount and then your medicare rebate can be processed and go back into your account. If you need a service that does bulk billing, you can google this as well, or ask your doctor, however it is not common to find a bulk billing psychologist.
It is also important to know that you’ll be able to access your medicare rebates for 10 sessions. With COVID, you can also get another 10 sessions on top of that once your first 10 runs out until the end of 2022 (thanks Scomo).
Okay, I have my appointment but what will I say?
While the idea of talking to someone is daunting, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to lay it all out on the table once you’re in the therapy room. If you get stuck though, your psychologists will probably ask you a few questions to help you on your way.
Your first session is usually going to involve you signing some paperwork and walking through some things you’ll need to know when seeing a psychologist. Then, you’ll spend the session talking to your psychologist about your history, what is happening for you right now, answering a few questions about your mental and physical health, and asking any questions you have about therapy. The first session is your chance to get comfortable with your therapist as well, so don’t be afraid to ask anything you would like to know. You’ll also set some goals with your therapist for what you want out of your sessions, and they’ll make a plan for you for when you come back next time.
How often will I have to go?
This is a discussion you can have with your psychologist in your first session. People attend anywhere from every week to a few times a year, so you’ll just need to come up with something that works for you and that your psychologist agrees with. How long you come is also something you will work out with your psychologist as you progress. You may only need a few sessions, or you may have to come a little longer to get the results you’re looking for.