What do clinical psychologists do?


A clinical psychologist is trained in the field of understanding human behaviour and in particular, mental health. Clinical psychologists work therapeutically to help people process emotions, thought patterns and help them toward developing new ways of thinking and behaving.  They help people recover from various mental health disorders by assisting them to work toward making positive changes in their lives.  Clinical psychologists will also assist people suffering with the many difficulties that arise due to life circumstances.


Clinical psychologists are specialists in the assessment and evidence-based treatment of a wide range of mental health problems, including:


  • Addictions

  • Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorders

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Depression & Mood Difficulties

  • Drug & Alcohol Abuse

  • Eating Disorders

  • Emotional & Behavioural Problems in Children

  • Fears, Phobias, Anxiety & Panic Attacks

  • Grief, Loss & Bereavement

  • Obsessions & Compulsive Behaviour

  • Pain and Somatic Symptoms

  • Personality Disorders

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Psychotic Illnesses

  • Recovery from Childhood Trauma

  • Schizophrenia

  • Separation Anxiety

  • Social Anxiety

  • Sleep Disorders


Clinical psychologists will each have their unique areas of expertise.  Your doctor may assist you to find a psychologist that is suitable for your personal needs. 


What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?


People often ask what the difference is between a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist.  They differ in very important ways.  Psychiatrists are medically trained professionals and as such, address the biological explanations for mental disorders as well as the psychosocial contributors to peoples’ conditions.  They are also able to prescribe medications whereas clinical psychologists are not able to prescribe medications.  The work of clinical psychologists is to provide psychotherapy to people and this often occurs in conjunction with psychiatric consultation.  Psychiatrists will often refer their patients to see clinical psychologists for psychotherapy.  This provides a multidisciplinary approach toward mental health care, which we understand increases the likelihood of recovery for the person.


How do Clinical Psychologists Differ from Other Psychologists?


Clinical psychologists differ to other psychologists as they receive specialist ‘clinical’ training at a masters or doctorate level.  A clinical psychologist undergoes at least six years training at an accredited university.  This consists of a 4-year undergraduate degree (usually including an honours degree) followed by a 2-year masters degree (or 3 years for doctorate).  A further two years of supervised practice under strict guidelines then needs to be passed before a specialist title is awarded.  Therefore, a clinical psychologist has completed a total of at least eight years of education and training with specialist post-graduate training in clinical psychology.


Psychologists who are not clinically trained may have a four year psychology degree and have undergone two years supervision to become a registered psychologist.  Other psychologists may have completed a master’s degree within other specialist areas (e.g. forensic; counselling; developmental; community).


When should I see a Clinical Psychologist?


You may ask, “When is it time to ask for help?” which is a very reasonable question and one that requires consideration.


There are times when life can present some interesting and difficult challenges and most of the time we have the resources to cope.  For example, we may seek the support of friends or family, or draw on how we’ve coped with similar experiences in our past.  However, there can be times when we feel we are out of our depth and need assistance.  We just can’t seem to get to a better place on our own.  At times our friends and family are just as helpless; and sometimes the people whom we love most are part of the problem.  People will often tell us that they need to talk to a professional because they need to discuss their issues with someone who can be objective and non-judgemental. We also hear people say that they do not want to burden their friends and family but want to keep those relationships free from being focused on the problems in their lives. 


These challenges can sneak up on us over time, and at other times we can feel suddenly swamped by sadness, distress, grief, or pressure and worry.  They may be triggered by our relationships with others; from changes to our health; from the pressures associated with work, study or managing our lives; or they may come from events or traumas that have happened in our lives.  They can affect our ability to cope or function to our full potential and may lead to troubling emotions, thoughts and behaviour.   If the stress continues too long, elevated levels of anxiety and depression are likely to settle in and can dominate our thoughts for days, weeks, months or even years.  We may experience various symptoms such as low self esteem, overwhelming distress, panic, sadness, frustration, sexual difficulties, confusion, uncertainty, sleeping difficulties, irritability, a sense of being out of control or feeling stuck, experiencing changes in our eating habits, or loss of motivation and lacking the desire to make the necessary changes in our lives to improve things. 


