Talking to a Counsellor

Finding a Counsellor

You could say that counsellors are professional listeners. While a counsellor won’t solve your problems for you, they’ll help you find a way to deal with them and guide you through to your own solution.

Counsellor’s won’t judge you, there’s no right or wrong, just your own feelings. What you say to a counsellor will remain confidential and you should always feel that you can say anything to them.

A counsellor will first and foremost listen. By listening they can help you understand your emotions in the context of your cancer and what that experience means to you.

Understanding your emotional and psychological wellbeing is as important as your physical wellbeing, and will help you navigate this challenging time of your life. Talking to counsellor and sharing your thoughts and feelings with them is not a sign of weakness but simply another way of helping you deal with every aspect of your illness.

There are a wide variety of counsellors and different types of settings. Some might be more suitable for you than others and it might take you a few sessions to become comfortable and appreciate the benefits.

What’s right for you?

This is one-to-one counselling, completely private where it’s just you and your counsellor. If you find you’re uncomfortable sharing with other people you don’t know well, this might be a suitable solution for you.

Talking with a counsellor together with your partner. Be prepared to listen as well as talk.

The whole family talk with the counsellor. These can be emotional as well as cathartic so understand this is not for everyone. Agree in advance what you want to discuss as there’ll be several voices wanting to be heard.

One counsellor provides guidance to a group of people in a similar situation, often with the same type or stage of cancer.

Support groups
Often carers helping others with their cancer find they need an honest and open forum in which they can share their experiences with others going through the same thing. Sometimes these sessions are organised by the carers themselves and they may or may not be run by a trained counsellor. Connecting to people in the same situation often provides a welcome outlet for patients, carers or survivors of cancer.


What do I talk about?

Your counsellor is there for you to talk about anything you feel you want to discuss. It’s a time for you to share your thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or offers of help. Sometimes, simply talking is what you want to do, not solving.

Common themes include:

  • How you’re coping with your cancer diagnosis.
  • How you’re coping with the emotions of people close to you.
  • Feelings of sadness, worry, depression or hopelessness.
  • Sleep issues and things that keep you awake.
  • Relationships changes with your family and friends.
  • Financial worries.
  • Challenges around managing your pain.
  • Partnership worries and diminished feelings.
  • Decision making around work and family issues.
  • Spiritual questions.
  • A need to find meaning through the illness.
  • ‘Why me?’ questions.
  • Other longer-term issues that may be unrelated to your cancer.

Don’t feel that there are right or wrong things to talk about. Your counsellor will be guided by you on topic but will always aim to help you feel better at the end of a session than when you walked in.

Counselling, a who’s who

Within the counselling profession there are many different types of professionals who all offer slightly different skills in the field of counselling.

Terms you may have heard are psychotherapists, psychologist, therapist, counsellor, or mental health specialist.

Here’s a list of some:

Title of health professional Professional training What they do
Psychiatrist (MD) Medical doctors trained in psychiatry Specialise in diagnosing, preventing and treating mental illness. They can prescribe medication and look at the relationship between the physical and mental health of a patient.
Psychologist Trained in human behaviour, research and counselling. Qualified to give psychological tests and assessments. Provide individual, couples, family and group therapy. Trained in mental health issues and must be accredited through the APS (Australian Psychological Society).
Social workers Trained in counselling and coordinate with other professionals. Work with individuals, families, groups and communities to provide support and improve the wellbeing of that person or group through system and structural ways.

Marriage and family therapist Focus on marriage, partnership and family issues. Help couples and families either in one-to-one or group sessions
Pastoral counsellor May be affiliated to a ministry as well as being trained in counselling. Provide counselling to individuals, families or groups on specific issues, in the context of religion or spirituality.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP, MSN, RN, DNsc) Registered nurses with specific psychiatric mental health training. Usually one-to-one counselling with a speciality in mental health illness and substance abuse.


It’s important that whoever you choose to see has the right experience and qualifications. Your GP or specialist will have a list of accredited counsellors in your area and be able to help you find someone suitable.

Many people also find comfort and support through their local spiritual leader such as a priest, rabbi, pastor or chaplain. Most hospitals also have an area set aside for prayer and contemplation and the hospital reception would be able to give you times when the chaplain is in residence.

