How to Find a Mental Health Professional
There are things you can do on your own to improve your mental health, including getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Meditation also has proven benefits. It can help reduce stress levels, improve mood and outlook, and even increase your pain tolerance.
But self-care practices aren’t always enough. You may also need other kinds of support or health treatments to address mental health concerns, such as talk therapy or medication. Keep reading for tips on how to find the right mental health professional for your needs.
Note: If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, thinking about suicide, or need urgent emotional support, talk to someone now.
What factors should you consider?
Even if you’ve received a glowing recommendation for a therapist from a friend or family member, consider these factors before you decide to work with someone.
Your concern or condition
Therapists usually treat a range of conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. But you should find one who specializes in your specific concern or condition. For example, if you’re having trouble in your marriage or romantic partnership, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) has special training in helping couples. If you have a diagnosed mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder, you may need someone with additional medical training, such as a psychiatrist.
Gender and age
Consider how comfortable you might be opening up about sensitive topics like sexual intimacy with someone of the opposite (or same) gender. Also think about whether you want to work with someone who is older, younger, or closer to your age.
Your health insurance coverage
Most health insurance plans today include some mental health benefits (for example, 15 psychotherapy sessions per year). Your insurance company may require you to use in-network providers, but some plans also provide out-of-network benefits. Check your benefits online or by phone. If you don’t have health insurance and you’re on a tight budget, many therapists offer their services on a sliding scale fee, which means you pay what you can.
Does it matter to you if the therapist has a particular religious affiliation? If having a therapist who shares your faith is important, it’s ok to ask about their religious affiliation. Some therapists make their faith explicit and incorporate it into their treatment approach.
Given today’s heated political climate, you may prefer a therapist who shares your political leanings. While the therapist may not be comfortable sharing this information (and they’re not required to), if this is something that’s especially important to you, it’s ok to ask. Just know that you may not get a definitive answer. Also know that mental health professionals are sworn to follow a code of conduct, which includes not imposing their political views on clients.
Different types of mental health providers
Most mental health providers have a master’s degree or more advanced training and credentials. They work in a variety of settings, including private practices, community agencies, and hospitals. Some of the most common types of mental health providers are:
Psychologists (may or may not be licensed to prescribe medications)
Psychiatrists (are licensed to prescribe medications)
Licensed clinical social workers (are not licensed to prescribe medications)
Licensed professional counselors (are not licensed to prescribed medications)
Psychiatric-mental health nurses (may be licensed to prescribe medications, in some cases)
Physician assistants (are licensed to prescribe medications)
Questions to ask a mental health professional
Your first meeting with a mental health care provider can be nerve-jangling. It’s not uncommon to draw a blank on all the questions you wanted to ask during your first session. To avoid this, jot down questions as they come to mind before your first meeting. Here are some to consider:
What licenses do you have?
What is/are your areas of specialty?
How many years have you been in practice?
How much experience do you have with the issue I am looking to resolve?
If I need medication, can you prescribe it or recommend someone who can?
What therapeutic approaches do you find most effective?
How do you assess whether therapy is working?
What insurance do you accept?
Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid?
If you have a history of trauma or abuse or have been a victim of racism, misogyny, or xenophobia, ask the therapist whether they have any training in these areas. You want a therapist who is culturally informed and sensitive to your unique experiences.
Why it’s so important to find a good match
You may be tempted to turn to a trusted friend or family member for a therapist referral. But what works for them may not be what you need. If you decide to go with someone a friend or family member suggests, the most important thing is how you feel with the therapist.
Do you feel you have a good rapport with the therapist? Do you feel a sense of connection? Do you feel comfortable sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears with this person? Do you feel judged by the therapist?
It may take several sessions to answer these questions, but if you don’t “click” with the person it’s ok to keep searching.
Forming a connection with your therapist—often called the “therapeutic alliance”—is one of the most predictive factors in whether therapy works. It’s also important to agree with your therapist on the goals of therapy and the methods to reach those goals.
Finding mental health help
There are many ways to find a mental health professional.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health provider
Ask your health insurance company for a list of in-network providers
Ask trusted family, friends, or clergy
Check to see whether your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) or your student health center offers mental health services
Search through recognized mental health associations, such as the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
If you are struggling mentally or emotionally, it’s ok to ask for help or support.
Get Inspired with Inner Space
Host Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen travels the world to speak with leaders in politics, wellness, film and television, and beyond. She chats with her guests about how they take care of their own mental health and how they protect the emotional well-being of those they love. The answers are inspiring, enlightening, and sometimes surprising.