Mental Health Professionals
Who can help me through my mental health issues?
What do they do? Who’s the best fit for me? Below we take a closer look.
How can mental health professionals help you feel better?
Counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all different kinds of trained mental health professionals. These professionals will work with you to identify your strengths and the things that cause you distress, and can help you find solutions and make changes. Here are some of the differences between these types of mental health professionals.
Counselors often work in schools, at community health centers, on university or college campuses, and family planning clinics. Some may also work privately, having an office alone or with a group of other professionals. Counselors usually have a master's degree or higher, have completed many supervised training hours, and are licensed by the state they practice in. They are usually called Licensed Professional Counselor, or LPC, although some states have different licensing rules and so counselors may have slightly different initials after their names, like LPCC or LCPC. You can get more information on Counselors from the American Counseling Association.
Another kind of counselor is a drug and alcohol counselor or a residential treatment counselor. These professionals usually have bachelor's degrees and are not necessarily licensed by the state. State standards for credentialing drug and alcohol counselors vary from state to state.
Therapists, or psychotherapists, often work in private practices, alone or with a group of other professionals. Some work in hospitals, schools, or in community mental health clinics as well. Therapists have a master's degree or higher, have completed many supervised training hours, and are usually licensed as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). You can find out more from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the National Association of Social Workers.
Psychologists have doctorates in psychology (PhDs or PsyDs), have completed many supervised training hours, and are licensed by the state. Both clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists are trained to diagnose and treat a wide variety of mental health problems, but typically, clinical psychologists work with people who have more severe problems (such as phobias, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia), while counseling psychologists work with people suffering from less severe disorders (including depression, anxiety, everyday stresses, and family and relationship difficulties). Psychologists can work in agencies, hospitals, clinics, or private practice offices. The American Psychological Association has more information on licensed psychologists.
School psychologists are another type of psychologist; they usually work in a K-12 school setting. Generally they focus on learning and behavior problems, diagnose learning difficulties, and work with teachers and family members to suggest ways to improve classroom climate and parenting skills. Get more information from the National Association of School Psychologists.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe psychiatric medications. They are licensed as doctors but also have special training in mental health issues. Psychiatrists treat conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists have medical training, and as such, they can prescribe medication if they think it will help you. If your medical doctor thinks that it would be helpful for you to see a psychiatrist, they can refer you to one.
Your psychiatrist will listen to you, and talk to you about your emotions and how your emotions may be affecting your behavior. Most psychiatrists are happy to assist young people in this way. If you think your psychiatrist is not listening or hearing your concerns, or if you’re uncomfortable seeing a particular psychiatrist, you can go back to your doctor and ask to see a different one. If you are feeling anxious about a first appointment, you can take a friend or family member to the appointment with you. Sometimes a psychiatrist teams with a psychologist or other mental health professional, with the psychiatrist handling the medication aspect of treatment and the other mental health professional providing the counseling or therapy.
Other people you can talk to
If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, check out our Crisis Helpline directory to find a resource near you or nationwide. You can call Lines for Life’s Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town for everyone. There are also several apps you could use that connect you to peers going through similar things, as well as licensed professionals waiting to help you.
What mental health professional is right for me?
When you are looking for a mental health professional, it is important to look for someone who is licensed or credentialed in some way, so you are protected by ethical and legal rules governing all health professionals. What kind of license they hold is usually less important than if they’re a good fit in terms of training, specialty, personality, and availability.
If you need to find someone who works at a sliding scale clinic or accepts your insurance, then that is a more important factor for you than which license they hold. Similarly, you want to look for someone with training and experience in your particular area of concern, because the most skilled eating disorder therapist might not know the first thing about bipolar disorder. Just as importantly, you want to find someone who you feel comfortable with, someone you trust. All of that is usually more important than what initials someone has after their name!
It’s normal to use your first session with a prospective therapist (of some kind) to ask them questions to get to know if they’re the best fit for you. For ideas of what questions you should ask, try some of these. One resource you can use to maximize your search for a mental health professional is through Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool. You can search by location, insurance, religious affiliations, specific mental health issues, the gender of the therapist, and more. Theravive is an international resource that can help you find a therapist local to you, also. It’s important that you can trust your therapist, otherwise you won’t be getting the help you deserve to aid in your treatment.
Different approaches to counseling
Not all mental health professionals are the same—each has their own personality, theoretical orientation or approach to counseling and general style. For more information on some common types of therapy, check out the Counseling and Therapy article. Finding someone to suit you is important. It’s helpful to remember that this can take time, and the first counselor or therapist you see might not be the right one for you. Try not to give up. If you don’t feel comfortable with the first counselor you see, or if you think the person isn’t listening to you, it’s OK to find a different counselor.
Sometimes just talking to someone will help. Other times, you might need medication to feel better. If a psychiatrist suggests you take medication, make sure you understand the effects of the drug and what some of the potential side effects might be. Some people find it useful to get a second opinion about taking medications. A second opinion may help you decide if using medication is something you want to do. It is important that you receive the information you need to make this decision.
Making an appointment
Psychiatrists work in both agency or hospital settings as well as private practice. Regardless of the setting, you will usually have to make an appointment. If they are busy, you may have to wait a while before your first appointment. If things feel really desperate, tell them it’s urgent, and they may be able to fit you in.
Asking about your privacy
It’s a good idea to talk to the psychiatrist you see about keeping your information private. This is generally something that your psychiatrist will bring up in your first session, but if they don’t, it’s OK for you to ask. In most situations, unless you ask the psychiatrist to share information, your psychiatrist will keep what you tell him or her confidential. If you would tell your psychiatrist something that suggests you are in serious danger to yourself or another person the psychiatrist would be ethically bound to share that information so that you or the other person could be safe. Psychiatrists are also required by law to report instances of abuse and there may be circumstances where they would be compelled to testify in a court case. The parameters for when a mental health professional can be required to testify vary by state.
Paying for treatment
If you’re insured, your insurance provider might require you to see a psychiatrist within a specified network, and you might have to pay for part of your visit. This payment is called a co-pay, and usually costs between $20 and $40 or a percentage of the costs (e.g. insurance will cover 80% and you will pay 20%). Your insurance might also only cover specific treatments. If you don’t have insurance, you might have to pay for your treatment out-of-pocket, which can be costly.
Every insurance carrier is different, and you might want to ask your psychiatrist about payment before you make an appointment. Some community agencies may offer a sliding scale which means you pay according to your income and what you can afford. If you are in school, you can check to see if there is a school counselor who can talk to about your struggles.
Acknowledgement: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com