Do I need a coach or a psychologist?

Throughout my years as a professional leadership coach, I’ve encountered many situations where a prospective client is unsure if they need a coach or a psychologist. 

Perhaps they have been struggling to identify goals, or deal with workplace pressures, or get a new business idea off the ground. They feel stressed or anxious, and know they need help – but aren’t sure who to turn to. 

To help shine a light on what situations might be more appropriate for a psychologist, I sat down with good friend Emma Prime. 

Emma runs Prime Psychology in Canberra, and has worked as a psychologist for almost 20 years. 

Emma, in what situations do people generally come to see you?

People often come to see me when they’re struggling with depression or anxiety. I also treat a wide range of conditions, such as trauma adjustment disorder or PTSD perhaps from an accident or workplace injury such as bullying. I also help people who feel overwhelmed by situations in life, such as coping with grief.

Do you think people misunderstand the role of a coach versus a psychologist?

I suspect so because, to some degree, there’s overlap in roles such as coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors. When you’re having a tough time, it’s fair to be confused about who can help you get through it or make a change. 

When would you encourage someone to contact you?

I would say if it gets to a point where you’re having trouble coping with life in general, and your symptoms affect your ability to function or they impact your relationships or performance at work, it might be a good idea to book in for a chat. 

What types of strategies do psychologists use to help people?

There are a range of therapies psychologists use, which is why I always encourage people to shop around and find the right fit. You need to feel like their approach suits you so the therapies work in your life. 

I tend to use a lot of practical strategies – so cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment strategies such as mindfulness, practical behavioural strategies, sleep hygiene and improvement strategies, stress and anxiety management strategies, and relaxation training. 

I also like to educate people so they understand what’s happening from a physical standpoint which can be quite powerful. For example, particularly with anxiety it helps to understand the biological processes behind what someone is going through. This reassures them that they’re just experiencing a normal process that might have gotten a bit out of hand and then we can look to strategies to help manage it.

How would someone book in to see a psychologist?

A GP is often a first port of call because you can get a mental healthcare plan which provides a Medicare rebate for psychology visits. GPs also tend to know a variety of psychologists so they can connect you with someone who specialises in a certain area of treatment. 

But people can also book an appointment directly if they wish. Some private health insurance plans cover psychology, or if they’re not worried about a rebate they can just book in and pay for a session. 

As we move into winter, many people tell me they struggle with depression at this time of year. Can you recommend any tips to escape the winter blues?

It’s important to distinguish between “the winter blues” and depression as a diagnosis.

The winter blues generally brings mild, mostly manageable symptoms. It’s cold, dark and damp and it’s normal to feel a bit down in the dumps. Coaching can be especially helpful at this time because it can help you regain control, set goals and establish a positive mindset to feel more productive. 

Try to stay active, socialise, engage in enjoyable activities, eat and sleep well, and get out into the sunshine whenever you can. 

But if you find yourself feeling down for most of the day, every day for longer than a couple of weeks – or you have low energy, poor motivation and concentration, forgetfulness, irritability and mental fatigue – it’s a good idea to have a chat with your GP and get a referral to a psychologist. 

Need a coach?

If you need a coach, please reach out and book a free 15 minute coaching session with me.  

Dr Kim Vella is a highly experienced Professional Certified Coach. She works with CEOs, board members, senior executives, and aspiring leaders across Australia and New Zealand – delivering one-on-one coaching and group leadership courses in person and remotely.

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