What You Need to Know When Looking for a Mental Health Professional
Selecting a mental health provider is no easy task. When you're most in need of a counselor or therapist is precisely the time you have the least emotional bandwidth and patience to conduct a detailed selection process.
However, as opposed to choosing a general practitioner, selecting the right mental health provider is crucial for successful and effective treatment. Therefore, investing some time in advance, and knowing what to look for and ask, can make the difference between run-of-the-mill treatment and life-changing therapy.
The Different Types of Mental Health Professionals
There is a wide variety of mental health professionals available to choose from, and if you're like most people, you're probably unaware of the different professions and their specialties.
Psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, social worker – these are but a few of the many carried practitioners. Each profession has its specialties and each practitioner provides their own specialized types of treatment. In order to determine what is best for you, you must take certain facts into consideration:
- What condition or concern has brought you to seek treatment? – Most mental health professionals focus on certain specialties. For example, if you suffer from an eating disorder, you may seek the services of a psychologist with that specialty. However, that same psychologist may not be as suitable for family counseling as a marriage and family therapist.
- Do you require medication? – Unlike psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, most mental health professionals are not licensed to write prescriptions.
- How serious is your condition? – While a family doctor, family member, or friend may be able to offer advice and support to help you through a rough period, serious issues such as chronic anxiety and severe depression, require professional assistance.
- Health insurance is a very real factor. – Different insurance companies provide varying levels of mental health coverage. Some companies have specific lists of mental health providers they contract with. Other policies may only allow visits to social workers, marriage and family therapists, or psychologists for a limited period of time.
What is the Best Method to Find a Mental Health Professional?
After determining the best type of professional for your specific needs, the question remains how to find the right practitioner. Obtaining names and addresses is fairly simple but hardly adequate. Recommendations from your family physician or other health care professionals can be extremely useful. Similarly, seek referrals from family, trusted friends, and clergy. You can also consult mental health organizations or non-profit social work agencies in your community for referrals.
Is a Positive Referral Adequate?
As you will be sharing a good deal of time and personal information with your therapist, you and your therapist must be a good match if therapy is to be successful. If you don't feel a complete sense of trust, you're unlikely to share vital information the practitioner needs to know. Therefore, you need to assess the qualities of the potential psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, and ask yourself if you will feel comfortable opening up to them. Age, gender, religion, language, and ethnic background are factors to consider. Even facial expressions that offend you should be taken into account. The professional's credentials will not help you if you don't feel that open communication will be possible.
What Other Questions Should I Consider?
Before finalizing your choice, be sure to ask specific questions regarding professional issues:
- What school did the therapist graduate from and how long have they been in practice?
- How long will the sessions be and which insurance plans will cover treatment?
- Does the practitioner adhere to a certain philosophy or treatment approach?
- Do they have a specialty (or specialties), and do they prefer to work with certain age groups or genders?
These questions are just guidelines. You should feel free to ask whatever questions come to mind in order to make sure the professional is properly qualified to deal with your specific issues and needs.
Charting Progress is Mutual
Your mental health provider will chart your progress. Similarly, you should continually evaluate your therapy. If you're always uncomfortable, or feel that you aren't able to make progress with a specific practitioner, consider changing. The therapeutic relationship is not permanently binding.
You Are In Control
When all is said and done, you determine who provides your care. The sensitive nature of mental health care requires your relaxation and cooperation in order for you to receive the maximum benefit. Finding the right mental health professional may require some trial and error, but it is well worth the time and energy. Ultimately, finding the best provider for your needs is the key to overcoming the difficulties you face and enjoying life to its fullest.
[ back to articles ]
For more information contact:
Haleh Rambod, M.A., MFT
2111 Geer Road, Suite 505-507
Turlock, CA 95382
4100 Moorpark Avenue, Suite 106
San Jose CA, 95117