What is Counselling / Psychotherapy?

Counselling and Psychotherapy

Within Australia, counselling and psychotherapy are terms that tend to be used interchangeably, however the difference tends to be based on the level of formal education of the therapist and/or the depth of the therapeutic work. In the UK, generally those with a Diploma level of study in the relational aspects of human interaction will refer to themselves as Counsellors whereas those with a Masters degree will call themselves Psychotherapists.counselling

There are many approaches/methods of counselling and psychotherapy, all with the aim of helping a range of clients overcome a wide scope of concerns.  Those who seek psychotherapy may be the every day person wanting to simply understand themselves better for self-improvement or may be experiencing a difficult time with bereavement and other life-changing events.  Psychotherapists can train solely in psychotherapy though there may be cross over from other professional backgrounds within the mental health sector.

Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Psychiatrists have a medical degree and have specialised training in the study of mental disorders (diagnosis, management and prevention).  They mainly tend to treat those with serious clinical mental illnesses and those who may need hospitalisation for their treatment.  Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication. You will need a referral from a GP to see a psychiatrist.

Psychologists on the other hand, have a degree in psychology where they learn the science of aspects of human behaviour. They perform research to experiment and measure aspects of human behaviour.

All psychiatrists and psychologists must legally be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.

Counselling Approaches

Some psychologists study a counselling therapy component (typically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) in order to provide counselling services to clients rather than take a research path. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a popular psychotherapeutic approach following an action-plan type treatment.  This approach provides education and teaches tools and techniques to reduce and manage certain symptoms such as helping those who are unable to maintain a level of function and self-care (e.g. not getting out of bed for days or washing or eating which may be due to clinical depression or anxiety). Many Employment Assistance Programs (EAP) will offer services provided by psychologists (qualified and trainees) following the CBT approach however many may also provide psychodynamic and interpersonal therapy for treatment of anxiety and depression.art_therapy

Humanistic approaches (e.g. Gestalt, Transactional Analysis or Person-Centered) are well suited to the exploration of relational issues including grief/loss, abuse, identity, self-confidence, and understanding feelings and emotions for personal growth. Humanistic therapy does not follow an action-plan. It encourages a more free-flowing and deeper connection between therapist and client so the most personal of thoughts and feelings can be discussed.

Unfortunately humanistic approaches are not as well promoted by doctors in Australia and CBT is touted as being the best because of past evidence. Humanistic counselling approaches are more widely known in the United States and Europe, with greater popularity and recognition as an effective approach and on-going evidence is being produced to prove it’s effectiveness over CBT in the long run.

There is a movement towards supporting humanistic approaches in mental health. Recent examples currently in practice includes the Art Gallery of NSW’s Art & Dementia program along with the research being performed by Dr. Katherine Boydell, Professor of Mental Health at The Black Dog Institute on the effectiveness of art therapy and body mapping.

Often those who would better benefit from humanistic models (e.g. concerns caused by life issues rather than biological) feel let down by GPs and the quick prescription of anti-depressants along with the limits of the CBT approach. Most, if not through word of mouth, search for something else which often leads them to the humanistic approaches of counselling and psychotherapy.

You do not need a referral from a GP to see a psychologist or psychotherapist, privately.


I am not a Medicare provider so cannot offer Medicare rebates, however I can offer a rebate option via Medibank Private. Medibank Private will offer a rebate to those who have the Package Bonus or Membership Bonus products attached to their policies. Please let me know if you wish to claim through themrebate.

Medicare, via the ‘Better Access Initiative’ offers 6-10 individual sessions per year for the treatment of anxiety/depression. This requires a referral from your GP to a Medicare provider (e.g. social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists). While it’s great that Governments offer a number of sessions to those truly suffering to access mental health services, 6-10 sessions are frequently found to be not enough. As recommended by the Psychological Society, psychologists tend to charge a significantly higher fee.

PACFA continues to lobby the Government and private health insurance providers for support of rebates for counselling and psychotherapy.