How to find the right mental health specialist for you

Doctors and therapies vary, and what may work for one person may not work for someone else.

How Are We Doing? Mental Wellness graphic (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – You’re finally ready to take the next step in working on your mental health and find a provider for yourself. Maybe you’re looking for therapy, maybe you might need medication. You’ve heard of licensed mental health counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists — so which is right for you?

First, it’s probably a good idea to understand the differences between the types of providers that are available. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are a few different options.

Psychologist: A psychologist holds a doctoral degree and is trained to evaluate mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations, and a variety of tests to determine a diagnosis. While they can diagnose, they do not prescribe medications. They usually have training in one or more specific types of therapy.

Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors. They can diagnose, treat, prescribe and monitor medications. Some offer therapy while others may solely manage medications.

Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists: These types of providers have master’s degrees. They can evaluate someone’s mental health and use therapeutic techniques.

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Clinical Social Workers: The difference between a clinical social worker and a counselor is that besides evaluating and being able to offer therapy, they’re also trained in case management and advocacy services.

Primary Care Physicians: While primary care physicians can prescribe medications for mental health diagnoses, it’s not their specialty and they may not have full knowledge of all the prescription options available. Often your primary care physician may be able to refer you to another provider to work together with to help you get what you need.

In order to select the provider you would like to see, there are a few things you may want to consider.

  • Think about what you think you need from a provider. If you are looking for both therapy and medication, you may need a combination of providers to treat you.
  • If you have health insurance, you should check with your insurance for a list of providers they will cover and determine if you have a co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs. You may need a referral for a mental health provider, which you may need to get from your primary care physician. It’s important to note that not all psychologists or counselors accept insurance, though in some cases, you may be able to remit receipts to your insurance in order to get reimbursed. You’ll want to ask about that.
  • If you have family or friends that have a provider they like, you may want to ask for referrals. Therapy works best if you’re able to establish a connection with your provider and trust them, so getting referrals, if possible, can be a good way to start.
  • Some psychologists and counselors specialize in particular areas of mental health, so if you’re looking for someone for your child, or for a specific condition, you may want to choose someone that specializes in that. Additionally, there are different techniques therapists use so if you have a specific one you are looking for, double-check the provider you’re interested in uses that technique. We’ll talk more about those below.
  • Keep in mind there is a shortage of providers, so you’ll want to call to make an appointment as soon as you’re able. It may be months for an appointment, so we advise if you have other providers on your list, go ahead and make one so you have it, but then keep calling and see when you can get in soonest. Also ask about wait lists; many providers will email or call clients on the wait list if they have cancellations.
  • Once you’re able to speak with a provider, make sure to consider whether you’re comfortable with this person. Sometimes questions asked can make you uncomfortable as they’re assessing with and working on your trauma, but you should feel like you’re in a safe space that you can share in. Be sure to ask how often you’ll need to meet, how difficult it will be to get an appointment, and if you think you’ll have financial difficulty in paying for treatment, ask if there are any discounts or sliding scale arrangements you can make.

When it comes to therapeutic techniques, there are a few common types that you may come across, according to NAMI.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This particular type of therapy focuses on the relationships between a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The idea is to identify unhealthy thoughts and how they may be causing self-destructive behavior so the therapist can help the patient work on establishing more positive and constructive ways of thinking to improve behavior.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This kind of therapy is typically used for people with borderline personality disorder, though it can be used for those with other mental illnesses as well. It’s similar to CBT, although one major difference is that it emphasizes accepting or validating difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviors instead of struggling with them.  The idea is that once those are accepted, it is easier to change them.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR): This type of therapy is typically used for PTSD treatment. Using a succession of rapid eye movements, the patient recalls a traumatic event. The idea is that negative emotional reactions associated with the traumatic event are then replaced with more positive emotional reactions.

Exposure Therapy: This is a type of CBT that is most frequently used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD and phobias. The therapist examines the triggers of the patient’s anxiety and works to help them learn techniques to avoid rituals or anxiety when they are exposed to them. The patient is then exposed to those triggers in a controlled environment, either all at once or flooding, or in increasing amounts, known as desensitization, so they can practice the techniques.

Interpersonal Therapy: This is more focused on the relationships a patient has with others and recognizing negative patterns to help them learn how to interact positively with others.

Therapy can be expensive, but here’s a list of lower-cost options on the News 6 website.

If you need immediate help or are in crisis, call the national mental health crisis hotline at 988.

About the Author:

Tara Evans is an executive producer and has been with News 6 since January 2013. She currently spearheads News 6 at Nine and specializes in stories with messages of inspiration, hope and that make a difference for people -- with a few hard-hitting investigations thrown in from time to time.