If you have been considering going to counseling or therapy, you may be wondering about the available options. Licensed mental health professionals can be psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, or therapists. Do they all do the same thing? No, but they all do provide mental health care. It’s important to find a licensed mental health professional who is a good fit for you.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. Psychiatrists graduated from medical school and completed training to specialize in psychiatry. (Sometimes, this is confused with psychology, which is also focused on mental health. A psychologist also has an advanced graduate degree and specialized training but is not a medical doctor.)
Psychiatrists focus on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral health disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess the physical and mental components of mental health. Psychiatrists can perform lab and diagnostic tests and analyze genetic and physical attributes that may affect mental health. Psychiatrists may treat patients with psychotherapy (sometimes called talk therapy), medication, other interventions, or a combination of treatments to meet an individual’s needs.
Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, they can write prescriptions for medication. (Other licensed mental health professionals, such as psychologists, counselors, or therapists, cannot prescribe medication. However, they may collaborate or consult with their client’s psychiatrist or primary care physician about medication options for an individual’s treatment.) Sometimes treatment involves working with a physician and another licensed mental health professional.
You may have questions about what to look for when choosing a psychiatrist. There are steps you can take when looking for a psychiatrist:
How Much Does A Psychiatrist Cost?
There is no one certain answer to this question. When it comes to how much psychiatric treatment costs, many things come into play. For instance, the initial appointment may be charged at a higher price than subsequent appointments. Geographic location can also make a difference in cost. If you have an insurance plan and whether the psychiatrist is on it or not can make a difference in cost. One psychiatrist’s office may cost more than others. Calling and asking for rates and payment options is a smart way to determine the cost of potential treatment.
There are options for affordable mental health services. Some psychiatrists may work on a sliding scale, which means they might charge each patient based on their income. Community health centers and medical schools can also be good resources for finding affordable psychiatric care.
What If I Can’t Find A Psychiatrist In My Area?
If you can’t find a psychiatrist in your area, speaking to your primary care physician or reaching out to a community health center can help. They may be knowledgeable about psychiatrists who are in the area or who you can consult with virtually. They may also have other suggestions for treatment. An example might be seeing a licensed mental health professional who is not a psychiatrist and consulting with a nearby medical doctor.
Continue Seeking The Help That You Need
If you find that you work with a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional and things aren’t improving the way you had hoped for, don’t give up. You may not see progress right away, but you must stick with treatment. You can give the process some time, but if you feel that your mental health care provider is not a good fit for you, it might be time to look for someone else. There are likely other good options, and having a good connection with your mental health care provider is important for your treatment. (However, if you are on medication for your mental health treatment, make sure that you do not stop taking it without speaking to the doctor who prescribed it or to your primary care physician.)
Connecting With A Licensed Mental Health Professional
If you or a loved one has mental health concerns, your primary care physician or community health center can offer good resources for finding help. There is also a free, confidential Helpline that can help you find healthcare providers: call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) any time, day or night—speakers of both English and Spanish staff the Helpline. There is also a treatment service locator option online to help you find a mental healthcare provider. You can enter your address, city, or zip code to search for treatment services near you.
Connecting online with a licensed mental health professional can also be a great way to find help. At BetterHelp, online options for therapy are convenient, accessible, and affordable, and you can connect with culturally competent, licensed mental health professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can you self-refer to a psychiatrist?
If you live with a mental health disorder or are concerned about your mental health, please seek help. You can set up your appointment to see a mental healthcare provider. Note that if you have health insurance and want it to cover your mental healthcare services, you may want to speak with your health insurance provider before self-referring. Some companies may have guidelines or requirements about getting a referral from a primary care physician before seeing a specialist. Mental illness affects approximately one in five Americans, and if you suspect, are worried, (or know) that you have a mental health disorder, self-referral to a doctor (or other licensed mental healthcare provider) who specializes in diagnosing and treating these conditions can help you on the path to recovery. You can also talk to your primary care doctor about your concerns and options for referrals.
