Healthy body, healthy mind – there is a fundamental link between the two. What you eat and how you feel about your life are important, which is why dietitians and psychologists are key members of the healthcare system.
A healthy diet can not only help reduce your risk of developing a wide range of illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, but can also impact your mental wellbeing. Dietitians can help you understand how what you eat affects you, and help you to change your eating habits, if necessary.
Of course, there is much more to mental wellbeing than eating healthily. Psychologists have expertise in mental healthcare, and women may need the support of one of these highly trained professionals at various times in life, such as around pregnancy, grief and loss or menopause, or other major life changes.
So, what happens when you visit a psychologist or dietitian?
Psychologists are trained to diagnose, manage and treat mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. They can offer specific support throughout a woman's life stages and can specialise in women's mental health issues.
Psychologists work with a range of proven therapies and techniques to find ways to help people cope with their emotions and current circumstances. Among broader issues that women may benefit from consulting a psychologist about are numerous issues unique to women's health, such as pregnancy, the grief of miscarriage, traumatic birth or issues dealing with a new baby, menopause transition, or postnatal anxiety and depression. Women can then be supported to manage their feelings in a non-judgemental, supportive environment.
Training and registration
There are varying levels of education, with a minimum of four years at university. This may be followed by 2-3 years of postgraduate internship/training. Psychology is a regulated profession. The Psychology Board of Australia is supported by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, ensuring psychologists adhere to strict standards. To maintain registration, psychologists must do 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) annually.
Your first consultation will generally take an hour and during this time you will get to know your psychologist, and they you. This is very important, as you need to build trust in order to feel safe discussing very personal or stressful events or feelings. There will be gentle questioning, which will be geared towards discovering the sources of your issues and the effects they have on you. If you find it difficult to talk about something, or if you have specific points you wish to raise, you can write it down ahead of time. Ongoing consultations explore your issues in more detail and offer skills and strategies so issues can either be resolved, or your ability to cope improved.
This will depend on the reason for the consultation, but could include counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, journalling or a range of psychological therapies. They may also recommend a prescription
from your GP to help with your particular issue. Medicare rebates to cover most of the cost of the appointments are available for up to 10 psychology sessions per year, providing you obtain a referral from your GP under a mental healthcare plan. Fees will vary.
Jean Hailes says
A woman should seek psychological support if she's struggling with any issue that's diminishing her wellbeing, says Jean Hailes psychologist Gillian Needleman. This may be about a new circumstance or may relate to a long-standing issue. Psychology can provide a supporting, skilful and objective space to discuss any issue of concern.
Dietitians provide evidence-based nutrition advice in public and private healthcare settings, including medical centres and hospitals. You may be referred to a dietitian by your GP or another medical specialist to obtain professional opinion and treatment through nutrition prescription. Dietitians provide up-to-date, credible, evidence-based, individualised nutrition recommendations.
Other than clinical settings, dietitians can also work in the food industry, government and policy, NGOs, sport, health promotion, education and research as well as in a variety of corporate settings.
Training and registration
Dietitians in Australia complete a minimum four-year university degree in dietetics, followed by a one-year probationary period with mentoring and guidance. The degree must be recognised and accredited by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), the government recognised body that currently represents over 6400 members. Once this is completed and certain guidelines are met, dietitians then become fully accredited as an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). Registration is via the DAA, who require a minimum of 30 hours of continued professional development (CPD) annually to maintain full accreditation.
It is best to bring with you any blood test results, referrals, scans, etc, that may be important. As a starting point, dietitians will ask you your personal goals – and compare these to the GP's goals when appropriate – and discuss how to reach them. A nutrition assessment based on a food diary is first completed, followed by nutritional diagnoses and then nutrition treatment.
Treatment involves individualised nutrition recommendations that take into account medications, supplements, medical and family history, exercise and lifestyle habits. Reviews are then followed up as required. Dietitians operate in a patient-centred manner; advice and suggestions are tailored to the patient, their needs, preferences and lifestyle. They will help educate you on the healthiest food habits, cooking methods and how to get your family on board. Treatment promotes optimal health and wellbeing, including mental and physical health, through food. If you were referred by your GP for a particular reason, your dietitian will be able to explain if your diet is affecting your health and the best way to change this. Supplements are only recommended if needed or in special circumstances.
Jean Hailes says
Evidence shows that nutrition has a significant impact on reducing the risk of diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, just to name a few, says accredited dietitian Stephanie Pirotta. Many Australians are confused about what to eat to improve their health. Accredited practising dietitians provide the most up-to-date, individualised, evidence-based practical nutrition information that does not follow fad diets and trends.
3 things to know
- People with a complex or chronic disease can get up to five sessions per year on Medicare with an accredited dietitian. People with a mental health care plan can get up to 10 sessions with a psychologist through Medicare. Check if there is a payment gap.
- Dietitians and nutritionists have similar training. They have both been trained in food, though dietitians are clinically trained to incorporate food as medicine.
- There are currently more than 27,000 psychologists practising in Australia, the majority in major towns and cities. Rural and remote patients who do not have access to health services can ask their GP for a referral to psychology services via Telehealth.
Before visiting any health professional, do your research. Ask your GP if they can recommend someone they have worked with, or contact the association which governs the profession. Call the recommended health professional and ask them about their experience, qualifications and if they specialise in any particular field.
This article was originally published in vol. 2, 2017 of the Jean Hailes Magazine.