What is psychosis?

Psychosis is a symptom of a number of mental illnesses including personality and mood disorders and applies when an individual cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.

It is not a diagnosable condition in itself but is a major symptom of Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorder, Brief Psychotic Disorder and related conditions.


What are the most common symptoms?

The key characteristics of psychosis are:

  • Hallucinations – sensing things that are not there such as hearing voices or seeing people.
  • Delusions – believing in things that are not true or not possible within the person’s social context. For example the person may believe that they are royal.
  • Confusion – being unable to maintain a conversation or train of thought.

Other indicators include the person having radical changes in emotions, personality or believing that they are ‘normal’ while others are behaving abnormally.

Studies show up to 3% of people will experience some form of psychosis in their lifetime. For some this may be brief but others may have psychotic episodes regularly throughout their life.


What causes psychosis?

Psychosis has no fixed cause but there are a several social and biological factors that increase the risk of a psychotic episode.

Other conditions

A number of other conditions can lead to psychosis. These include Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and personality disorders such as Schizophrenal Personality Disorder. Epilepsy, renal failure or neurological disorders may also be triggers.

Drug usage

Some people experience psychotic symptoms after taking drugs - including prescribed drugs. Those undergoing withdrawal from addictive substances like alcohol have an increased risk of developing psychosis.


Puerperal Psychosis can affect some women after childbirth. It is more severe than Post-Natal Depression and may require hospitalisation. Its’ characteristics include mania, depression, hallucinations and delusions. For example; sufferers may believe everyone wants to take their baby away.


Some people may suffer a psychotic episode after a traumatic event such as migration or the death of a loved one. Psychosis of this type can often be managed within the short term.

Other factors

Other risk factors for psychosis include genetics, sleep deprivation, brain injury or extreme hunger.

Diagnosis is based on individual circumstances such as the regularity and severity of symptoms and any other related factors.


What are the main treatment options?

When psychosis is diagnosed and treated early a positive outcome is more likely. Treatment may include a combination of medication, talking or arts therapies. If symptoms are severe, initially treatment may need to occur in a hospital setting.


Antipsychotic medications are often used to control initial symptoms. They may be continued as part of a maintenance plan along with antidepressants and other therapies.


Talking to a professional counsellor/therapist is one of the most effective forms of treatment for psychosis.

Your counsellor may use a range of talking therapies to create a customised program based on your symptoms. The most widely used of these is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is based on the premise that the way we think determines our behaviour. When we change these thought patterns we can alter our response to challenging situations.

A therapist will help to identify and understand the beliefs and emotions that may be the underlying cause of your psychosis. Through addressing these negative patterns you can develop new coping strategies to create positive changes in your life.

Arts therapies

It can be difficult to verbalise emotions. Forms of artistic expression including painting, music or drama allow emotions to be released in non-verbal ways so the issues behind the psychosis can be defined.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your psychosis and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our True Counsellor Directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists and counsellors from Australia.

Some psychotherapists and counsellors listed in our directory offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars.


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