Who should take care of you?

How to choose a Mental Health provider.


There are so many variables in choosing the right provider for you. Do you want a psychiatrist, a therapist, a psychologist? What’s the difference? Do you want or not want medications? Might you want medications later if therapy alone doesn’t seem to be helping enough. Do you want a man or woman? Do you want to use insurance? Do you have insurance? Does your insurance cover mental health needs the way you need it toDoes the provider have availability, a waiting list, or no openings?

  • A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, they might diagnose and treat mental health disorders, provide psychological counseling and prescribe medication.
  • A psychologist is trained in psychology, the science that deals with thoughts, feelings and the behaviors that follow.  A psychologist can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, they usually do not prescribe medications. A psychologist may have relationships or referrals that she may make to another provider that evaluates and treats with medications.
  • A psychiatric nurse practitioner or physician assistant may diagnose and treat mental health disorders, they may also provide psychological counseling and prescribe medication.
  • A licensed clinical social worker and licensed professional counselor may provide assessment, diagnosis and counseling, they do not prescribe medication.

The decision for who will provide treatment for you includes several issues. First, you should think about the condition for which you need treatment. The more serious the condition, the more expertise and training will be needed for evaluation and treatment decisions. Also you need to manage thoughts about whether or not medications are needed or wanted to help with your symptoms. Most patients can benefit from a variety of treatment modalities and sometimes medications are needed at least temporarily to help manage activities of daily living. The final part of your decision making includes the issue of insurance coverage. If you have mental health benefits your coverage may be limited by the company. It is also very possible that local providers in your area do not accept insurance. Depending on the need and financial means, you may decide that paying out of pocket for this type of treatment is worth the level of care and convenience.

Next steps:

  1. Ask your health insurance for a list of providers, ask for several referrals at the first phone call. This can save you time later. It can take several calls to find a provider that is taking new patients.
  2. Ask for a referral from your primary care provider, friends, family or clergy.
  3. Check the ever present internet, there are several places to find good information about providers that might fit your needs. Check local listings for the above types of providers, check Psychology web sites. https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_detail.php?profid=300865
  4. Call several providers and see who is taking patients, who has convenient hours and affordable rates.
  5. Finally, meet with a provider and see if they suit your needs. If at first you don’t succeed do not lose heart, it’s not always a good fit the first time around. You must continue to seek the treatment that you need. Move to the next name on  the list.

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