Is the counsellor right for me?

Your doctor or health care professional will know what type of counselling will benefit you the most. There are both private and local family services and counsellors available through not-for-profit bodies. Your GP can give you a referral if a counsellor isn’t offered.

It’s important that you and your counsellor are a good ‘fit’ as you need to feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings. A good counsellor will ask you after two or three sessions how you think it’s going and you can be open with your feedback. It’s not uncommon for people to try another counsellor before they find someone they feel comfortable with.

Finding a counsellor who has specialist knowledge of cancer, it’s progress and emotional affects on patients, is worth researching. While all counsellors will be able to help, those with a particular specialisation may be able to offer more specific support.

talking to a counsellor


What should I ask a potential counsellor?

In order to find someone who is a good match for the type of counselling you want, you can ask them questions such as:

  • What qualifications and training do you have?
  • What experience do you have in working with people with cancer?
  • What type of counselling methods do you use?
  • Do you specialise in individual, partner or family counselling?
  • Which do you think would be right for me?
  • How do your fees work?
  • Would Medicare and my insurance cover the costs?


How about the costs?

Establish at the outset of your counselling sessions what the cost of each session is. Some counsellors offer a reduced cost if you book a block of sessions in advance. But counselling can be expensive so ask your health professionals if any free or low-cost alternatives are available.

Medicare rebates are available for psychological treatment by registered psychologists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative.

People with mental health problems can gain financial assistance for counselling through this scheme. There are restrictions on which mental health problems can be treated under this initiative.

It covers conditions such as:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Bereavement disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Co-occurring anxiety and depression
  • Depression
  • Drug use disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual disorders
  • Sleep problems

To be eligible, you must be referred by your GP who will undertake a complete and detailed mental health assessment and prepare a Mental Health Treatment Plan before referring you to a psychologist.

If you meet the eligibility criteria Medicare will cover up to 10 individual sessions in a calendar year (Jan-Dec) with your referring doctor carrying out an assessment of your progress after six months. Medicare will also cover up to 10 group therapy sessions in a calendar year where these sessions are appropriate and available and referred by your doctor and psychologist.

Once you’ve reached the maximum number of sessions within that calendar year, you won’t be entitled to any further Medicare rebates until the new calendar year.

Find out more information here

Psychology and counselling sessions can be expensive. Frequently the Medicare rebate doesn’t cover the entire cost of a session and you will have to pay the difference between the counsellor’s cost and the rebate.

Bulk billing is sometimes available, particularly to those with a health card or pensioners, in which case you may not need to pay anything.

Check your private health insurance cover. Different providers offer different levels of cover for different mental health issues. Policies can also differ both in the number of sessions and the cost for each session so check your individual policy.

Always ask your hospital or clinic if they provide counselling services that are free or if they can recommend a cancer organisation or not-for-profit who might be able to help you in this area.

Mental health is an important part of people’s wellbeing. Dealing the emotional aspects of cancer is as important as dealing with the physical aspects as well.

It’s best to establish before you start any counselling treatment what you’re going to have to pay yourself, what Medicare will cover and what you health insurance might also cover.

Changing your counsellor

You have to be comfortable talking to your counsellor about anything that concerns or worries you. Very occasionally people just don’t gel, whether that’s because of differences in age, gender or general outlook. If you find yourself uncomfortable broaching any subject matter with your counsellor it might indicate that you’re not totally compatible, even if they seemed like the best person on paper.

Go back to your GP for another referral if you’re not totally happy with your counsellor.

Counselling isn’t for me

There’s no doubt that people living with cancer have a lot to deal with. There are the practical considerations of time, money, overall health and geography to consider which is why some people don’t think that they have time for counselling.

There are also preconceived notions that many mental illnesses are stigmatised and not to be talked about. These barriers are being broken down every day and the benefits of good mental health are widely accepted.

Simply coping isn’t a strategy that’s been proven to help many people. Adjusting your life because of your cancer is absolutely necessary and it’s those adjustments that will cause anxiety and feelings that are best worked through with professional help.

A trained counsellor will help you see things and deal with the changes with a sense of confidence, control and through a more positive light.

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