The most important step in treating a mental health condition sometimes feels like a challenging one: finding a mental health professional. A trustworthy and knowledgeable mental health professional will be a valuable ally. It may take a little time and persistence to locate this ally or assemble a team of allies. Following the plan below can increase the chance of finding someone whom you feel comfortable working with.
People have many different reasons to consult a mental health professional. Are you looking for someone who is licensed to prescribe medication? Or are you looking primarily for someone to talk to?
Most people treating a mental health condition have at least two separate professionals, one focusing on medication (the biological side) and the other focusing on emotional or behavioral therapies (the mind side). Here are some things to think about:
If you have health insurance, start by calling your 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:
If you do not have health insurance, your first stop should be your community mental health center. You can find the phone number in a phone book or at a public library.
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 a diagnosis, tell the person on the phone so that they can block out enough time for a good conversation.
If you’re told that new patients have to wait many months for an appointment, it would be wise to make an appointment anyway. Then call the second and third numbers on your list. You can always cancel your first appointment if you find someone who can help you sooner.
Another way to get an appointment sooner is to join the waiting list for cancellations. If another patient cancels at the last minute, you may get an appointment earlier than you expected.
If you feel you can’t wait weeks or months for help, see your primary care doctor as soon as possible to get treatments and support to tide you over until you have your team assembled. And if you’re in an emergency situation, please go immediately to a hospital emergency room.
In your first visit with a doctor or therapist, you’re seeking advice but you’re also “shopping around.” It’s reasonable to ask questions. Be honest about the fact that you’re looking for someone you can work with long-term. Here are some questions you might want to think about or ask:
Sometimes the first person you visit might not “feel right” or lack experience with your particular mental health condition. Move on to the next phone number on your list and keep looking.
Remember that you’re recruiting team members who can help you with your treatment long-term. With a little persistence, you’ll find people who will listen to you, take your perspective into consideration and work with you to improve your sense of well-being.