The Ultimate Guide to Successful Therapy


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Written by Steph Huddleston

01 Apr, 2021

Therapy has often been stigmatised in Australian culture, which unfortunately has led people to think that it's only for "crazy people" or for those who want a whinge, but this is not the case.

All of us have issues in life, some greater than others but even the Dalai Lama is not free from the human condition. Accepting that you have issues is the first step in the journey to resolving them and growing into a better version of yourself.

Often the mere act of talking to someone else can be a huge relief and a big step foward. Issues that you may have thought were yours alone are often dampened by the realisation that many others suffer from similar ailments and that they may even be considered 'normal'.

Therapy is one of the best tools we have for self improvement and can be utilised by anyone.

Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life. - Shannon L. Alder

Choosing The Right Therapist

It can sometimes feel hard to find the right therapist for you. It’s important you feel comfortable and safe with your therapist to get the most out of therapy. Here are a few things that are worth considering as you search for your therapist.

  • Qualifications and Insurance - Don’t be afraid to ask about the accreditations of a therapist. You are entitled to know that the person you’re trusting to help you with your health is qualified to do so. It's reasonable to want to know if a therapist has the skills and knowledge needed to help you.

  • Experience and Specialisations - If you’re looking to have therapy for a particular problem, you may need a specialist. Specialist therapists often have the more relevant knowledge to help you on your journey than those with a more general approach. You wouldn't take your car to get serviced at the dentist, so take the same care when choosing your therapist.

  • Religion and other Personal Differences - Qualifications and experience are important, but so are personal differences. It’s worth considering who you think you might be most comfortable working with. Do you have a preference for your therapist’s religious affiliation? Would you be more comfortable speaking with a therapist of a particular gender? The answers to these questions can assist you in figuring out which therapist to try. You may find that the personality of a therapist doesn’t mesh well with your own. If that's the case, it's okay to find a new one.

  • Environment - If possible, it may be useful to look at photos of the therapy space your therapist or counsellor uses. Most of the time, this is available online on their website. Think about the type of space you will be most comfortable in. We’re all different, so the spaces we’re able to open up in can vary. You may even find that the environment you’re most suited to is at home. If that’s the case, it may be worth considering therapists that offer telehealth or video therapy. With the help of technology, you can do therapy from the comfort of your home.

  • Trial Sessions - Some therapists offer trial sessions at a free or discounted rate. This can be a low cost, low commitment way to find out if a therapist is a good fit for you. Usually, these are only one or two sessions, but it can be a great way to find out if it’s worth booking in more sessions.

  • Recommendations - There’s nothing wrong with asking friends and family for recommendations. (If that’s something you’re comfortable doing). Sharing with loved ones can also reduce the stigma that can exist around getting therapy. Therapy is hard work, so the support of loved ones can be valuable. At the same time, your cousin’s friend’s therapist may not be the right fit for you. So be sure to still do your research to make sure you find the right fit for you.

You may be fortunate and discover the therapist who is right for you straight away. If not, don’t be discouraged if it takes a few attempts to find the right therapist. It is quite normal to change therapists, and often doing so may lead to a better experience.

How Often Should I See My Therapist?

For a range of reasons, weekly therapy might not work for you. You might not have the time or financial resources to be able to commit to every week. In this case, many counsellors suggest bi-weekly sessions. Why?

  • Stability - Early on in your therapy, weekly sessions are ideal. It enables you to get to know your therapist. Weekly sessions are the quickest way for you to discover how well you work together. The regularity of weekly can help you and your therapist stabilise your situation.

  • Quicker Results - Weekly sessions offer you the intensity level needed to get where you’d like to be faster. Yes, it takes an investment of time and energy. But it’s often less exhausting to put in the work than draw out the process.

What if I can’t do weekly therapy?

For a range of reasons, weekly therapy might not work for you. You might not have the time or financial resources to be able to commit to every week. In this case, many counsellors suggest bi-weekly sessions. Why?

  • Accountability - Bi-weekly sessions can afford some people a good balance of checking in with their therapist, and working on their own.

  • You may not need weekly sessions - Some therapists suggest that if things have improved for you (less anxiety or depression for example), less frequent sessions may be appropriate.

Remember that everyone is different. You may need to see your therapist more or less than suggested here. In times of crisis, many people see their therapists many times a week. Or at the other end of the scale - as needed therapy sessions when an incident occurs. This is often appropriate for people who have an ongoing relationship with their therapist.

If you’re not sure, always feel free to ask your therapist how regularly your sessions should be.

How Long Should I Have Therapy For?

The duration of your therapy differs from person to person. We’re all unique. Tailored therapy is best, as it takes into consideration your personal circumstances.

The number of sessions you may need might differ. This can depend on:

  • The therapy techniques

  • How often you have sessions

  • The reason for which you’re seeking therapy

Many therapists suggest that often clients begin to feel better between 1-3 months.

This is only an average, and the timeframe for improvement can vary from person to person. Again, timeframes for improvement can vary based on many factors.