From time to time we just can’t cope alone.  If things could be going better in your personal life or work, then one of our trained, experienced and caring clinical psychologists could assist you.  Remember that clinical psychologists have had at least eight years of education and clinical training to develop the skills that are required to help individuals, couples and families in their time of need.

The clinical psychologists at Mount Lawley Clinical Psychology offer professional counselling, therapy and training in a supportive and confidential environment to suit the individual, couple or family.  As clinical psychologists, we are trained to provide a wide range of services, and have substantial experience enabling us to help with many issues.


So what is the answer?


Don’t wait until you are desperate!

Seeking help sooner, rather than later may save you time, money and most importantly a whole lot of anguish!


What will happen in the first session?


In the first session, we will gather information from you, make an assessment of your situation and begin to formulate some ideas about what may be happening for you.  We will aim to discuss with you toward the end of the session, some directions about how we may be able to help.  If the difficulty concerns a relationship, it is best to see both partners together for the initial session, and to hear about how each sees the issues in the relationship.  Each partner usually has their own views about what is going on and we need to hear the story from each partner’s perspective.  We may then have a separate meeting with each partner before meeting again for a further joint session.  For family sessions, we prefer all family members to attend the first session.  The main issue will be presented, that is, the reason for seeking family therapy.  Each family member will be encouraged to talk about what is happening from their own perspective.  However, please note that we do not demand or force people to speak against their will.  It just makes things easier for all if everyone has their say.


You will be happy to hear that most people feel nervous about attending their first session and often toward the end will say that it wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, often we hear sighs of relief that someone has taken the first step!


How many sessions will I need?


This is a question that is often asked and there is no easy way of answering it.  The number of sessions people will need to achieve desired outcomes will range from a few sessions to ongoing psychotherapy that continues over a period of years.  It really depends on various factors, but mostly on the severity of the condition and how long it has been present. 


Initially, weekly or sometimes fortnightly sessions are preferred for individual or couple sessions.  This will also depend on the unique needs of each person or couple.  Couples are likely to need weekly or fortnightly sessions over three to six months.  However, this also varies depending on the needs of the couple


Family therapy can be different depending on the issues that need addressing.  Some families will seek therapy with the sole purpose of enhancing their family relationships and help things to run smoother.  Other families will have become entrenched in dysfunctional patterns and need a lot of help to unravel unhelpful patterns and develop new ones that work better.  The number of sessions will depend on these factors and family commitment to the therapy process.  Family therapy is a little different in that sessions can sometimes be further spaced (fortnightly to monthly).  Attendance by all family members is important to the flow of the therapy, which will increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.



Ultimately, you will be the best judge of whether you have achieved the change or growth you are seeking, and of when you are ready to stop therapy.  It’s a good idea to discuss the time to cease therapy with your psychologist.  Following a course of therapy, some people like to attend on a monthly basis for a while to ensure the gains they have made are maintained.  You can discuss any concerns you have about the expected time frame for your therapy with your psychologist.


What can I do if I need more than the allocated Medicare sessions per year?


The Medicare limit for rebates is currently 10 sessions per year.  Should you require more than 10 sessions per year, you may like to consider some alternatives that may be available to you. Due to COVID 19 the number of rebates have been increased to 20 sessions per calendar year for 2022. You cannot claim on both Medicare and your private health provider for the same session.

If you require more sessions than Medicare allocate for the year you could


  1. Using your private health cover when your 10 allocated sessions have expired or,

  2. Using your private health cover alternatively with your 10 allocated sessions.


With either of the above options, you will need to contact your private health fund for the details regarding rebates available to you.  This will depend on your health insurer and your level of cover.


Some people prefer to pay their own fee without applying for assistance from Medicare through their GP, with or without private health cover.  This is another alternative some may like to consider.