How can psychology nourish your soul?
In its broadest sense, psychology is the branch of science that explores how people’s minds and emotions work, influencing the way we learn and behave, as well as the biological factors underpinning the way we think. Depending on their specialisation, psychologists may work as experts in mental health, or apply their knowledge to helping professional sportspeople achieve peak performance.
Clinical psychology is the field most often associated with helping people who are facing mental health challenges ranging from anxiety and depression to addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other therapeutic specialisations include clinical neuropsychology and counselling psychology. Clinical neuropsychology addresses difficulties with tasks such as communication or decision-making caused by physical problems with the brain, while counselling psychologists provide people with help and support to cope with situations including grief and loss, mental-health issues, and unhealthy relationships.
You might wonder, “What is psychology as distinct from psychiatry?” The answer is that a psychiatrist is a doctor of medicine who has undergone further study to specialise in psychiatry, and is qualified to prescribe medication as well as diagnose and treat severe mental disorders. Psychology also has similarities to both counselling and psychotherapy, with a key distinction being that psychology is regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
In Australia, it is necessary to complete a four-year university degree plus two years of additional training in order to attain a general registration in psychology meaning a person can then begin to practise as a psychologist. In order to become qualified in one of the specialised types of psychology, such as clinical psychology, a practitioner must undergo further education.
Benefits of psychology
Psychologists use science-based methods to evaluate your mental health and suggest suitable strategies and techniques to help resolve the concern that is troubling you. Psychological treatment has been studied for its effectiveness in resolving a wide variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and phobia, eating disorders, substance abuse, ADHD and borderline personality.
The results of a meta-analysis suggest psychological care may significantly improve sleep quality for people suffering from insomnia, and research indicates clinical psychology interventions may help reduce the symptoms of ‘complicated grief’. Cognitive behavioural therapy, a cornerstone of psychological treatment, is reported to offer “statistically significant” benefits for anger management.
Research suggests another therapeutic method, eye movement desensitisation and reprogramming (EMDR), may be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is evidence to suggest psychological treatment of panic disorders may provide similar immediate benefits to pharmaceutical medication, and may be more effective for long-term management.
Psychology can assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Anxiety and stress
- Behavioural problems
- Fears and phobias
- Mental health
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic attacks
- Stress management
What to expect from a psychology session
During your first session, you will usually be given a questionnaire or interview to help your psychologist learn about key aspects of your mental health. You will also be asked about the difficulties which have prompted you to seek psychological care, and your psychologist will prepare a plan for how to best support your recovery.
A session typically takes about an hour, and is held in a safe, supportive and confidential environment. The number of sessions you need will depend on the health concern you are seeking treatment for.
There are many science-based techniques your psychologist might apply to support your mental wellness, such as talk therapy, hypnotherapy, as well as various cognitive behavioural approaches, and they are inherently low-risk treatments. In some cases, there is a possibility your psychologist might misdiagnose a serious condition. It is also possible that your treatment may lead to a dependency on the help you receive during sessions, instead of the preferred improvement in your independence and coping abilities.
The central limitation is that your health concern might be too severe or acute for your psychologist to successfully help you resolve. If you are suffering from an illness such as schizophrenia or major depressive disorder, your psychologist might decide to refer you to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will then evaluate your condition and possibly prescribe medication, if this might be a more suitable path towards managing and improving your health.
You do not need a referral to see a psychologist, although in Australia, you can ask your GP to draft a mental health plan for you, which can entitle you to Medicare rebates for up to 10 one-on-one sessions with an appropriate mental health professional (such as a psychologist). Genuine rapport is a vital part of psychological treatment, so don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re not really seeing eye-to-eye with your psychologist. They will normally notice this as well, and will completely understand if you seek the help of a different psychologist.