Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?

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Credit to flickr.com user Jonas Bengtsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mental health professionals come in all types. When making the decision as to which doctor to start a treatment plan with, keep in mind that you can try several–as many as you can afford, that is. Your primary care physician can refer you to one or many of these mental health professionals.

 

Psychiatrist

A doctor trained in the medical field of psychiatry, including the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. The most important job of a psychiatrist is to prescribe medication for you. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors. You will likely be referred to a psychiatrist at least once in your mental healthcare journey.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist

Just like it says on the tin, a child/adolescent psychiatrist is a medical doctor specifically trained to treat mental illnesses or behavioral problems in children. These professionals can and will prescribe medication.

Psychologist

A psychologist is a mental health professional with a doctoral degree in psychology who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses with courses of therapy. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not prescribe medication. There are two forms of psychology: applied psychology, which includes “practitioners,” and research-oriented psychology, which includes “scientists.” Psychologists are trained as researchers and practitioners.

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker is a counselor with a master’s degree in social work who provides individual and group counseling. The social workers have three years or more of supervised experience. They do not prescribe medication.

Licensed Professional Counselor

A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a counselor with a master’s degree in psychology and several years of supervised experience who offers individual and group counseling. In the U.S., the title varies by state, but the most common next to LPC is licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). The counselors do not prescribe medication.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

A certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor is a mental health professional with specific training in substance abuse treatment. The counselor can provide individual and group counseling. The counselor does not prescribe medication.

Marital and Family Therapist

Marital and family therapists are professionals specializing in relationships between families, or couples. The therapists emphasize familial relationships as important to consider for your mental health. The counselors have master’s degrees in psychology and related fields, and do not prescribe medication.

Several types of mental health professionals are available to help you. These are just a few of them. A lot of the counselors seem interchangeable, but they all have different approaches, tailored to you.

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How to Get a Psychiatric Evaluation

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Credit to flickr.com user Lisa Brewster. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mental illnesses are common–roughly 1 in 5 American adults have one–but people with depression or bipolar disorder can sometimes take up to ten years before they seek out care for themselves. Are you ready to take the first steps towards getting a potential diagnosis? Read on to find out where to seek help.

 

Where to Find Help

  • Ask your primary care physician for a referral to a mental health professional. Other people who can refer you are crisis centers, or a local Mental Health America office. Ask for more than one doctor, so you can comparison shop.
  • To get an evaluation, try the psychiatry department of a university. Psychiatrists at a college will be up-to-date on cutting-edge research, and be more willing to stick with proven drugs such as lithium because they’re well-researched.
  • Contact your health insurance plan to find providers covered under your plan.
  • If you are a veteran, try the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, located online at www.va.gov/health. You can also call 1-877-222-8387. Veterans who already have benefits through the department can visit www.va.gov/directory to find a mental health professional covered under the VA’s plan.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is also a great place to check for mental health professionals. The department is located online at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment. You can also call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  • If you work for a large company, you may have an employee assistance program (EAP) available. Contact Human Resources to find a provider under the EAP.
  • What about Medicare and Medicaid? Check Medicare at www.medicare.gov. Mental health professionals who accept Medicaid might be listed by your state’s Medicaid office. Click on the name of your state at http://www.benefits.gov/benefits/browse-by-category/category/MED.

What to Expect

You will first talk to your referred mental health professional on the phone. Ask them about how they like to approach therapy and medication. Make an appointment if you feel comfortable with them during the phone interview.

At the appointment, your psychiatrist or psychologist should refer you to a lab to check your thyroid levels and rule out other physical causes of mental illness symptoms. Your doctor will ask you why you called him or her, what you think the problem is, and about your job and living situation. You may be given a few questionnaires to evaluate your mental health and any adverse symptoms. This testing can take hours.

Sometimes, a mental health professional may want to interview your family and friends. Your doctor cannot interview them without your consent. Consider asking your loved ones if they’d be willing to submit to an interview.

After that, be patient! Getting a diagnosis–and an accurate one, no less–takes time, but it’s an important part of developing a treatment plan, including therapy and/or medications.

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