Prioritizing your mental health is an increasingly important step in self-care, but it can seem difficult to know where or how to begin. Finding the right provider to meet your needs can be daunting, so here are three tips to facilitate your search:
1. Decide what type of mental health professional you need: There are several types of mental health providers.1 When choosing one, consider their education, training, years in practice and licensing—which varies by state. If you are confused by their title, this list may help you understand what they do and what to expect to find the best fit for your situation:
Finding the right match is important to establishing a good relationship and getting the most out of your treatment.
• Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a physician—a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.)—who specializes in mental health. They can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, provide psychological counseling and prescribe medication.
• Psychologist: A psychologist is trained in psychology—a science that deals with thoughts, emotions and behaviors. They can diagnose and treat mental health disorders and provide psychological counseling in one-on-one or group settings, but they cannot prescribe medication unless they are licensed to do so. However, they may work with other providers who can prescribe medication if needed.
• A psychiatric mental health nurse (P.M.H.N.): A registered nurse with training in mental health issues can assess, diagnose, treat mental illness and prescribe medication depending on their education, level of training, experience and state law.
• Physician assistant-C: A certified physician assistant (P.A.-C) practices medicine as a primary care provider or in collaboration with a physician. They can specialize in psychiatry and can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, counsel on treatments and prognoses, and prescribe medication.
• Licensed clinical social worker: A licensed clinical social worker (L.C.S.W.) or a licensed independent clinical social worker (L.I.C.S.W.) with training and experience specifically in mental health can provide assessment, diagnosis, counseling and a range of other services, depending on their licensing and training. They are not licensed to prescribe medication, but they can work with other providers who can prescribe medication if needed.
• Licensed professional counselor: A licensed professional counselor (L.P.C.) or a licensed clinical professional counselor (L.C.P.C.) may provide diagnosis and counseling services, which may vary by state, but they are not licensed to prescribe medication.
2. Get recommendations: Your health insurance provider’s website is usually the fastest way to find out what types of mental health services are covered, what your benefit limits are, and which providers are available in your network. If your employer has one, employee assistance programs (EAPs) frequently offer mental health services. Ask for a referral from your primary care doctor or reach out to friends, family members or clergy for recommendations. You can also contact a local or national mental health organization such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to get a referral.
3. Ask questions: Before you connect with your selected provider, write down any questions you may have. Ask about their education, training, licensing and years in practice. You can also ask about the areas they specialize in, their approach to treatment and the philosophy behind it to see if you’re comfortable with it. Confirm their fees, the insurance providers they work with, and the length of the sessions. Also, check if they offer in-person, phone, or video sessions.
Finding the right match is important to establishing a good relationship and getting the most out of your treatment. Follow these steps to start putting your mental health first!