Frequently asked questions about psychology

  • How effective are psychological treatments?

    Research shows psychological treatments are effective in managing many mental health disorders. These approaches are based on changing behaviour generally without medication. Some treatments are as successful as medication in treating the most prevalent conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

    Around one in five Australians develop common disorders and the most prevalent adult mental health conditions are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, which affect around 18 per cent of adults. A similar percentage of children and adolescents develop anxiety, depression and disruptive behaviour.

    A review of current research shows that a range of well-defined psychological treatments:

    • are effective at treating the most common mental health conditions
    • are effective in treating most anxiety and depression disorders
    • are the treatment of choice for most childhood problems 
    • tend to be more effective than medication over the long term, because people receiving medication only are more likely to relapse after they stop taking it
    • are viable treatments, in terms of both their effectiveness and costs.

    Qualified psychologists have a range of evidence-based therapies which provide them with many tools to address a range of problems and issues. To be registered, a psychologist must now have six years of education and supervised experience, meaning they have significant knowledge and skill when they enter the field. 

    Further reading

    Literature review: Evidence-based psychological interventions in the treatment of mental disorders

  • Common reasons people seek help from psychologists

    Everyday problems, such as work stress, relationship troubles and coping with illness, can seriously affect your life. Addressing these concerns is vital to enjoying life and good relationships.

    Among the issues that Australians commonly consult psychologists about are:


    APS psychologists can assist with these situations, helping to equip people with the skills needed to function better and to prevent problems. They are also able to assist children, adolescents and adults with mental health disorders, learning or behaviour difficulties or chronic conditions.

    The therapies, methods and tools that psychologists draw on are based on the best available research evidence. Research shows that psychological treatments are effective in managing many common psychological problems and mental health disorders.

  • What are the differences between psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and therapists?

    Psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and therapists commonly work in the area of mental health and wellbeing. However, there are significant differences between these professions.


    Psychologists study the mind and human behaviour in great detail during their required six years of university training and supervised experience. They enter the profession with a high level of knowledge and skill, and many have additional postgraduate qualifications in areas of psychology such as mental illness and development.

    Psychologists work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, schools, prisons, and private clinics. Some assist people with everyday problems such as stress and relationship difficulties, and some specialise in treating people with a mental illness. Others work with groups or organisations. Most help people to alleviate problems, develop the skills needed to function better and to avoid ongoing difficulties.

    In most cases a referral to a psychologist is not required unless a client is seeking to see a psychologist through a government-funded program.

    Psychologists cannot at present prescribe medication, but use non-medication treatments and approaches that scientific evidence shows are highly effective to assist their clients.

    Psychology is a regulated profession in Australia, and any person calling themselves a psychologist or practising as a psychologist must be registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA).  Psychologists must take part in ongoing education and training to keep their skills and knowledge up to date to retain their registration. They must also follow a strict code of ethics, which protects consumers by covering issues such as conduct and confidentiality, and meet rigorous professional standards that are enforced by the PsyBA.  


    Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have studied six years of general medicine, followed by further study to specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness.

    Psychiatrists typically work in a medical settings, such as hospitals, clinics and private practice and are interested in the mental and physical factors contributing to psychological disorders.

    They can prescribe medications, such as anti-depressants. Some combine medication with other forms of therapy and many work in cooperation with psychologists providing non-medication therapies.

    A referral to a psychiatrist is usually required.

    The profession is regulated, with psychiatrists required to be registered with the Medical Board of Australia, take part in continuing professional development and follow a code of conduct.

    Counsellors, therapists and psychotherapists

    Some psychologists provide counselling, therapy or psychotherapy as part of the work they do. Counselling is a process of talking and working together through issues, emotions and behaviours to identify their causes and help individuals find better ways of coping. Therapy or psychotherapy means the techniques, treatments and approaches used by some health care professionals.

    However, the use of the title counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist is not regulated in Australia. This means that there are no legal restrictions on using these titles and anyone can choose to use them regardless of their level of qualification and training. Individuals may represent themselves as a counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist without having relevant education, skills or experience. They are not obliged to engage in ongoing education, or to follow particular codes of conduct.

    Some of these professionals have significant experience and/or are members of voluntary professional organisations such as Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) or Australian Counselling Association (ACA), which has minimum standards for membership. However, it is important to establish the credentials and experience of any professional working in this field.

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This page was last updated 26 Jul 2016