"let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-"
It happened again last week. A new client came into my office for her first appointment. She had been referred by her primary care doctor's office, but was hoping to start medical treatment. She didn't know I only provided "talk therapy" and not medication. I worried that she may have wasted an hour of her time only to have the end result be another referral to a different specialist. Fortunately, this error only occurs a couple times a year, but even one time is too many. How could this have been avoided? I would like to use this article to help you be more informed as you seek psychological help.
Identify your primary reason for seeking treatment. Has there been a change (or changes) in your overall psychological and physical functioning? What symptoms you are experiencing? When did these symptoms start? Are you looking for counseling ("talk therapy") only, medication only, or a combination of both? Are you experiencing difficulties in your social connections, family relationships, or occupational life? You may know you want to feel better or less stressed, but spending some time clarifying what's wrong and what you want changed will provide helpful information as you seek a mental health specialist.
How will you be paying for services? Are you planning to use your insurance coverage or pay out-of-pocket? Many insurance plans have a listing of approved providers in your area. If you plan to use your benefit, this network is a good starting point. I have been aware of many first-time clients who have wasted precious time contacting therapists only to find out these individuals were not in their provider network.
Are there specific therapist skills or qualities that are important? Are you looking for a male or female counselor? Do you have special needs (such as, needing to go to an office that is handicap-accessible or seeking a specialist who fluently speaks a language other than English)? Does the office setting matter? Some clinicians will be practicing in a hospital setting, others in a clinic, and some will be in a private practice. Are you looking for unusual office hours? Many therapists have specific hours they are available. Make sure their schedule fits your schedule. Are you seeking marital, individual, or group therapy? Again, each counselor offers different types of treatment styles.
You may not know the answer to all of these questions, but having some idea of what you are looking for will provide direction. Now, you are ready to solicit recommendations. The best referral source for therapist recommendations is a trusted individual; such as, your primary care doctor, nurse, healthcare specialist, teacher, pastor, or friend. It is best to obtain several names since not each counselor will take your insurance or be accepting new clients.
The internet is another excellent source of information for referral names. Several regional and national associations have listings of providers by area. You might try:
American Psychological Association
National Association of Social Workers
National Register of Health Service Providers
There are other internet sources available as well. The monthly magazine, Psychology Today, has a nice website of providers who have paid for a brief description of themselves and the type of therapy they provide. There are also specialty websites (such as, National Association for the Mentally Ill and Robyn's Nest-The Parenting Network), that might include treatment recommendations and suggestions.
I would not recommend using the Yellow Pages as a referral source. It will help you identify someone who is providing services nearby, but it gives little other important information.
Once you have the names of 3 to 5 mental health specialists, you are ready for the next step; to make contact and to set up the first appointment. In next week's article I will cover how to initiate that contact, as well as briefly discuss the various types of credentials (Ph.D., MSW, LLP, M.D., D.O.) you might encounter.