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Different sources of support and how these professions can help

The following section is designed to inform you about the types of assistance that various professionals can offer to help you deal with difficult emotions.

Many people don’t access services because they don’t know what’s available, or don’t know how these services can help. It can be difficult to talk about your emotions, but most people find it is a great relief when they do.

If you are experiencing difficult emotions, an advantage of seeing a professional is that they will understand that it’s not as simple as trying to ‘be positive’. Many people also find that they can speak more freely to someone who is removed from their usual sources of support. They know  that what they say will remain confidential and doing so gives them a different perspective on things and new strategies to help.

To find out about professionals that are available to you, speak to your specialist doctor, GP or click here to find help near you. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about emotional issues with a local GP/counsellor, consider going to one in a neighboring town where you are less likely to run into them at places like the shop or at sport.

To find out how various types of professionals may be able to help you, keep reading.

  • General practitioners (GPs) are medical practitioners who treat people for a range of health and mental health issues. They are trained to diagnose, treat and/or manage the health of people of all ages with both short and long term illness and refer on to other specialists where necessary. If you see a GP about a mental health issue they may be able help you directly or refer you on to another health practitioner who specialises in mental health, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Sometimes they will do both. If your GP provides you with a Mental Health Care Plan, you may be able to have a portion of a Psychologist’s service fee covered by Medicare.
  • Psychologists are health professionals who specialise in helping people to maximise their well-being and potential. They also help people to overcome or manage psychological or emotional difficulties using ‘talking therapies’. Psychologists can do psychological testing and diagnose mental illnesses but they cannot prescribe medication in Australia. Psychologists often work in mental health teams or in private practices (often attached to GP practices). Agencies (e.g. mental health teams) have their own referral procedures which you will need to check. However, you do not need a referral to make an appointment with a psychologist who works in private practice and they are covered by some private health insurance. Having a Mental Health Care Plan from a GP enables you to have a portion of psychologists’ service fees covered by Medicare.
  • Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health. They can provide counselling and prescribe medication to assist with mental health problems if necessary. To access a Psychiatrist, you will need a referral. For more information, speak to your GP.
  • Counsellors are trained to help people work though various problems. The strategies they use and teach will depend on the type of training they have received. They are not able to prescribe medication in Australia but may be able to recommend other sources of help such as a Psychiatrist or Psychologist if they think it is necessary. Counsellors work in a variety of settings- from private practice to community service groups.
  • Social workers who specialise in mental health provide support to people experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties. They often help people manage practical issues that may be contributing to their difficulties (e.g. financial problems, living arrangements), but also provide some help with psychological strategies and counselling. Social workers often work within mental health teams, in large metropolitan hospitals and for organisations such as Cancer Council SA.
  • Mental health nurses are trained to care for people with mental health problems. They work with GPs, psychiatrists and mental health teams to review people’s state of mental health and monitor their medication. They can also provide some help with psychological strategies and counselling. To access a mental health nurse, speak to your GP or local mental health team.
  • One-on-one peer support programs are designed to put people affected by cancer in touch with others who are of a similar age, cancer experience or whatever is important to you. The peer volunteer may be able to provide some basic information, provide emotional support or simply listen. This is usually done over the telephone. To find out more about Cancer Council SA’s peer support program, Cancer Connect, click here.
  • Peer support groups are generally groups made up of people who have also experienced cancer, their carers and sometimes a health professional who provides some support. The purpose of support groups varies (e.g. to provide support, educate, fundraise). Meeting with other people who have had similar experiences for any of these purposes may help you feel less isolated or alone and provides an opportunity for people to share useful tips. Click here and select “social support” and your postcode to find a support group near you. You do not need a referral to join a support group.
  • Telephone counselling or helplines vary in their purpose but generally provide confidential, professional information and support. They can be particularly useful for rural people who find it difficult to access face-to-face services. You can often remain anonymous when you call and people in your local community need not know that you are accessing help. The Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20) is a good example of this type of service.
  • Occupational therapists (OTs) help people to live a fulfilling life, maintain independence and participate in normal, everyday activities such as dressing, cooking, eating, working and leisure activities. They can also provide help with psychological strategies, counselling and lymphodema massage. To access an occupational therapist, speak to your GP or local community health team.
  • Online forums Online forums or discussion boards are places where anyone can go and ask questions, make comments and/or offer other people support or advice. Depending on the type of forum you access, these questions or comments may be answered by professionals or peers. Sometimes they will not be posted immediately – they may be checked by a third party to make sure they are not misleading or offensive. You can often remain anonymous. A useful forum for cancer patients is Cancer Connections or the My Story section of this website.
  • Physiotherapists help people with mobility, functional ability, quality of life and movement with physical interventions. They work in a range of settings such as private practices and hospitals. If you are experiencing side effects from your treatment (e.g. lymphodema), they may be able to assist. You do not need a referral to visit a physiotherapist.
  • Practice Nurses are either registered or enrolled nurses who work in general practices. They do health promotion work as well as assisting with the delivery of primary care (e.g. giving injections, taking blood) and assisting with the management of chronic conditions.  Ask your GP if they work with a practice nurse and how they may be able to help you manage.