Have you ever wondered where to begin in finding a Mental Health Professional (MHP) that best addresses your needs?
Consider the following to begin your search:
Decide if you are looking for someone to prescribe medication, or someone to talk to. Treating a mental health condition sometimes requires at least two separate professionals, one focusing on medication and the other focusing on the emotional side. Your Medical Doctor can rule out any condition that may initially appear to be a mental illness due to similar symptoms.
Consider a referral from your Medical Doctor, friend, or family member who recommends someone based on their direct experience, or if you have health insurance, start by calling the Health insurer’s information number. Ask for phone numbers of professionals in your area who accept your insurance plan. Try to get at least three names and numbers, just in case. This is also a good time to ask for clarification of your insurance benefits. Here are some questions you might ask:
- Can you make a direct appointment with a psychiatrist, or do you need to see a primary care doctor first for a referral?
- How does your plan cover visits to therapists? Therapy coverage can vary greatly between insurance plans, and it important to know whether or not the referred MHP is in-network or out-of-network with your plan.
If you do not have health insurance, your first stop should be your community mental health center. You can find the phone number online.
If you’re seeking help with emotions, behaviors, and thinking patterns, you should locate a therapist or counselor. Like doctors, therapists and counselors have specialties, so you can find one who knows about your specific condition.
– Types of MHPs –
Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D (Doctorate of Psychology)
Psychologists have earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or counseling or education. They are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations, and testing. They can make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.
LICENSURE AND CERTIFICATION: Psychologists are licensed by licensure boards in each state.
Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists
These titles are those MHPs that have earned a Masters degree and are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health using therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs. Working with one of these MHPs can lead to symptom reduction and better ways of thinking, feeling, and living.
LICENSURE AND CERTIFICATION: Varies by specialty and state. Examples of licensure include:
- LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor
- LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
- LCADAC, Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor
Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers have earned a Masters degree and are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs.
LICENSURE AND CERTIFICATION: Varies. Examples of licensure include:
- LICSW, Licensed Independent Social Workers
- LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- ACSW, Academy of Certified Social Worker
Prescribers and Monitors of Medication
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who have completed psychiatric training. They can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medications, and provide therapy.
DEGREE REQUIREMENTS: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), plus completion of residency training in psychiatry.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (NP)
Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners can provide assessment, diagnosis, and therapy for mental health conditions or substance use disorders. In North Carolina they are also qualified to prescribe and monitor medications. Requirements also vary by state as to the degree of supervision necessary by a licensed psychiatrist.
DEGREE REQUIREMENTS: Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing with specialized focus on psychiatry.
LICENSURE AND CREDENTIALS: Licensed nurse in the state where they are practicing. Examples of credentials include, but are not limited to:
- NCLEX, National Council Licensure Examination
- PMHNP-BC, Board Certification in psychiatric nursing through the American Academy of Nurses Credentialing Center
Physician assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who practices medicine as a part of a healthcare team with collaborating physicians and other providers. In the United States, PAs are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine. PAs are trained with the medical model and complete these qualifications in less time than a traditional medical degree. PAs are concerned with preventing and treating human illness and injury by providing health care services under a supervising physician. Their scope of practice varies by state jurisdiction and the particular healthcare setting.
Primary Care Physicians
Primary care physicians and pediatricians can prescribe medication, but you might consider visiting someone who specializes in mental health care. Primary care and mental health professionals should work together to determine an individual’s best treatment plan.
DEGREE REQUIREMENTS: Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
LICENSURE AND CREDENTIALS: Licensed physician in the state where they are practicing.
Adult or Family Nurse Practitioners
Adult or Family nurse practitioners (FNP) can provide general medical services like those of a primary care physician, based on each state’s laws. Like primary care physicians, they can prescribe medication, but you might consider visiting someone who specializes in mental health care. Family nurse practitioners and mental health professionals should work together to determine an individual’s best treatment plan.
DEGREE REQUIREMENTS: Master of Science (M.S.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing.
LICENSURE AND CREDENTIALS: Licensed nurse in the state where they are practicing. Examples of credentials include:
- NCLEX, National Council Licensure Examination
- ANP-BC, Adult Nurse Practitioner Board Certified
- FNP-BC, Family Nurse Practitioner Board Certified
Other Professionals You May Encounter
Certified Peer Specialists
These specialists have lived experience with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. They are often trained, certified, and prepared to assist with recovery by helping a person set goals and develop strengths. They provide support, mentoring, and guidance.
Social workers (B.A. or B.S.) provide case management, inpatient discharge planning services, placement services, and other services to support healthy living.
Pastoral counselors are clergy members with training in clinical pastoral education. They are trained to diagnose and provide counseling. Pastoral counselors are members of the Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) and can have equivalents to a doctorate in counseling.
– Preparing for the appointment –
First, make the call. If you find you’re reluctant to call, ask a friend or family member to call for you. Make an appointment.
If it’s your first time seeking help from a MHP, be clear about what issues you are hoping to deal with, so that you can be matched with the type of MHP that will best address your specific needs. Do you need an evaluation for a work-related injury, someone to help you cope, someone to prescribe medicine, or to give you written documentation for an employer or for legal reasons?
If you are told that new patients have to wait many months for an appointment:
- Make an appointment anyway. You can always cancel your first appointment if you find someone who can help you sooner
- Ask to be added to the waiting list for cancellation.
- Make an appointment with your primary care doctor until you are able to see another MHP. Start using other support resources in the meantime.
- Your local mental health authority may also be able to connect you with a list of peer support groups
- If your symptoms are severe and need immediate attention, go to a hospital emergency room
When making an appointment, be sure to confirm the name and specialty of the MHP, the complete address of the office (including suite number), and directions to the location of the MHP.
Complete the paperwork online if offered, and bring it with you at the time of the appointment, or arrive 15 minutes earlier to complete intake forms at the office before your visit. Most MHP keep a timely schedule. Arriving on time ensures that you will get the full time scheduled with your MHP.
If you’re concerned about your ability to meet insurance copays or deductibles, bring it up now rather than later. Ask if you can pay on a sliding scale or at a discount. Doctors and therapists would like to know ahead of time if these problems might arise because it’s important to continue treatment without interruption.
– Tips to finding the right provider for you –
- Ask yourself if you feel comfortable with this person? Even if this person has a good reputation or a high level of education, the most important thing is whether you can work well together. How are you feeling in the presence of this MHP? The personal questions a mental health professional asks may feel uncomfortable sometimes, but you should still feel that this MHP is behaving in a professional and appropriate manner.
- How much education and professional experience does this person have? What does this Professional specialize in or have the most experience with, and what techniques do they use/teach?
- Has this person worked with people similar to you? For how many years? How will you work together to establish goals and evaluate your progress?
- What can you expect if you work together?
- How often will you meet and how hard will it be to get an appointment?
- Can you call on the phone or email between appointments?
- What kind of improvements can you expect to see?
Sometimes the first person you visit might not match your expectations, perhaps due to lack of experience with your particular mental health condition. Keep searching until you begin to feel better from a combination of medications and/or counseling.
Most importantly, remember that you are gathering a team of Professionals that can help you with your long-term treatment goals. With persistence, you can find MHPs who will listen to you, take your perspective into consideration, and work with you to improve your sense of well-being!
By: Abbe Gorberg, LPC, RD
Licensed Professional Counselor – Wake Forest