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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I overcome the anxiety of calling a psychologist for the first time?

    ok I made the step seeing my GP to refer me to see a psychologist because I think I have an eating disorder. although I don't feel depressed but now I guess feeling anxious about contacting the psychologist for treatment. I know this is silly question but how do I make that call I know I have done the first step of seeking help but now finding it hard to do the next step, making an appointment to see the psychologist. any ideas suggestions so I can make this step help.
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 4


    Lauren Terry

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Lauren is a Melbourne based therapist who specialises in relationship counselling for couples, individuals, and in workplace relations. Lauren also provides Person-centred Counselling, including Dream … View Profile

    Congratulations on taking these steps into improved wellness. Your question is not silly as making that phone call, or not, is an important decision for you.

    Remember the psychologist is there for you, not the other way round. They will be pleased and happy that you contacted them - this is what they have chosen to do as their profession - help and support people.

    So, knowing that the psychologist is there for you, tell them that you're a little anxious about the first appointment. When a therapist answers the phone they expect some (or many) clients to be anxious.  Have a bit of a chat on the phone, most therapists build this time into their working day. Ask questions about things that are worrying you … 

    • Are you concerned about your privacy? 
    • Do you want to seek a concession and don't know how to ask for it? 
    • Do you want to go to someone you like, and wonder how you'll get out of it if you don't get on with the therapist?  
    Therapists understand that you need to feel comfortable and will readily answer preliminary questions like these for you. Some clinics may have a receptionist for the first point of contact, but would usually have a therapist call you back if you tell them you're a bit anxious.

    Can you change the focus away from any  negative feelings about the anxiety and eating problems? Instead, can you focus on how well you're doing by seeking support from someone with knowledge and skills that will help you?

    Best wishes 
    Lauren Terry

  • 3


    Dr Louise Shepherd

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a clinical psychologist with 15 years experience working with all sorts of goals and issues. I love working with people, helping them to … View Profile

    I've been on both sides of this dilemma. I've been working as a clinical psychologist for about 15 years and really do think it is very courageous when people pick up the phone to arrange to come and see me. Some people email first and that is just fine too!

    I also know how scary it can be to pick up the phone and make the call :-). Remember that psychologists are people too and hopefully you will find someone who is able to help you address the issues you want help with. 

    By the way if you are in Sydney you might like to check out our website - my colleague Emma Webster is very experienced in working with people around eating disorders.

    All the best in taking these brave steps!


  • 3


    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    I agree with Lauren and Louise that you have made a brave decision.

    In my experience, as a client of a clinical psychologist, the first few sessions are often spent “getting to know each other”. Some questions that you could ask yourself in those sessions are (note that they have no “right” answers, *your* answers are what matter):

    (1) Do I feel comfortable about talking with him/her about why I think I might have an ED?

    (2) Does s/he listen to me in a respectful and non-judgemental way?

    (3) What is the response when I ask what his/her experience is in working with clients with possible EDs?

    (4) If s/he offers you advice does it come across to you as “I am the expert here, do what you are told.” or is it more a matter of collaboration between you and him/her? 

    I hope that you can find a  psychologist who can work with you effectively.

  • 1




    Often enough, we do not know our own mind. In the process of dialogue with another person, we are able to clarify what we think … View Profile

    All of the answers so far are wise!

    I would add that sometimes it can be helpful not to have to ‘get over’  or ‘overcome’ anxiety - I know it sounds strange, but sometimes we kind of ‘feel the anxiety but do it anyway’ rather than trying to make it go away before we call. Note what shows up for you when anxiety is present - eg heart beating fast, butterflies etc. And then pick up the phone.
    It can be hepful to have a list of questions to ask - such as fees/previous experience with disordered eating and so on. Be sure you ask the questions that you want to ask and that might help you decide whether the person you have been referred to is right for you.

    For the record - you don't have to see a psychologist necessarily for an eating disorder issue - other professionals such as clinical social workers can also bill under Medicare and can also be a good choice provided they have had experience treating eating disorder issues which are often complex..

    Most of us counsellors, social workers, therapists and psychologists have had the good sense to do our own therapy so we know what its like to make that first call.

    Good luck

  • 1


    Bruni (Brunhilde) Brewin

    Counsellor, Hypnotherapist

    Bruni Brewin is President Emeritus of The Australian Hypnotherapists’ Association (AHA), the oldest and largest National Registration Body for hypnotherapists in Australia founded in 1949, … View Profile

    Remember that the only difference between you and a psychologist is that they have done some training that may be able to help you.  Research says that 40% of all outcomes are attributed to the type of therapist you see, even when two people have done exactly the same training, one therapist because of how they are able to relate to people will consistently have better results than another.

    I suggest you ring and tell the receptionist that you want to make an appointment but you want to speak to the psychologist first.  If they have a client at the time you ring, ask if they will ring you back. Then when you speak with them tell them about how concerned you are and ask what will they do.

    They should be able to allay your fears through that talk. How they speak to you will indicate to you how comfortable you will feel when you go there.  Use your Gut feeling or instinct - if you are not happy, look for another psychologist who you would be happy with.