Within 10-15 sessions many clients see improvement in their condition. This timeframe is supported by Medicare and many other financial subsidies available. These organisations often finance up to 18 sessions. This can vary depending on your mental health plan.

Are Video Sessions As Good As Face To Face?

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant many health services have had to adapt their models of care. Telehealth and video sessions are becoming familiar territory for many and the latest research shows that it can be very effective. But you may be wondering if a video session is as good as face to face.

We believe it is. Here’s why

  • Diagnosis - Therapy diagnosis often occurs through discussion between a person and their therapist. This is able to occur over a video session the same way it would in person. Some non-verbal communication (such as eye contact) may be reduced on video. But much of the interaction in the session remains unchanged.

  • Increase in Accessibility - Video sessions have the advantage of increasing accessibility. Those who may be anxious about leaving their homes, or have mobility concerns are able to access therapy sessions more easily through video sessions.

  • Convenient - For both therapists and people short on time, video therapy is a great option. There’s no commute to the therapy rooms or waiting in a waiting room. The ease of these types of sessions means that you have fewer excuses for avoiding therapy. Sometimes it can be hard to work up the motivation to get yourself to therapy. But with video sessions, you don’t have to leave the house.

  • Environment Options - Video therapy sessions can occur wherever you’re most comfortable. If you don’t enjoy sitting in a stuffy office, you could take your therapy session outside. Many people find being in nature more relaxing than inside. Be sure to choose a space that is private for you to be comfortable sharing without being overheard.

  • More Therapy Availability - No need to hunt for an after-hours session. You can take advantage of different timezones to schedule therapy when it works best for you. If you have a great therapist, but you need to relocate, video sessions save you needing to find a new therapist.

Video sessions are, for the most part, just as good as face-to-face sessions. They even have some advantages over the traditional model of face to face. The main concern with video sessions can be technological restrictions or difficulties. Not everyone is comfortable being on screen. Or able to navigate video call technology. For these people, face-to-face sessions may be a better option.

Read more about it at our article 8 Reason Online Counselling Is Better.

Is Therapy Worth The Money?

Therapy is often viewed as costly. At times it can be expensive. This depends on your therapists and level of rebates and insurance you’re covered by. But here’s why we think it’s definitely worth the money.

  • Investment in yourself - Shift your perspective about what your health is worth. Therapy is not a waste of money. You’re investing in your health and achieving the goals you have for your quality life and mental health. Don’t think you’re not worth it.

  • Save yourself money in the long run - Have you needed to take sick leave or unpaid time off work due to your mental health? With therapy, you may be in a better position to work well and make the most of the opportunities presented to you. Therapy may help you build confidence and resilience. This in turn can help yourself and others in the workplace.

  • Prevention - Recently experienced stress or a traumatic experience? Therapy may help you avoid some of the severe physical/mental health problems that can occur. Severe physical and mental health problems can lead to expenses. Leave taken from work, medication and other therapies all add up. Treat stress early with therapy, don’t ignore the problem.

  • An Alternative Solution - Tried other expensive methods or medications to fix your problem? Therapy is worth a go. You’ve already spent money on symptom management, what if therapy can assist with the root of the problem?

  • More affordable than you think - Though therapy has a reputation for being costly - it doesn’t have to be. You may be eligible for free sessions thanks to Medicare or your health insurance. Look into what you may be eligible for, and check your insurance policy. You may be surprised to find you’re able to have several therapy sessions without handing over any cash!

When it comes down to it, therapy can be a worthwhile investment to help you through your mental health journey.

Therapy is an investment in your well being. It doesn’t just help you identify your issues and help you cope, it also helps you forgive yourself.

Is Therapy Covered By Medicare?

If you live in Australia, you’re in luck. Therapy is more affordable here than in many places around the world. There are a few ways you’re able to access therapy, including through Medicare.

Medicare offers a rebate for ten sessions of psychological treatment a year. You can do these sessions face to face, or via video call. If you use a therapy clinic that offers bulk-billing this means your ten sessions are free to you. Medicare foots the bill on your behalf. If the clinic you’ve chosen doesn’t bulk-bill you may be charged a ‘gap’. The gap is the cost difference between what medicare’s rebate covers, and what the clinic charges. If you have private health insurance, you may be eligible for more rebates so check your policy.

Does Medicare Cover Telehealth?

Due to the current COVID-19 situation Medicare now covers telehealth sessions providing that you have a Mental Health Care Plan and your chosen psychologist is Medicare registered. Find counsellors who are Medicare providers.

How can I get a Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP)?

You must book an appointment with a GP who will run through a list of questions and determine whether a MHCP will be suitable for you. This generally takes about 20 minutes to complete.

The GP will then provide you with your MHCP (either paper copy or via email), which you (or your GP) can pass on to your therapist.

How do I claim the cost back on Medicare?

If the therapist or practice offers bulk billing then you will pay nothing up front.

