When they are good at their jobs, counsellors can be very useful people for helping you find out what you really want to do about a situation and then supporting you towards making the changes you decide you need to make. This can include cool stuff like challenging unhelpful beliefs, helping you bring out the best in yourself and giving you practical alternatives to try.
Here are some tips if you’re shopping for a counsellor.
All public drug and alcohol services have counsellors on staff. Call your Local Health District (page 15) or your local hospital’s Drug and Alcohol Service to enquire.
If you are on Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST) at a public clinic you can ask to hook up with a counsellor next time you go to get dosed.
There are many private counsellors. One search option is the website for the Australian Psychological Society https://www.psychology. org.au/FindaPsychologist/. Or call them tollfree on 1800 333 497.
Ask your GP for help. Not only might he have a good idea of suitable counsellors in your area, he can write up a Mental Health Treatment Plan so you can get up to 6 visits a year to a clinical psychologist covered by Medicare.
Many work places have Employee Assistance Programs where you can see a counsellor a set number of times - usually 3 a year - paid by your employer. EAP sessions are supposed to be confidential but be careful around drug use at work. A counsellor can report back to your boss if they feel concerned about safety on the job. (More info around this Google “EAP HEALTH NSW”)
Ask your friends for recommendations! But remember just because they are a good fit for your friend doesn’t necessarily mean they will suit you.
You may need to see a few people to find the right one. Just because one or even two or three don’t work doesn’t mean all counsellors are hopeless. There really are some fantastic ones out there.
Calling first to suss them out. Ask about their qualifications and experience. You want a qualified clinical psychologist or social worker who has kept up their training.
Don’t be railroaded into making an appointment before you are sure. Doing your research on that initial call may save a few bad sessions. If they are not respectful or don’t listen to you on that call, you can be sure they won’t be hearing you properly later. Ask what sort of theories and therapies they use so you have an idea if they will be a good fit for you. Check against our guide at page 18-19. You can even ask them what they think about things important to you, like “harm reduction”.
Some private psychologists want upfront payment and may charge more than the Medicare rebate. Ask about payment when you first ring them so you are clear about it. Some may bulk bill you or waive the gap if you are on a Centrelink benefit or have financial hardship - but they may not offer it. You have to ask them about it.