In my last blog post, I talked about how to decide if you might benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional. If you have decided to raise your hand for some help, the next step is to find a therapist. That can be a challenging process.
So here’s some help. The following is an overview of the options for mental health treatment as well as some ideas on how to get connected with a professional.
Talk therapy is just what it sounds like. It consists of you and a therapist sitting down together and talking things out. Just the process of letting out all those thoughts and feelings you have been holding inside can in and of itself be healing. A good therapist can not only provide a safe place to vent, but can also work with you to shift your perspective, to see what’s possible, and to find a way forward toward more emotional quality of life. I personally am trained in cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness, both widely used approaches. Other therapists use a range of psychotherapy techniques.
You might want to begin with talk therapy. It’s a good starting place in addressing what’s going on with you emotionally. A therapist will provide an assessment, and make a recommendation regarding treatment. Your therapist may also recommend you to also consider medication.
Finding a therapist can require time and patience. If you have health insurance, you would probably want to begin by calling your insurance provider and asking for a behavioral health referral. Some companies have a website that you can go to and look at the names and descriptions of therapists in their plan, or you may need to call and get a few names. The mental health professionals in your insurance network will be trained and licensed in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, or clinical psychology.
From here, I would recommend calling the therapists they recommend, or the names you find on the insurance company behavioral health website, and asking to make an initial appointment. You might get a feel for the therapist on the phone, but it’s a good idea to make an appointment and meet together.
If you know anyone who is in therapy, you might also ask for a recommendation. You can then check with that person, or with your insurance provider, to see if that person is in your plan. Of course, if money is no object, so much the better.
Your physician can be a great resource for therapists. Many doctors have a list of therapists they know and trust. Personally, many of my clients are referred to me by doctors.
Your clergyperson might have therapists they recommend.
And keep in mind that HANJ is in the process of putting together a list of mental health resources in New Jersey.
Also, here is a link to a directory of therapists:
If you don’t have insurance, your community mental health department or department of social services will also have low or no cost treatment available, though you will have fewer options as to whom you see and there may be some wait time before you can get in. Don’t give up.
And if your healthcare is provided by a public program like Medicare or Medicaid, you have a couple of options. You can contact therapists and see if they accept this form of payment. Your Medicaid provider may also have a website that will list behavioral health providers.
If you live near a university, you may also be able to access mental health resources that the university is providing to the community. For example, Rutgers University and Montclair State University in New Jersey both offer counseling to community members. You can contact HANJ for more information.
Don’t give up. I know this all sounds a little complicated, but the starting place, for better or worse, is what you can afford, and the coverage that you have (or don’t) have. Keep in mind that, unfortunately, a lot of therapists are so busy they don’t even have time to return phone calls from prospective clients. Be prepared to leave messages with multiple providers before you get call-backs.
Most therapist have their own website, so check it out. They have also most likely written something about themselves on their Psychology Today listing, or similar therapist listing site. Think about whether you connect with what they have written about themselves. Check out their credentials. Also, if you are looking for specialized help like couples or family or child therapy, pay close attention to whether they indicate they have had specialized training in this area, and are not simply advertising this because it is interesting to them.
Chemistry is unpredictable. Get a feel for how the therapist works, if you feel comfortable talking with them, if they seem to be listening to you, if they have a personal style that meshes with yours, if you agree with the kinds of goals they usually recommend for a client with issues similar to yours, and like how they would envision the two of you working together going forward, and how available they are in terms of scheduling flexibility. If you meet with a therapist and you don’t feel comfortable with them for any reason, get in contact with another one. This is your mental health, so find someone you are comfortable and trust to give you the help you need.
This advice is also relevant if you and your partner are seeking couples counseling. But again, make sure your therapist has extensive experience in working with couples.
If you go the medication route, you would work with a physician, that is, an MD or DO. Your primary care provider may be able to prescribe an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication if you are not already being prescribed one. Ideally, working with a psychiatrist, or a psychopharmacologist, a physician who specializes in prescribing drugs for psychological issues, is recommended. But patients have success with either route, and insurance companies sometimes encourage patients to at least first talk to their primary care physician, or even insist they get a referral from their primary care provider. Your insurance company/behavioral health provider may also recommend a nurse practitioner who is qualified to prescribe medications.
Again, your therapist might recommend that you consider medication. If you do decide to go this route, or if you need to, I would still recommend working with a therapist to help you with day to day coping strategies going forward, in tandem with your medication.
Support groups can also be helpful. The Website, www.nami.org, lists many support groups all over the US. Local hospitals or community mental health departments may also sponsor support groups for individuals experiencing anxiety or depression. Supports are a great way to share experiences and receive emotional support.
A few words of caution:
If you are feeling really emotionally overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, to the point that you are having difficulty functioning day to day, then I would recommend getting mental health attention immediately, through your regular doctor, through your insurance company’s recommendation if you do not have a therapist, or through your therapist if you are currently in treatment. You can call your insurance company and let them know you are in need of immediate assistance and ask for a referral. Don’t wait. Advocate for yourself!
If you are feeling so overwhelmed that you might harm yourself, call 911 or report to your nearest emergency room. You will find professionals in the ER who are qualified to help.
Take care of your mental health! Don’t go through this alone!
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and educator, specializing in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening health conditions, as well as their families and professional caregivers. He works with them to understand and cope with their emotions, to learn about their lifestyle and treatment options, to maintain compliance with medical regimens, to communicate effectively with each other and healthcare professionals, and to listen to their own inner voice as they make decisions about the future. His website is JustGotDiagnosed.com.