You are not broken: Finding the right mental health professional
Not sure where to start in seeking help for your mental health? Neither was I. I want to write this quick little blog post about how to navigate the murky waters in the mental health community. As a country, we do a terrible job of stigmatizing mental health in a way where it’s difficult to talk to anyone about it because we feel ashamed and usually anyone we feel comfortable enough talking to about it do not have the skills, tools or resources to really help us with it. I am not claiming that I have all the answers, but I do want to share with you all the information I have gathered while looking for help myself. I haven’t navigated this without insurance, so please keep in mind that your experience will differ depending on whether or not you have insurance. I hope to update this resource when I have more information about how to seek help while uninsured.
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Here are 4 steps to finding the right mental health professional.
Step 1: Think about what you’re looking for.
There are many reasons to consult a mental health professional. Are you looking for someone who is licensed to prescribe medication or are you looking for someone to talk to?
Most people treating a mental health condition, or looking to treat, will have two separate professionals – one focusing on the medication (the biological side/the chemical side) and the other focusing on the emotional (or mind) side.
You should see a physician first for a physical exam – many illnesses can cause symptoms similar to mental illness. Check first to make sure your symptoms are diagnosed correctly.
Step 2: Call Your Health Insurer’s Information Number
Ask for phone numbers of professionals in your area who accept your insurance plan – try to get at least 3 numbers. Ask these clarifying questions while you have your insurer on the phone:
- Can you make a direct appointment with a psychiatrist, or do you need to see a primary care doctor first for a referral?
- How does your plan cover visits to therapists? Therapy coverage can vary greatly between insurance plans.
- If you need help with a specific condition such as addiction or an eating disorder, ask for doctors with the subspecialty you need.
Step 3: Make the Call
If you are having a hard time making the call yourself, ask a friend or family member that you trust to make the call for you. Sometimes this is the hardest part of getting help.
Tell the person on the line that it is your first time seeking diagnosis so they can block out enough time for a thorough conversation at your appointment.
If you are told that new patients have a long wait, possibly months, make the appointment and call the second and third numbers you have received. You can always call back and cancel the appointment, but making the commitment and getting it on the calendar is the most important next step to getting help.
If you feel that you cannot wait days, weeks or months to get in to see this mental health professional, see your primary care physician as soon as possible to get treatments and support to hold you over until your mental health appointment.
Step 4: Ask Questions
At your first visit, remember, you are seeking advice but also understand that you are still “shopping around”. Finding a long-term solution is important in your journey to getting help. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Do you feel comfortable with this person? Even if this person has a good reputation or a high level of education, the most important thing is whether you can work well together. What “vibe” do you get? The personal questions a mental health professional asks may make you uncomfortable sometimes, but the person shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. You should feel that this person is on your side.
- How much education and professional experience does this person have?
- Has this person worked with people similar to me? For how long?
- How will you work together to establish goals and evaluate your progress?
- What can you expect if you work together? How often will you meet and how hard will it be to get an appointment? Can you call on the phone or email between appointments? What kind of improvements can you expect to see?
- If you’re concerned about your ability to meet insurance co-pays or deductibles, bring it up now rather than later. Ask if you can pay on a sliding scale or at a discount. Doctors and therapists would like to know ahead of time if these problems might arise because it’s important to continue treatment without interruption.
- If having a provider who understands and respects your cultural background is important to you, NAMI offers some tips to help find the right provider for you.