What is it?

Through discussions with a counsellor or psychologist, you can identify both positive and troubling aspects in your life. You may choose to focus on your goals or your positive relationships, or you may decide to discuss particular problems or challenges you are facing. Counselling allows you to explore ways of resolving negative thoughts and feelings that impact on your health and day-to-day life.

Why use it?

Counselling allows you to identify, understand and express your emotions, motivations, life choices and behaviours in a safe, objective and confidential environment. It can help with self-esteem, communication and relationships.

What to expect?

Consultations are usually face to face, but if you live in a remote area or require crisis counselling, you may be able to talk with a counsellor over the phone or online.

A counsellor will ask questions about why you have decided to speak to them and what aspects of your life you wish to talk about. They can often help you to clarify your thoughts so you can work out how to resolve any challenges yourself.

Sometimes a counsellor will simply provide a non-judgemental, listening ear to allow you to talk through events that have caused you to feel negative emotions.

What is the evidence?

There is long-established evidence of the benefits of counselling. However, it is important that you find a suitably qualified counsellor you feel comfortable talking with. Ask your general practitioner (GP) for a referral.

Cognitive behaviour therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy psychologists use to help people identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, and change how they respond to negative situations or emotions. CBT can teach you how to calm your body and mind, focus your thinking and improve your outlook.

Differences between counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists


A counsellor’s education may range from a vocational certificate in counselling through to university-level studies in psychology, social work or counselling. There is no one standard of qualification required. Counsellors listen to clients, offer support and help them come up with strategies for managing the issues they choose to focus on.  Counsellors do not prescribe medication, but if they are also qualified in a complementary therapies discipline, such as flower remedies, they may dispense these as part of their treatment plan.


A registered psychologist in Australia must complete four years of psychology at university at an undergraduate level, followed by either postgraduate studies in psychology or two years of supervised clinical practice.  Psychologists who specialise in counselling use their understanding of the working of the mind to guide people through issues with how they think, feel and learn. They cannot prescribe medication.

Psychiatrist A psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor who has specialised in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness. As well as discussing issues with a client, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help a range of mental and emotional conditions.

*See your GP for a referral to these practitioners, as you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate for some of these services.

This information was last reviewed in May 2015
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