Which Mental health professional should I see?

There are many types of mental health professionals that can best assist you and your situation. Whether it’s a psychotherapist, therapist, or psychologist, finding the right one for you may require some research and reflections. Below is hopefully a helpful guide that can help assist you during your search.

What are the steps for choosing a therapist?

  • See your primary care physician to rule out a medical cause of your problems. If your thyroid is “sluggish,” for example, your symptoms such as loss of appetite and fatigue could be mistaken for depression.
  • After you rule out that your condition is not medical, find out what the mental health coverage is under your insurance policy or through commercial insurance plans / Medicaid / Medicare..
  • Talk to your insurance carrier about them sending you a list of referrals based on presenting issues and plan coverage.
  • Call to find out about appointment availability, location, and fees. Ask the receptionist:
  • Does the mental health professional offer a sliding-scale fee based on income?
  • Does he or she accept your health insurance or Medicaid/Medicare?
  • You might want to do your own preliminary research after obtaining a list from insurance carrier on reviews and rating on Health Grades.
  • It is advisable to call several mental health providers at the same time and to leave a message, please understand that it might take a day or two for the provider to call you back.
  • During your first visit, describe those feelings and problems that led you to seek help. Find out:
    • What kind of therapy/treatment program he or she recommends;
    • Whether it has proven effective for dealing with problems such as yours;
    • What the benefits and side effects are;
    • How much therapy the mental health professional recommends this has to do with how much progress is being made.
    • Whether he or she is willing to coordinate your care with another practitioner if you are personally interested in exploring credible alternative therapies, such as acupuncture. Mental health professionals collaborating with other treatment providers is called contingency of care in order for the mental health professional to provide wrap-around services.
  • Be sure the psychotherapist does not take a “cookie-cutter” approach to your treatment-what works for one person with major depression does not necessarily work for another. Different psychotherapies and medications are tailored to meet specific needs.
  • Although the role of a therapist is not to be a friend, rapport and trust is a critical element of successful therapy. After your initial visit, take some time to explore how you felt about the therapist.
  • If the answers to these questions and others you come up with are “yes,” schedule another appointment to begin the process of working together to understand and overcome your problems. If the answers to most of these questions are “no,” call another mental health professional from your referral list and schedule another appointment.

What types of mental health professionals are available for me?

Finding the right provider can get confusing, so feel free to read through the below for a better understanding, courtesy of Mental Health America.

The following mental health professionals can provide psychological assessments and therapy; however, cannot generally prescribe medications (although some states will allow it):

  • Clinical Psychologist – A psychologist with a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited/designated program in psychology. Psychologists or licensed PsyD specialize in testing vs. regular mental health counselors.
  • School Psychologist – A psychologist with an advanced degree in psychology from an accredited/designated program in School Psychology.  School Psychologists are trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group therapy, as well as conducting test and reviewing and explaining results / outliers of specific tests. On top of this, they work with school staff to maximize efficiency in the school setting.

The following mental health professionals can provide counseling and with proper training, assessments; however, cannot prescribe medication:

  • Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) – A counselor with a master’s degree in social work from an accredited graduate program. Trained to make diagnoses, provide individual and group counseling, and provide case management and advocacy; usually found in the hospital setting.
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) – A counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) – A counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (CASAC) – Counselor with specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Nurse Psychotherapist (NP) –  registered nurse who is trained in the practice of psychiatric and mental health nursing. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT) – counselor with a master’s degree, with special education and training in marital and family therapy. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Pastoral Counselor – clergy with training in clinical pastoral education. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. 
  • Peer Specialist – counselor with lived experience with mental health or substance use conditions.  Assists clients with recovery by recognizing and developing strengths, and setting goals.  Many peer support programs require several hours of training.
  • Other Therapists – therapist with an advanced degree trained in specialized forms of therapy.  Examples include art therapist, music therapist.

The following mental health professionals can prescribe medication; however, they may not provide therapy:

  • Psychiatrist – A medical doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses.  A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, but they often do not counsel patients.
  • Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist – A medical doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of emotional and behavioral problems in children.  Child and Adolescent psychiatrists can also prescribe medication; however, they may not provide psychotherapy.
  • Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – A registered nurse practitioner with a graduate degree and specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illness. 
  • Additionally, your Primary Care Physician, Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner (depending on your state) are often qualified to provide medication.

So.. which one is best for me?

Your primary doctor will ask about your symptoms, check for any physical problems and suggest the best kind of therapy for you, but if you are seeking other options, it is best to understand what type of solutions that each mental health professional can provide. This is done by a deep dive into Psychotherapy, for example, one can find that it offers behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy, and integrative or holistic therapy. 

If you are still unsure about which option is best for you, express your concerns and confusion with a mental health professional so they may direct you toward a best option.

Resources: Types of mental health professionals by Mental Health America

WebMD Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling

National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Choosing the right mental health professional”

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