When you’re diagnosed with a mental illnesses like an eating disorder, it can feel like you are entering a whole new world when it comes to treatment. Navigating your options, trying to get on waitlists, claiming Medicare, learning a bunch of new acronyms – all while battling a raging voice in your head that doesn’t actually want you to get better. No wonder it can feel overwhelming.
One of the common areas for confusion can be trying to figure out the difference between the mental health clinicians that treat eating disorders, and who you should be seeing.
Whilst everyone’s situation is different, it’s good to have a general understanding of the role of mental health clinicians, and some things you can consider when choosing who to engage with. Even if you have been accessing treatment for some time, you may find that there are some options in this list that you haven’t considered. Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of mental health clinicians that you may engage with on your treatment journey (and we haven’t even touched on other allied health professionals such as dietitians – we’ll cover that in a future issue!).
General Practitioner (GP)
Ok, whilst technically not a mental health clinician, it’s important to have a GP on your team who you see regularly. A GP can monitor your physical health, coordinate with other clinicians, as well as enable you to access the all important Medicare rebates that may be available for your treatment. If you don’t have a solid GP on your team, we encourage you to seek one out as a priority.
One of the biggest points of confusion when it comes to psychologists is around ‘registered’ and ‘clinical’ psychologists. Within the world of psychology professional practice there are some things that differentiate these two qualifications, but as a client these generally don’t affect you. Both registered and clinical psychologists can treat people with eating disorders if they have received appropriate training. Some people may presume that clinical psychologists are ‘better’ because they can charge a higher fee, but that isn’t necessarily true. Many people find that it’s the personal connection you make with a psychologist that makes the biggest difference. When it comes to fees, if you are accessing Medicare for your treatment, the rebate for clinical psychologists is higher than registered ($128.40 vs $87.45). This means that the out of pocket cost, or ‘gap’ payment, is often similar regardless of whether you are seeing a clinical or registered psych.
Moral of the story? Don’t get hung up on the whether someone is ‘registered’ or ‘clinical’. Instead find out if they are trained in treating eating disorders and assess whether you think you’ll personally work well together.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They have studied to become medical doctors before continuing to specialise in psychiatry – in Australia this takes a minimum of ten years. The biggest difference to other clinicians is that psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication. Commonly, people will have sessions with a psychiatrist if they are engaged in some sort of hospital treatment program.
Additionally, if you are on an Eating Disorder Plan through Medicare, you will be required to see a psychiatrist for a review if you would like to access more than 20 Eating Disorder Psychological Treatment (EDPT) sessions. It’s recommended you make a booking with a psychiatrist as soon as you receive your Eating Disorder Plan, even if it’s months in advance, so that you are not caught out when you need to have your 20 session review.
Due to the limited availability of psychiatrists and the higher out of pocket expense, most people will not see a psychiatrist as regularly as other clinicians.
Mental Health Social Worker
Mental Health Social Workers are less well known when it comes to treating eating disorders, but that doesn’t mean they are less worthy of your consideration!
Accredited Mental Health Social Workers must have tertiary qualifications in social work and an additional two years practice experience. They tend to take a holistic approach to treatment with appreciation of your social, environmental and cultural factors. They will usually deliver the same therapeutic approaches as psychologists. You are likely to come across Mental Health Social Workers if you are engaging in treatment in the public system, however they also operate in private practice.
Family Based Therapist
If you are caring for a young person with a restrictive eating disorder, you will likely be introduced to Family Based Therapy. A family based therapist is a trained clinician who will guide a family through Family Based Treatment (FBT), also known as the Maudsley method. The therapist may come from a social work, counselling or psychology background and has undertaken specific training in FBT. Many families work with FBT therapists in the public system, however they can also be sought out privately.
You may be eligible for Medicare rebates depending on the clinician’s qualifications.
Counsellors and psychotherapists
Counsellors and psychotherapists may be valuable to some people in the recovery process, but should generally be seen as complimentary supports. Counselling and psychotherapy are not highly regulated in Australia, meaning that the qualifications and training of individual practitioners may vary considerably. These professions are also not eligible for Medicare rebates.
Our top tips when engaging mental health clinicians:
- If you can’t get an appointment straight away, still get on a waitlist. Check with the clinic when setting up the first appointment what they suggest for interim support options, or how to ensure you receive ongoing regular appointments.
- Understand that there’s no set time for recovery and everyone’s path looks different. Whilst it would be lovely to know that ‘x’ amount of sessions is what’s required, unfortunately that’s not how recovery works. Recovery takes ongoing commitment.
- It can take time to build a relationship with your clinician. Try to be patient and consistent and attend appointments regularly. A clinician is not there to be your ‘friend’, but you should be able to establish a comfortable and understanding relationship. If this isn’t happening, it may be time to look for someone else.
- Reach out for help! You don’t have to go through this alone. If you’re looking for support or guidance around this topic or anything else to do with eating disorders, please get in touch with us.
A reminder that this newsletter is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice, and we encourage you to speak to your treatment team about your individual circumstances.