If the therapist does not offer bulk billing they must provide you with a receipt and their Medicare provider number. You'll have to pay for the appointment up front, but you'll be able to take the receipt to Medicare to receive your refund.

How Do I Know Therapy Is Working?

When we’re in the midst of emotional distress, it can be difficult to tell if things are getting better. We can often become despondent, or lose motivation to continue with therapy. To assist you in identifying if your therapy is assisting you, here are a few strategies to consider.

  • Set Specific Goals with your Therapist - Your therapist should help you to identify goals. These goals differ from person to person. Maybe an improvement in family relationships? Or a return to work? These goals remind you of the reason you’re getting therapy. Your goals may shift as you continue to do therapy. A good therapist will work with you to help you identify what success from therapy could look like for you. Knowing what success looks like can help you with motivation. As you take steps toward those goals, be encouraged. Getting help isn’t always easy, but it can be worth it.

  • Notice a shift in your mental attitude - Have you noticed that your attitude has become more positive? This can be a sign that therapy is assisting you. Feel more positive about trying out a strategy your counsellor suggested? Or bounce back faster when you get critique at work? These are all signs that your therapy may be working.

  • Reduction in Symptoms - One way to measure your progress is to note the regularity of symptoms. Are you having fewer panic attacks? Is your anxiety interfering less with your daily living? Are you sleeping more at night? Work with your therapist to note changes in symptom frequency. Good days and bad days may still happen. But an improvement over time is still a win.

  • Those in your life notice a change - Sometimes we don’t notice changes in ourself. Especially if we’re busy working through the challenges we’re facing. That’s when your friends and family can come in handy. Has your family noticed you're able to go out more often? Or that your mood seems better? Even if you haven't noticed these changes it's a good sign.

  • You’re able to put in place strategies from therapy with success - If you’re able to use the strategies you’re learning in therapy that’s another measure of therapy that is working. For example, beginning to have success with breathing techniques over self-harm behaviours.

Try and keep in mind that everyone’s journey is different and that it takes time to see improvement. Therapy is not a ‘quick-fix’ as much as we might wish it were. Therapy works over time by dealing with the source of your problem. It can equip you to resolve it on an ongoing basis.

It’s a good idea to ask your therapist early on how they think you’ll be able to tell if therapy is working. This can help you and your therapist to build appropriate expectations for success. It’s important you’re both on the same page understanding what you’d like to get out of therapy. It can be frustrating to be told you’re ‘making progress’ in therapy, but be unable to see that yourself. If that’s the case, it’s important to discuss and ask questions of your therapist so that they can help you. Asking questions and discussing your progress is okay and safe.

How Do I Prepare For My First Ever Therapy Session?

If you’ve decided to start therapy, you may be feeling a little unsure of what to expect from your first session. We know that starting therapy can feel daunting. Your therapists are here to help. If you still feel a bit nervous, here’s a few suggestions to help your first therapy experience go well.

  • Allow yourself to be proud of yourself - You’ve done well to take the first step in helping yourself resolve the problems you’re facing. It’s not always easy to accept when we need help. So give yourself a break and allow yourself to acknowledge that you’ve already made a great step.

  • Manage your expectations - This is only your first session. Don’t be disheartened if it seems mostly admin or get-to-know-you basics. This session will help you establish an important groundwork for the work you and your therapist will do in later sessions. It’s pretty unlikely you’ll walk out of your first session with all your problems solved, so don’t lose heart.

  • Think about your goals - what do you hope to get out of therapy? Thinking about this can help you and your therapist get on the same page from the beginning. If you’re not too sure yet, that’s fine too - you can share that with your therapist.

  • Remember the therapist is here to help - Experiencing therapy for the first time can be daunting. We’re being vulnerable and discussing potentially emotionally charged topics. It’s normal to feel worried. Take comfort that everything you share is confidential and the therapist is there to help you. Your therapist is a professional and is used to guiding people through difficult journeys.

  • Take a break before and after your session - Give yourself permission to have space. You may not feel able to get straight back to work after your session, so build some buffer time into your schedule.

At the end of the day, therapy can be a wonderful tool to help you resolve problems your facing. If you’re reading this article, you’re already taking positive steps to prepare yourself for a successful therapy experience.

How should I prepare for my telehealth session?

The great benefit of Telehealth sessions is that you can do them from a comfortable and familiar space, your home.

Your home while comfortable can also be chaotic at times, so it's important that you find a quiet area where you have privacy and space from others. If you are unable to find privacy it can be beneficial to ask your partner or house mates to leave while you have your session.

If you are unable to be home for your session, then you should avoid busy areas where you might feel uncomfortable talking about personal issues. Cafes, libraries and other public spaces should be avoided.

Make sure you have your laptop or phone ready and a good connection to the Internet. Find a comfortable chair with a glass of water and you're all set!

You can learn more about getting the most from your Telehealth sessions over in our article 10 tips for Telehealth Therapy.

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