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Psychological treatments

What's psychological treatment?

Psychological treatment is sometimes called ‘psychotherapy’ or ‘talking therapy’.

It involves talking about your thoughts with a professional to:

  • better understand your own thinking and behaviour
  • understand and resolve your problems
  • recognise symptoms of mental illness in yourself
  • reduce your symptoms
  • change your behaviour
  • improve your quality of life.

Evidence shows that psychological treatments work well for emotional, mental and behavioural issues.

Psychological treatments are useful for people of all ages, including children.

They can help people from different cultural, social and language backgrounds.

You can have psychological treatment in an individual session, as part of a group, or online.

Why get psychological treatment?

Psychological treatments are proven to help with mental illnesses such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • addiction
  • eating disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • personality disorders.

They are also used successfully to help people deal with:

  • stress
  • emotional problems
  • grief and trauma
  • relationship problems.

It may take a number of weeks for you to see results from most psychological treatments. Some types of treatment can take a year or more for you to get the full benefit.

They are not a quick fix, but the positive effects are often long-lasting.

Who can provide psychological treatments?

Psychiatrists can provide psychological treatments to people with mental illness.

Find a psychiatrist near you who can provide psychological treatments

Psychologists, some GPs, social workers, mental health nurses, counsellors and other therapists also offer psychological treatments.

First steps to get help

Not all people who offer psychological treatments have professional training or experience in that therapy. Ask your therapist about their qualifications before your first appointment.

Mental health professionals: who’s who? 

Types of psychological treatment

There are different types of psychological treatments designed to help with different issues.

Some of the most common treatments are listed below (in alphabetical order):

Acceptance and commitment therapy
Cognitive analytic therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Dialectical behaviour therapy
Family therapy
Group therapy
Interpersonal therapy
Mentalisation-based therapy
Mindfulness
Motivational interviewing
Psychodynamic psychotherapy
Supportive psychotherapy
The skills I learned were invaluable to put things in perspective during an anxiety attack. For example, simple skills such as asking, 'will this matter in 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 years?' was a simple question that I often apply when I feel worry creeping in. I learned a lot about challenging the script in my mind, so that negative thoughts weren't as dominant.

Leanne, Melbourne

Your first appointment

In a first appointment you will probably be asked to tell your story – what’s happened in your life and the thoughts and feelings you’ve been having.

You may also discuss what your goals are for treatment.

This is a good time to ask your psychiatrist or other therapist questions such as:

  • Why do you think this therapy will suit me?
  • What are the outcomes?
  • How often do I need to see you?
  • How long will the therapy last?
  • What should I do if there’s a crisis, or I need urgent help?
  • How much will it cost?

After a session you might feel relief, or your emotions might be stirred up. Exercise is a good way to release tension.

First appointment with a psychiatrist

Get the most out of psychological treatment

You have to be actively involved for psychological treatment to work.

You can do this by:

  • speaking honestly about what’s going on in your life, and in your mind
  • giving your therapist feedback on how you’re doing
  • asking questions
  • attending all your appointments
  • completing any ‘homework’ you are asked to do.

Your psychiatrist or other therapist will:

  • offer a safe, trusting relationship
  • provide a treatment plan that is created with your input
  • adjust the treatment to your life stage and circumstances
  • keep what you say in an appointment confidential (although sometimes legal processes will require that some information is shared)
  • offer a positive and non-judgemental approach with a view to your recovery.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, consider trying someone else.

Find a psychiatrist near you

Online therapy

There are a number of websites that offer online treatments for mild depression and anxiety.

Web-based programs that have evidence to show that they work are:

Remember

  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your therapist.
  • You need to be active in contributing to and being part of the therapy.
  • It takes time for psychological treatments to work, but the effects last.
Page last reviewed June 2016 | C1008V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.