What is Psychology

What is Psychology? Psychology is the science of studying the mind and our behaviour. It is a medical profession and registered psychologists are qualified with advanced university degrees and many years experience working with clients. Psychologists attempt to understand and interpret the interactions of people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Every person is different and your psychologist uses all of their training, knowledge and experience to find the best way to help you achieve your desired outcomes. Psychology is different to psychiatry in that Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have undergone extensive additional training and are empowered to use pharmacological treatments (prescribe drugs) in addition to counselling and psychological processes.

There can often be some confusion between psychology, counselling and coaching. Psychology is the utilisation of many strategies and processes by a qualified psychologist. Psychology is recognised as an evidence based science and qualified practitioners are registered by the government to practice in the profession of psychology. Medicare recognises psychology as an effective process and people with appropriate referrals from their doctor can get a rebate from Medicare for the cost of psychology sessions.

Counselling is a process of listening emphatically to clients, and making suggestions about a wide range of life issues. Psychologists use counselling techniques all the time as part of their practice. Many people practise as counsellors across a very wide range of areas, (eg. marriage counselling, financial counselling, drug & alcohol, grief, personal, sex etc). In most cases, counsellors do not have the same level of professional qualifications as psychologists and are not recognised by Medicare for rebates although some private health funds may offer rebates.

Coaching is the process of working with a client to achieve specific life and personal goals. Many clients who initial come to us for help with a ‘mental health’ issue become coaching clients as the focus moves away from relieving those issues that are impacting you living your life currently and more towards focussing on achieving new and exciting goals for the future. Coaching is the process of identifying and agreeing on those goals, developing the steps that need to be done in order to make progress towards those goals and creating an accountability process to ensure that whatever needs to be done is done. The outcome is that whatever excuses have held you back in the past you will now achieve your goals.

Techniques Used in Psychology

Psychologists are medical specialists professionally trained in a wide variety of techniques to help their clients work through mental health issues without medication. Just as a mechanic may use many different tools in repairing or keeping your car fine-tuned, your psychologists may utilise many different techniques over a number of psychology sessions to help you reach the outcome you seek. Our goal is to do whatever it takes to help you own your life again. As you research psychology and attend your sessions you may come across many terms relating to psychological strategies and therapies. Below we have briefly listed some of the terms you may come across. These are some of the more widely known and used therapies in psychology and there are many others. You are always welcome to discuss what specific techniques your psychologist uses and the outcomes that can be expected.

CBT is really an umbrella term that covers most of the techniques used by professional psychologists. The basis of CBT is the understanding that our thoughts (our cognition) determine our feelings and our actions and that our thoughts, our emotions and our actions and behaviours all interact together. It is really a circular process, our thoughts impact the way we feel, which then determines our behaviour, the outcome of which influences our thoughts and so on.

When people seek psychological help, it is generally because they have negative or unrealistic thoughts that are causing them to feel in distress or out of control, creating actions and behaviours that lead to negative outcomes. These negative outcomes reinforce the negative thoughts and the cycle deepens.

CBT allows people to be aware of these negative thoughts and teaches strategies that help you develop alternative ways of thinking and responding that reduce the psychological impact of those feelings and behaviours. This helps break the cycle so that you can begin to feel in control of your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviours and choices and take control of your life again.

ACT is a process that teaches the acceptance of what is out of your personal control and then committing to actions and behaviours that will enrich your life. The key components of ACT are mindfulness (discussed below) which allows you to be fully aware of your environment in such a way that you accept what you can and what you can’t control, and then clarifying what is truly important to you, your deep values, and how to live your life aligned with those values.

DBT recognises that some people react to certain emotional situations in a much more intense and out of the ordinary (over the top) manner, especially situations involving relationships, family and friends. DBT helps people identify their own strengths and build upon them so they can feel better about themselves and their life. It helps identify the thoughts and beliefs that people have that make their life harder to bear. DBT teaches specific skills that need to be practised regularly so there will normally be specific homeplay tasks for clients to do to build those skills.

IPT was developed to treat depressive illnesses by focussing on and improving the important relationships the client has with other people in their life and decreasing the symptoms of depression. By improving the way the depressed person communicates with other people around them, they are likely to feel better and then will be more able to manage difficult thoughts and feelings. In IPT, people learn about depression, about therapy and about themselves. They learn about the causes that underlie their depression and they learn the skills that they need to make things better.

EMDR is a specific psychotherapy process that recognises the connections made in the mind between past thoughts, feelings and past memories. It is not so much a talking process as an action process that can change those connections and allow the client to make new more helpful future connections. It has been proven over many years to be a successful technique in many cases of trauma.

Hypnosis is a relaxation technique that in a therapeutic environment opens the mind to learning at a conscious and unconscious level. There are many myths and misconceptions about hypnosis which have been taken in to folklore due to fictional novels, movies and stage shows. Hypnosis can never make anyone do something they don’t want to do, it is not a sleep state and the client is always in total control. It is simply a state of deep relaxation (just like the final few moments before you go to sleep at night) when your mind is open to suggestion, suggestions that can help you relax, help you let go of negative thoughts and emotions, and help you choose more empowering beliefs and behaviours.

NLP is a system of working with the mind and the programming and ways in which the mind works. It recognises that the mind reacts to stimuli in a certain way that has been programmed into us by our experiences and the way we communicate those experiences internally. Although sometimes controversial, many NLP techniques can provide fast and effective change by changing the way our mind makes connections between external stimuli and internal thoughts.

Gestalt Therapy or Psychology (they do have different definitions) is a process that recognises experiential learnings and that individual stimuli have varying effects on a person’s thinking. The human mind forms a perception based on an individual stimulus and as we are exposed to many of these stimuli we get many different perceptions which when taken as a whole can give us a totally different understanding than if we considered each perception individually and tried to add them up. Gestalt uses specific techniques to explore these many environmental and social influences in a person’s life and how to make adjustments that serve us better.

These are all relaxation techniques that are often used in psychology to help clients attain a feeling of peace within themselves. Each therapist uses these practices in their own way but you need not have any fear. Although based on ancient spiritual practices we don’t expect you to sit still and cross-legged for hours with a blank mind, we will show you techniques and give you resources that guide you into a state of peaceful relaxation which can serve whatever purpose you need, going to sleep, clarity of thought, stress reduction, seeing your future goals etc.

Mindfulness is a specific process derived from Buddhist teachings (and even before!) which is now an integral part of psychology world wide. It is being able to intentionally focus on your immediate current thoughts, emotions and senses in an accepting and non-judgemental way. It has been proven to be a very effective strategy to alleviate many psychological issues people face including reducing depressive symptoms, lowering levels of stress and anxiety, or increasing feelings of peace and happiness.

Values are the deep core characteristics that guide everything we think and do. Conflicts occur when we act in ways that are against our core values and often we are not aware of why we feel or react the way we do. Getting clear on what is really important to us, and not just the words we use but the real meaning of those values helps us to understand who we really are and how to live in alignment with our core being.