How To Get Mental Health Help

To begin, it is often helpful to first consult your primary care doctor under your health insurance, who may be able to refer you to local services in your area that may also take your health coverage. If you are not currently seeing a primary care doctor, but do have health insurance, you can also use your insurer’s website to locate doctors with the mental health specialties you are seeking. After seeking the advice of your primary care doctor and assessing your mental health, you can begin looking for the types of mental health professionals who can best serve your needs.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

For Assessment/Therapy

  • Psychologists usually hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in clinical psychology or a related field, or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, and are licensed by individual states. They are mental health professionals trained to conduct psychological evaluations and testing, clinical interviews, and can diagnose and provide individual and group therapy. Some may even have specializations in certain treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other behavioral interventions.
  • Counselors, Clinicians and Therapists usually hold a masters-level degree (M.S. or M.A.) in fields such as psychology, counseling psychology, and marriage and family therapy. Licensing for these mental health professionals will vary based on their specialty and state, but some examples include: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselor, or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). They are trained to evaluate a patient’s mental health and implement various therapy techniques, and can help reduce symptoms while providing practical ways to improve a patient’s daily processing of thoughts and emotions.
  • Clinical Social Workers usually hold a master’s degree in social work, but can carry licenses as an Independent Social Worker (LICSW), Academy of Certified Social Worker (ACSW), or Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). These mental health professionals are trained to evaluate a patient’s mental health and implement therapy techniques, in addition to handling case management and patient/client advocacy.
  • Pastoral Counselors are usually clergy members with a clinical pastoral education and are trained to diagnose patients along with providing individual and group counseling. These professionals may have equivalent degrees to a doctorate in counseling and are members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC).

For Prescribing and Monitoring Medication

  • Psychiatrists usually hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree which includes the completion of a psychiatry residence training, are licensed in their state of practice, and may be certified by the Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. These mental health professionals are medical doctors who can prescribe and monitor medications to patients, in addition to diagnosing them and providing therapy. They can also have additional specialty training in specific fields (e.g. child and adolescent mental health, substance use disorders, etc.)
  • Mental Health Nurse Practitioners usually hold a Master of Science (M.S.) or Ph.D. in nursing, specializing in psychiatry. They are licensed in their state of practice, and may have other licenses and credentials such as Board Certification in Psychiatry Nursing from the American Academy of Nurses Credentialing Center (PMHNP-BC), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), or Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP). These mental health professionals are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and in some states, are able to prescribe and monitor medications.
  • Primary Care Physicians, as well as pediatricians, are often the first medical professional patients may consult for their mental health needs. While these professionals do hold either an M.D. or D.O., and can also prescribe medication, it may be helpful to consult them as a starting point before actually moving on to someone who can specialize in your mental healthcare needs.

Types of Treatment

Treatment for your mental health needs will of course vary, but it can be helpful to understand what options exist and what you can generally expect out of your treatment options, keeping in mind that sometimes integrated treatment options may also work. Your mental health professional(s) can help determine what treatment option(s) may be best for you. The following are some examples of types of treatment and care that you might expect when you seek mental health services:

  • Psychotherapy (“Talk Therapy”): Talk therapy usually involves speaking confidentially with a trained therapist in a safe environment, engaging in and exploring your feelings, behavior, and thoughts, and learning coping skills. Therapists usually lead the conversation, discussing topics from both past and current experiences, relationships, thoughts, and other aspects of life. There are several forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, group therapy, and many others.
  • Hospitalization: In some cases, some individuals may need to be closely monitored in order for healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose a patient and determine the next steps in treatment. Sometimes hospitalization can result in the adjustment of medications, especially if a mental illness worsens, but can allow doctors to evaluate some immediate steps to help with a patient’s mental health.
  • Medication: After a diagnosis from a mental health professional, some patients may be prescribed medication that is necessary for their mental health needs, just as you would take the medication necessary for diabetes or heart conditions. The medications and doses will of course vary based on the diagnosis, but common types of medications include antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, sedatives, and stimulants. As with any other medications you are prescribed, it is important to work with your doctor or healthcare professional to make sure the prescriptions you are taking work the best they can for you, without hesitating to let your doctor know if certain side effects become a concern. Whether short-term or long-term medication is prescribed, be sure to consult with your doctor on what treatment style best suits your needs.
  • Alternative Treatment Options:

    • Peer support services: Peer support groups can be a helpful resource and treatment alternative for those looking to address their mental health needs in a community of people who can relate to similar experiences. While a mental health professional you may be working with can show where to find resources such as this in your area, many nonprofits and mental health organizations can similarly refer you to local support services and groups. The camaraderie and closeness of groups such as this can help fuel recovery, and these services are usually led by a peer support specialist having common life experiences with the groups they are leading. This is also a lower-cost option, as diverse peer support services are available across the nation and may be reimbursable through Medicaid in some states.
    • ‘Teletherapy’: Also called ‘Telepsychiatry,’ teletherapy can be a helpful option for those who may not be near enough to a mental health professional or are in need of a convenient, accessible care. Often involving video-conference platforms or other forms of telecommunication, teletherapy with a mental health professional is worth mentioning to your provider if you are interested in it as an option, since most states have parity laws that include some kind of reimbursement for telehealth for both Medicaid and private insurance providers.