Meeting of minds takes time

Queensland businesswoman Jill* and her husband did what any sensible couple might when, a few years into their marriage, they began having troubles in the bedroom. They sought the help of a psychologist.

Living in NSW at the time, the couple decided they would each see the same therapist individually before beginning joint counselling.

Not long into Jill's first visit, however, she noticed something alarming. Not only was the psychologist not listening, she appeared to have nodded off in her chair.

"At the time it was devastating," Jill says. "To have this woman fall asleep on me as I was sharing my pain was crushing."

The experience shook Jill's once-strong confidence in the counselling process.

"She did apologise and she didn't charge me for the session [but] it really put me off seeing a psych for some time. I hadn't conceived that it was possible to feel worse after a counselling session."

While the chances of other patients experiencing such an extreme scenario are slim, finding a psychologist with whom you "click" is a common concern.

Without a strong therapeutic relationship between the patient and clinician, therapy may prove less effective, says a clinical psychologist from Sydney, Dr Cindy Nour. In some cases, clients may even drop out completely.

"It's something we work really hard at trying to achieve," she says. "It's not just delivering strategies a client needs to overcome their issues - it's working on … rapport, building trust and skills like warmth and empathy." But the solution is not simply a matter of finding a psychologist with a winning personality, Nour says.

"The age of the person, whether they can relate to them, how personable and friendly they are and whether they're male or female can often matter to people," she says.

A psychiatrist-psychotherapist from Sydney, Dr Katie Dimarco, says the issues are relevant to all sorts of clinicians. She suggests booking a couple of appointments with different people to sound out each one. Although this costs extra time and money, it can be worth it in the long run.

"A lot goes on in those first few sessions," she says. "It's a bit like a dance - you're kind of testing out how you might be able to work together and whether the therapist might have the skills to help."

Sometimes the settling-in phase can be a bit awkward so if there's no immediate chemistry, don't worry too much - a little patience could pay off.

But it's important not to ignore your intuition, Dimarco says - for example, if you don't feel listened to or supported or if the clinician seems uninterested, pushy or aloof.

If things aren't working well, there's nothing wrong with being open and honest about your treatment.

"People shouldn't be afraid to bring up with their clinician how they feel about working with them," Dimarco says. "Both parties should feel able to discuss how the therapeutic relationship is going."

Online services may also help. A Melbourne businessman, Michael Marcus, started his Psychologist Anywhere service in June ( with the aim of connecting patients and psychologists immediately via Skype.

While only a handful of psychologists have signed up so far, the idea is that users can begin with an informal chat and, if everything goes well, book further consultations either on- or offline.

"The aim is to create a meeting place to make it easier for psychologists and clients to find each other," Marcus says.

"The current referral systems are often based on location or technical expertise and the client doesn't really have a chance to talk to the psychologist … before they launch into a couple of sessions with them.

"The web-based concept we've come up with gives clients the ability to click on the psychologist link, to talk via web video and to see if there's a connection or rapport."

In Jill's case, it took nearly a decade to seek help again. On the recommendation of some work contacts, she sounded out a new therapist over the phone who went on to help her with two issues she was dealing with - the death of her grandmother and abuse she had suffered as a child.

"The more you can check out the person before you make an appointment the better," Jill says.

"Recommendations from other people or from a professional group are really important because once you get into the session you're in a vulnerable spot so you don't want to be thinking about, 'Have I got the right person here?' - you really just want to feel safe."

*Surname withheld

How to find help

Your local GP can refer you to a suitable psychologist in your area but you can also ask friends and family for recommendations. Before you book your first appointment, check their qualifications and experience. In some cases, you may be able to have a chat over the phone to see whether the clinician can help you with your particular issue.

Psychologist Anywhere ( offers a similar service via Skype. The Australian Psychological Society also offers a free search service on toll-free number 1800 333 497 or via the website

This story Meeting of minds takes time first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.