Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Talking therapies

In Australia, a variety of therapists provide a range of counselling and talking therapies. These include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy, interpersonal therapy and mindfulness-based therapy. Information about different approaches is available on the internet, or through health professionals. Talking therapy is also referred to as talking treatment, counselling, psychological therapy or treatment, or psychotherapy. For simplicity, we refer to these approaches as 'talking therapies’.
Talking therapies can help people distressed by difficult events in their lives as well as people with mental health problems. Talking therapies aim to help people function better and improve their wellbeing, and usually involve one-on-one interaction between a patient and a therapist over a period of time. Talking therapies can be expensive if they continue over the longer term. This is despite the Australian government's 'Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care' and 'Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners' initiatives that subsidises up to 10 counselling sessions with a clinical psychologist, as a part of a mental health plan developed in partnership between the patient and their GP or psychiatrist (see 'Experiences with Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other Counsellors').
Most people we talked with used some form of talking therapy to work through their depression. They tended not to talk about a specific therapy, but more generally about ‘counselling’ and about what they saw as beneficial or unhelpful.
A few people who tried different talking therapies compared the benefits of each approach. CBT and mindfulness were the approaches most commonly mentioned. CBT was described as assisting people to react differently to their thoughts and feelings, challenge negative thoughts, and change their behaviour. Mindfulness-based therapies (combining talking therapies and meditation) were said to help some people reduce stress, and assisted them in making some changes to their behaviour.
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The majority of people who were positive about talking therapy stressed the benefits of being able to talk about their problems in a safe environment, developing a better understanding of the sources of their problems, and learning how to think about their problems differently.
For some people counselling was challenging when they were pushed to look deeper into their own, sometimes confronting experiences in order to work on resolving their problems. Paul said that initially he did not see the benefits of ‘opening wounds’, but as counselling progressed with a trusted and caring therapist, he was able to address the consequences of a traumatic childhood experience. Jane found working through experiences contributing to her distress helpful.
Most people we talked with reported using a combination of treatments for their depression - usually medication and counselling, along with other complementary treatments and activities. Those who were the most positive about counselling and used this form of treatment over long periods of time tended to be people who refused to take medication for their depression or were sceptical about its effectiveness following negative experiences of side effects.
Some people resorted to counselling every time they needed to resolve specific issues and developed long-term therapeutic relationships with counsellors they felt comfortable approaching.
A few people considered counselling a ‘middle class luxury’, an indulgence they rarely had time for. In contrast, after experiencing this form of therapy, many found that having the space to talk about themselves, their feelings and their thoughts was very helpful. For most people in therapy, trusting and feeling cared for by their therapist was critical for the therapy to be considered useful. In some instances, counsellors supported people by encouraging them to bring their partners and providing an environment where relationship problems could be openly acknowledged and discussed.
The length of therapy varied depending on people's individual needs. Some people returned to counselling after unresolved issues reappeared, or when life circumstances beyond their control caused them repeated distress. Some people had just a few sessions. Others saw a therapist a few times a week for several years. Kim Haj described how counselling helped her to make choices and to help herself. She also advocated for greater availability of counselling to people from other ethno-cultural backgrounds. She questioned the stereotype that people from non-Western backgrounds keep their problems within the family, and emphasised the importance of everyone having the same support options available to them regardless of their background.
Another woman from a migrant background, Akello, described counselling she received in her African country of origin. She appreciated the benefits of revisiting past experiences that she believed had caused her depression and working towards resolving the issues that these experiences had led to. As a consequence of this positive experience, she sought counselling in Australia which she again found very beneficial.
A couple of people went to counselling to address relationship, grief, anxiety and other mental health issues. This enabled them to acknowledge that they were experiencing depression as well, and motivated them to seek help.
Others appreciated counsellors who worked with them at their own pace and let them address their own issues when they felt ready to do so. Kymberly appreciated the skills she gained through counselling but still emphasised that she was the only one who could make real changes in her life; that counselling could only help her get part of the way.
Some people found that counselling was useful for a certain period of time only. Alice described stopping counselling after ten years as she had stopped finding it challenging. She also felt her problems were constantly being revisited without much resolution.
Another woman talked about people needing to prepare for a specific form of counselling; otherwise it would not work for them.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.


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