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What is psychology?

Psychology is both a science and a profession. It is the study of people that helps gain understanding into how people think, feel, behave and learn. As a science, psychology is the study of the human mind and its diverse functions and influences. Psychological research advances our understanding into many aspects of human functioning including intelligence, emotions, personality, memory, perception, cognition, and motivation, as well as the biological processes that drive these human functions and behaviours. Psychology as a profession puts knowledge into practice to help people and the community find solutions real life problems and improve the quality of life: improving mental health and wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, learning and societal cohesiveness. It is important to emphasize that psychology does not only deal with mental health issues, but helps individuals thrive and live more meaningful and productive lives. In psychology, there are a number of distinct specialisations. Within each specialty there are psychologists who work primarily as practitioners, others who work primarily as researchers and some who work as both.

Clinical psychologists

Clinical psychologists are active practitioners in the mental health field. They have undertaken specialised training in the assessment, diagnosis, formulation, and psychological treatment of mental health, behavioural, and emotional disorders across the lifespan.  Clinical psychologists are the only psychologists to have this advanced level of education and training in mental health. Education and training of clinical psychologists takes eight years. To become a clinical psychologist, one usually must have a bachelor’s degree and complete a postgraduate degree, which includes professional training. Clinical psychologists usually have a minimum of 6 years of university training, which includes a formal professional training component. Two more years of supervised practice are usually expected before the training is fully recognised.

Other psychologists may have advanced levels of education and training specialising in areas other than mental health, such as clinical neuropsychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, organisational psychology, educational and developmental psychology, sport and exercise psychology, community psychology or counselling psychology.

What does a clinical psychologist do?

Central to clinical psychology practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, diagnosis, and psychotherapy. A clinical psychologist is able to assess the causes of psychological distress within the context of the history of the problems and contributing factors, such as genetic predisposition, social and family influences, and psychological coping styles. A clinical psychologist can help develop an intervention plan for psychological issues as well as help one lives a more meaningful and productive life. Clinical psychologists use psychological therapies and do not prescribe medication.

Clinical psychologists work in public hospitals, private hospitals, community mental health services, non-Government mental health services, and in private consulting rooms. Some work in other settings such as schools, perform research, teach university courses, provide supervision, and offer consultation services. Many clinical psychologists also take on several different roles at the same time. For example, they might spend part of their time at a public hospital and the rest seeing patients at their own private practice, in teaching, or undertaking research in a university.

How can a clinical psychologist help?

This is not an exhaustive list, but common reasons why someone might see a clinical psychologist include:

  • Personal Growth
  • Improve wellbeing including physical, emotional and cognitive
  • Improve Interpersonal relationships
  • Problems in adjusting to major life changes, stress or trauma
  • Anxiety, worry or fear, being depressed or experiencing a low mood
  • Obsessional thinking
  • Confidence and self esteem
  • Grief and loss
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Problem gambling, gaming or other addictive behaviours
  • Problems around body image, eating, or dieting
  • Poor concentration and attention; hyperactivity
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Work-related issues
  • Sexuality issues
  • Conditions that start in childhood such as autism, intellectual disability, ADHD, learning difficulties or childhood anxiety or depression
  • Behaviour problems in children and adolescence


As part of the work, a clinical psychologist can:

  • Help you develop greater insight and awareness of yourself
  • Help you lead a more meaningful and productive life
  • Help you to manage a long-term mental health condition
  • Provide advice about positive lifestyle changes
  • Work with you individually, or together with your partner, family, or carers
  • Provide second opinions and advice to other mental health professionals
What can a clinical psychologist provide?

A clinical psychologist can provide and recommend a range of treatments, including:

  • Psychological therapy, (psychotherapy or talking therapy)
  • Psychological testing to gain a better understanding of how you are functioning
  • Practical advice about eating, sleeping, exercise, and other ways to manage the side effects of mental health problems
  • Information about your condition, which can help you to understand your symptoms and treatments
  • A clinical psychologist will only suggest treatments that are proven to be safe, effective and evidence-based.
What is the difference between psychotherapy and counselling?

The words ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ are very often used interchangeably, but they are different. There is a general understanding that a professional who provides psychotherapy can work with a wider range of clients or patients and can offer more in-depth work. The difference also lies in the length and depth of training involved. Typically, a clinical psychologist provides both psychotherapy and counselling, and a counsellor provides counselling. It is therefore essential that your therapist is appropriately trained by an accredited body for treatment to be effective and safe.

What is counselling?

Counselling generally refers to shorter term consultations in which you deal with practical or immediate issues that are more easily resolved on the conscious level. The objectives of the counselling relationship vary according to the individual’s needs. Counselling normally helps a client process emotions such as grief or anger; deal with immediate causes of stress and anxiety; clarify values and identify options when making important personal or professional decisions; improve interpersonal relationships, cope with crisis, develop personal insight and knowledge; work through feelings of inner conflict or intentionally change unproductive thoughts and behaviours. Counselling offers a safe and confidential place where the client will be heard and respected. For example, counselling provides you with opportunities such as allowing you to talk about or express your anger and frustrations without the risk of hurting others, and enables someone to express your grief over losing a loved one or something precious to you.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy generally refers to longer term treatment aimed at helping you raise awareness and gain insight into your difficulties or distress. It is more focused on helping an individual understand his or her life in a more profound and reflective manner. It goes deeper to uncover the root causes of problems, resulting in more lasting changes in perspective of oneself, one’s life experiences and the world in general. Psychotherapy involves exploring feelings, beliefs, thoughts, long-standing attitudes, behaviours and relevant events; often from childhood and personal history. Ultimately, psychotherapy aims to empower the individual so he or she can live a more engaging, meaningful and productive life.

What happens during counselling or psychotherapy?

It is normal to feel anxious or nervous before seeing a therapist for the first time. You may even tell or convince yourself that your difficulty or issue is not that serious, and you can ignore or deal with it later.

We would encourage you to take the first step towards resolving, rather than avoiding, their difficulties. Psychological issues and/or problems if left unaddressed or unresolved, will usually accumulate and come back in some other ways such as having unsatisfying interpersonal relationships.

Every session provides you with a safe, private and confidential place to express and explore your experiences, feelings and thoughts. However, every session is also different because every individual is different, so is every individual’s difficulty or problem. Your therapist, depending on his or her training and modality, may also suggest additional methods or techniques as part of that exploration. Whatever the clinical approach or technique however, psychotherapy is not a magical cure, but a process and journey to help you find the capacity for positive change and personal growth within yourself.

Sharing personal information is also often difficult and it may take a few sessions to arrive at a level of trust with your therapist. Notwithstanding, being open and truthful with your therapist is essential so you can get the best out of the sessions.

What is psychological assessment?

Psychological assessment or testing are commonly conducted to assess ability, behaviour and personality. Assessments are undertaken by psychologists who are professionally trained in the administering and interpretation of testing results. Depending on the needs of the client or the referral question, appropriate internationally recognised standardised tools will be utilised. The assessment may be completed in one session or over a number of days depending on the type of tests being undertaken.

Examples of areas where testing is conducted includes:

  • Cognitive assessment
  • Intellectual disability assessment
  • Educational assessment
  • Learning difficulty assessment
  • Behavioural assessment
  • Neuropsychological assessment such as cognition and memory testing

The content of your therapy sessions is completely confidential. Confidentiality would only be breached if it was believed that you were at risk of harming yourself or someone else. In that case, your therapists would advise you of their obligation to breach confidentiality.