Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community


It's so hard for any of us to know whether what we are experiencing is 'just normal stress' or something more than this.

For the majority of us our first step towards getting help is a very difficult one. Some of us are ashamed that we seem not to be dealing with our lives better, and others are quite scared about what is happening.

Because of prejudice, many of us have never spoken to anyone about the thoughts, fears and sometimes strange behaviour.

Although it is difficult and may necessitate divulging personal information, it is worth finding someone to work with you to find a therapist. Bad experiences at the beginning of your journey can harm future relationship building.

Breaking the silence of mental distress can be emancipating. If you can find someone who you trust, and who you know has been on a similar journey, this is even better.

Getting started

GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors - there are so many different types of mental health clinicians it's sometimes hard to know where to start in finding what you need.

We heve compiled a series of 'Consumers Guides to Clinicians' help sheets to help explain who does what. Reading these help sheets will help you to make a more informed decision about who and what you need.

Return to the help sheets main listing and scroll down to the "Clinicians' Guides" heading to start sifting through who's who and what's what.

It's important to note that you will not be locked into whatever decision you initially make about where and how to access help.

It's in everyone's interests that consumers engage maturely with health professionals and it's your right to make (and to continue to make) independent decisions about what is helpful for you, and what's not.

Public Adult Mental Health Services

The public mental health systems in Victoria are very complex. In brief, the component parts are:

Within each of these areas there are a number of programs, or parts, that in theory fit together to provide a comprehensive service system. For example, some of the services that come within the Adult Mental Health Services cluster are:

The majority of services are provided by Area Mental Health Services, which are geographically focussed. There are also a small number of state-wide services, including a state-wide personality disorder service and a state-wide eating disorder service.

All publicly funded services are free.

Free they might be but available they often are not. Only a tiny minority of people, mainly those who are adjudged to have what is called 'psychotic illness' or very serious forms of 'personality disorders' and 'disorders of mood' can access these services, regardless of whether we are pensioners or on the minimum wage and unable to pay for anything else.

Public services need to get a lot better at acting when consumers don't fit their criteria for service. We often need intensive help, not just phone numbers. Community development practitioners are badly needed here but they are impossible to find.

If you are refused services, take a moment to understand the plight of busy people but then ask again for the help you need. The more of us who do this the more likely it is that conditions might change.

Remember that a refusal to help you might have nothing to do with a service thinking you don't matter, even if it feels that way at the time.

Community Health Centres

Community Health Centres (CHCs) are geographically defined. Sometimes they employ mental health workers.

It's often easier to get to see a mental health worker in a CHC than in a designated Public Mental Health Service because CHCs' definitions of eligibility are broader. They tend to be services where the social is paramount, where the clinicians can place an emphasis on counselling. They work a little bit like Community Legal Centres - they tend to be cheap, often have a means test requirement (so that those who struggle to pay are not disadvantaged), and operate independently but as part a web of services with similar values and ethics, traditionally around providing services for people fighting all sorts of social ills such as drug addiction, alcohol or gambling addiction, child abuse, trauma and poverty.

The listing at may help you to find a CHC near you, or one that specialises in an area of health that affects your life.

The Bouverie Centre: Victoria's Family Institute

Bouverie may be another option. Affiliated with La Trobe University, Bouverie has many programs designed specifically for families confronting 'mental illness'. The clinicians who work there - frequently clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists - have generally completed qualifications in family therapy.

Like all publicly funded services, money is tight and services are triaged. Nonetheless it is worth making contact. Services are not delegated on the basis of so-called 'serious mental illness'.


Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs)

Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs) are but one of the subsidised and responsive possibilities designed to address specific problems that cause deep emotional pain and psychological distress.

Many of the counsellors are counselling psychologists.

Visits to CASAs go really well for some and totally miss the mark for others, but they are there if you need them. This is hard stuff so take a friend with you.

See the Victorian CASA Forum:

Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides many services to ex-soldiers. Counselling is available by clinical and counselling psychologists.

See here for details:

Private services

Other alternatives include counsellors, private psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, dieticians and social workers. Some of these professions are explored other Our Consumer Place help sheets.

The Commonwealth Government has made it easier to access many of these clinicians by allowing Medicare rebates for some services. Nonetheless, often the factors that enable or disenable our utilisation of services provided by private clinicians are proximity and money.