Finding the Right Mental Health Provider for You

Finding the right mental health provider is kind of like dating—it may take some time until you find someone you really mesh with. This can get tricky when you don’t have resources at your disposal to find the health provider that’s best for you. It becomes easy to feel like you’re running out of time, patience and, of course, money. So, before you start down the road to finding the exact health care provider to book that first appointment with, you should first discern what type of health care you should be seeking.

A “mental health provider” is defined as a professional who diagnoses mental health conditions and provides treatment. Typically, when one decides to begin seeking mental health care, the two options that come to mind are a psychiatrist or a psychologist. These are the two most common health care providers— but there are a few important distinctions between the two. Let’s explore.

A psychiatrist is a physician, also known as a doctor of medicine (M.D.), who focuses on mental health. This type of doctor may choose to focus on a more targeted patient pool, such as adolescent or geriatric, but the main distinguisher is that they are a practicing doctor of medicine (or doctor of osteopathic medicine, abbreviated as D.O.) A psychiatrist can diagnose and treat mental health disorders, provide psychological counseling (also called psychotherapy), and prescribe medicine. Psychiatrists often spend a good portion of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment.

A psychologist, on the other hand, is trained in psychology, a science that focuses on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They focus extensively on psychotherapy. Most commonly, a psychologist holds a doctoral degree such as a Ph.D., not an M.D. A psychologist can diagnose and treat mental health, but cannot write prescriptions unless they are specifically licensed to do so.

Making the choice between a psychiatrist, psychologist, or one of the other options is oftentimes the first major decision you have to make when finding your mental health provider. According to the Mayo Clinic, the first thing you should consider is your primary concern or condition. Most providers are able to treat a wide range of symptoms, but finding a provider that specializes in your particular concern can be the most effective. For example, if you are suffering with an eating disorder, you will probably want to see a psychologist who specializes in that area. If you are experiencing marital issues, a family therapist will probably be your best bet. Another very important aspect to consider is if you think you will need to be prescribed medication for your illness. Only a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist can do that for you.

Finally, you will need to look into your health insurance coverage. Some insurance policies only cover certain types of mental healthcare. It’s also important to remember that most mental health providers should have at least a master’s degree or the equivalent education, training, and credentials. It’s crucial that you make sure your provider has the adequate license to provide the mental health care you are seeking, both to ensure that you get correct treatment and to ensure that that treatment will be covered by your insurance.

Once you decide what type of mental health provider you should be looking for, the next step is to decide which individual you’re going to see. You should first start by gathering referrals. If you have health insurance, you can either call their informational line or log in to their online portal to see what providers accept your insurance plan. You should also try to figure out if your plan will let you see a mental health provider directly, or if you’ll need a referral from your primary care doctor.  If you do not have health insurance, visit your local mental health community center. After you’ve narrowed it down, either make the call yourself or have a close friend or family member do so.

The final question in this equation is—what should you do if treatment does not seem to be working? The first thing you should do is speak with your health provider to see if any tweaks can be made to your regiment. This sounds like the simplest solution, but it is also one that is often not sought out. Many people tend to give up after they don’t see quick results, when the solution could be as simple as starting treatment with a different therapist or changing directions with your current therapist. Don’t be afraid to take initiative when it comes to tailoring your mental healthcare. Being actively involved in your own health care can be one of the most vital steps to treatment and recovery.


“Finding A Mental Health Professional.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.

Magliano, Joe, Ph.D. “What Type of Mental Health Professional Is Right for You?” Psychology Today, n.d. Web.

“Mental Health Providers: Tips on Finding One.” Diseases and Conditions – Mental Illness. May Clinic, n.d. Web.

“Psychiatry, Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy: What to Expect.” Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling. WebMD, n.d. Web.

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