  • Alysha Coleman

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist

    Alysha is the Primary Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Institute for Healthy Living, a clinical psychology practice in Bondi Junction. Alysha has worked with … View Profile

    When approaching the call, do your best to help yourself relax. Make the call from a private place where you won’t be disturbed, at a time when you aren’t racing between commitments. Perhaps make yourself a cup of tea or engage in some relaxing breathing exercises beforehand: whatever you find useful for calming yourself down. Anxiety usually incorrectly tricks us into thinking something bad will happen. So, it may also help to remind yourself that it is normal to feel some anxiety about a new experience.

    Also remember that psychologists and their staff are used to people being nervous about making that call. They know how to sensitively handle your concerns, and aren’t going to make you feel silly about them, because so many other people have them. If you do feel that your concerns aren’t answered seriously or sensitively, then chances are that it won’t be a good fit for you.

    My staff are very used to answering concerns people have, whether it’s about the Medicare system or my treatment approach. If they can’t provide the information you’re after, of course I’m happy to speak with you to help you feel comfortable about our first session together.

  • 1


    Adam Szmerling


    Lacanian psychoanalysis by phone, Skype or in the clinic situated in Melbourne. View Profile

    This is such an important question. You are definitely not alone. Mindfully embracing your discomfort with curiosity might be one way to approach the decision to call (and the entire therapy process for that matter). Also keep in mind why you originally sought assistance from your GP and what you stand to gain from making the call. Few individuals seem completely comfortable making "the first call", I find. When they come in and speak about their initial discomfort, the result is sometimes quite calming for them, with fruitful discussions following. While reasons for such discomfort will vary, remember if there was no discomfort, there may not be a reason to call. Also, with discomfort about calling, there's possibly something important going on for you that could be addressed through speaking. 

    Best of luck!


  • Lee-Anne is an independent, fully qualified, registered counsellor offering a flexible dedicated counselling service that focuses on the struggles, needs, and empowerment of women. Lee-Anne … View Profile

    Congratulations on taking the first step toward your well-being! I imagine that asking your GP for a referral held its own challenges for you, but you did it and that is a strength, good on you! Often when we experience anxiety we are often reacting to automatic thoughts which affect our emotions, physiological and psychological well-being. When we run on automatic pilot events around us, thoughts, feelings and sensations can trigger old ways of thinking that are often unhelpful and can contribute to lower mood and anxiety. I'm wondering if you have ever considered mindfulness training? Mindfulness teaches many ways of overriding thoughts that contribute to anxiety. Has there been something in your past that may have given you an underlying fear of seeking emotional support? I encourage you to pick up the telephone and make the appointment, when selecting a Counsellor/psychologist be sure that you 'click' with them. One of the most important parts of seeking help is the relationship you have with your therapist. When you feel heard and you're feelings are validated in a non-judgmental environment, talking about you're most distressing issues is empowering, not only do you work through the things that are unhelpful to you, you also find all the amazing strengths inside of you that we to often forget when we feel down. You can do this! 


  • 1


    Bruni (Brunhilde) Brewin

    Counsellor, Hypnotherapist

    Bruni Brewin is President Emeritus of The Australian Hypnotherapists’ Association (AHA), the oldest and largest National Registration Body for hypnotherapists in Australia founded in 1949, … View Profile

    I see that this thread is still going. Perhaps it is time to suggest that you might feel more comfortable to see an Alternative practitioner.

    I had a client come to me just this week that was fearful of seeing me. The only reason she came was because two of her friends recommended that she come and see me. Yet, some of her first words to me were; "I don't think that you will get me to go into hypnosis." and, "I don't think that you will be able to help me."

    Whilst coming to see a hypnotherapist might seem scarier than seeing a psychologist, as most people have a feeling they will lose control to the therapist (I wish!), that is not the case. As with every health modality, you really need to check the Associations that your practitioner belongs to, and then check the Association for what is required to be a member of that association. That is common sense when it comes to self-regulated Associations. It doesn't mean even when you do that, that the therapist has any success with your type of problem. It also doesn't mean that a psychologist will be able to fix your problem either. And, if they haven't got the skills to help you, what are they going to do to solve your problem - will it work?

    I was a member of PACFA as someone else stated above, however, my association removed themselves as they were encroaching on the association to bypass them to go directly to their membership. That just wasn't going to be on as far as my association was concerned. Then I couldn't be a member unless I joined an association that was a member association of PACFA. I was not prepared to do this, as my association was a Peer Leader in Hypnotherapy which is my modality of practice, despite having the skills in counselling which is a big part of that practice.

    Whilst my fearful client that I mentioned wasn't about weight, it was a worse problem in that she was fearful of having any medical tests or treatments without feeling terror and/or panic. As she required an MRI to see if a work accident would need surgery and she also needed to look into having a cataract operation on one of her eyes, you can see that without taking some action to rectify these issues, the prognosis of not getting these things done, was not good. She was so fearful that she had already cancelled an MRI appointment.

    The list of fears that I jotted down during our up-front talk nearly took up a whole page of notes, trust issues being just one of those. The fear of being relaxed related to a fear of not being in control. In fact, all of the issues related to the need to be in control. As I pointed out to my client, the fact that she had come to see me was her choice which meant that she was in control of having made that decision, and that by the time we got to go into hypnosis, if she didn't feel comfortable with me and didn't feel that I would be able to help her, then it was her right to be able to halt the session just there and then. That didn't happen, and her problem was solved.

    Realise that we are all here to assist you. Some people are specialists in certain fields. If one doesn't work for you, perhaps it is time to try another, and if that one doesn't work for you there will be something else that will, or another person in the same field that will. But it all starts with you.

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