Clinical Psychologists undertake specialist training to assist people with psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety, stress, and a wide range of other concerns. These include, but are not limited to, relationship distress, parenting difficulties, grief, work strain and adjustment to adverse life events. Broadly, clinical psychologists assist people by providing (a) assessment and diagnosis (b) treatment that is supported by research (known as evidence-based interventions) and (c) supportive counselling and advice.
Assessment is conducted through interview and completion of pen-and-paper questionnaires. Evidence-based interventions commonly used are Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Emotionally–focused therapy for couples (EFT). Supportive counselling provides assistance for persons trying to resolve life issues or dilemmas.
All information disclosed to the psychologist is held in strict confidence, with the important exception of when the clinical psychologist judges the client to be at risk of self harm or risk of causing serious harm to others. In these instances, action is taken to protect the person at risk of harm. All files are kept in a locked place and are strictly for the psychologist’s records. However, files may be subpoenaed to court.
Clinical psychologists are frequently part of a health care team that collaborates to achieve the best outcome for the person and his/her significant others. When individuals are referred under a Mental Health Care Plan, clients are eligible for a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. The clinical psychologist then liaises with the referring General Practitioner, Psychiatrist or Paediatrician at regular intervals.
Health Psychologists have specialist training and work to promote health through individual health care, promotion of health at a public health level and through developing more effective health care systems.
Some examples of how clinical health psychologists help individuals include provision of support and guidance to stop smoking, improve nutrition and manage weight, increase physical activity and adhere to their disease management programs as ordered by their doctors.
Health psychologists draw on their knowledge of change processes, motivation, adherence, cognitive therapy and emotion regulation to assist people with health problems to achieve better outcomes for their health and well-being.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy is an active, directive style of therapy that assists individuals to deal with depression, anxiety, panic, post-traumatic stress, substance use and psychosis.
There is an extensive body of psychological and psychiatric research that demonstrates the usefulness of CBT. Intervention includes a range of different strategies; for example, coaching in communication, problem-solving and relaxation skills, encouragement to engage in rewarding activities, and assistance to think realistically, rather than pessimistically, about the self and the world.
CBT helps individuals to identify and challenge their unhelpful thoughts that maintain distressing symptoms. The goal of CBT is for individuals to overcome their difficulties and manage their lives independently.
Interpersonal therapy, as the name suggests, addresses the interpersonal nature of many psychological problems. Also supported by extensive research, IPT identifies areas of interpersonal difficulty and works with individuals to resolve these problem areas. Usually, IPT focuses on unresolved grief, role transitions (associated with, for example, adolescence, parenthood, retirement), role conflicts and social isolation.
IPT assists young people, adults and families to deal with their interpersonal relationships and to achieve more effective communication and social well being.
Emotionally-focused therapy for couples is one of only two approaches to couples therapy that are supported by research and endorsed by the American Psychological Association. As the name suggests, EFT focuses on emotions (feelings); couples are assisted to understand and work with their emotions in order to reduce distress in their love relationships and to create a more secure attachment bond.
Typically, unhappy couples become overwhelmed by negative emotions such as anger, fear and sadness and hence, get caught up in negative patterns of interaction.
An EFT therapist respectfully helps partners to understand each other's emotional experience and break the negative cycles of interaction. The goal of EFT therapy is to help couples achieve a close, respectful and trusting relationship that enables both partners to feel secure.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioural therapy that challenges the ground rules of most Western psychology. The goal of ACT is to help people create a rich, meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. ACT helps people learn strategies to live life more in the present, more focused on important values and goals, and less focused on painful thoughts, feelings and experiences.
ACT teaches people how to engage with and overcome painful thoughts and feelings through acceptance and mindfulness techniques, to develop self-compassion and flexibility, and to build life-enhancing patterns of behavior. ACT is not about overcoming pain or fighting emotions; it's about embracing life and feeling everything it has to offer. It offers a way out of suffering by choosing to live a life based on what matters most.
ACT has developed within a scientific tradition, and there continues to be a thriving research community that examines the basic science underlying ACT and the effectiveness of applying ACT techniques to numerous life problems such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, chronic pain, psychosis, eating problems, and weight management, just to name a few.