What's the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
Both psychologists and psychiatrists have advanced degrees and training in mental health and behaviors, but there are some differences between the two professional fields. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and has a medical degree, and completes specialized training in their field. Psychologists are not medical doctors, but they have advanced degrees, expertise, and training in their field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, but psychologists are not licensed to do so. They are often trained in talk therapy or other specialized forms of therapy, whereas a psychiatrist can manage medication and use other forms of therapy in treatment. Both types of mental healthcare providers must be licensed in their fields.
Do I need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist?
Depending on your treatment plan, you may see a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or both. A clinical psychologist usually works with clients using talk therapy, whereas a psychiatrist can administer medication and monitor how the medicine is working. A psychiatrist may also utilize talk therapy or other therapeutic techniques. Some treatments involve talk therapy, others involve medication, and a combination of both can be very effective. Whether you see a psychiatrist first, a psychologist, or begin by speaking with your primary care physician, you can ask them about treatment options and about their recommendations for seeing other providers get the best care for you. If you're unsure what services a provider offers, you should know it's completely fine to ask them.
How do I find a psychiatrist?
There are many ways to find a psychiatrist. You can ask your primary care doctor or provider for names of psychiatrists who specialize in your area of concern. If you have insurance, you can contact your insurance company to find a provider in your area who accepts your health plan. Asking a trusted friend who is familiar with mental health care in your community can also be helpful. You can also try contacting a mental health center or hospital in your area for recommendations for psychiatrists. You'll want to be sure the psychiatrist is board-certified and licensed.
What are the signs of mental illness?
If you are concerned about your mental health, you might wonder what signs to look for. The best course of action is to seek your primary care doctor or licensed mental health professional input. Some signs of mental health conditions include:
If you are in crisis or in danger of harming yourself, please reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, confidential support and prevention and crisis resources. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line can connect anyone in crisis with a crisis counselor at any time; text "HELLO" to 74174.
If you are experiencing other symptoms of mental health disorders or have any mental health concerns, please seek help from a licensed mental health professional.
How much does it cost to see a psychiatrist privately?
Like all types of physicians, the cost of a visit with a psychiatrist varies by office, location, services offered, and more. The best way to find out how much it will cost to see a psychiatrist is to ask them, which is completely acceptable. You can also ask them whether they accept your insurance coverage. If you find that seeking a more affordable provider would be a better option for you, your primary care doctor, a local health clinic, or your community's health department may be able to help you find another provider.
When should I see a psychiatrist for anxiety?
Anxiety can be a very normal reaction to stress or worry. However, consulting with a licensed mental health professional can be an important step if it begins to interfere with your functioning, is causing you distress, or seems excessive. Treatment is available and is highly effective.
What questions do psychiatrists ask?
A psychiatrist will likely ask you a variety of questions. They will probably ask you why you've come to see them and what you would like help with. You'll probably be asked to tell them about your mental health history, your general health, medications you take, your family's mental health history, and your symptoms and behaviors related to your mental health concerns. They may also ask you about your past and present life situations and how they may be impacting your mental health.
What does a psychiatrist look for?
First, it is important to know that psychiatrists will not judge you—they are there to help you. A psychiatrist usually looks for signs of mental illness or symptoms impacting a patient's quality of life. They may use assessments to help diagnose a condition. They'll probably look at your medical, personal, and family history and how you are coping. They may look at your general appearance to identify physical health concerns or signs of substance abuse, self-harm, or an extreme lack of self-care. They might look for speech traits that can be symptoms of mental illness. They may also look at body language and pay attention to emotional expression and cognitive functioning. They will do this in a non-judgmental way, so you can feel reassured knowing that they are there to help you, not judge you, and you should know that sharing the truth and fully disclosing the information is important for you to get the best treatment.
What should you do when you can't find a psychiatrist?
If you're having trouble finding a psychiatrist, don't give up! There are many providers out there who may work for you. You can ask your friends and family for a referral to someone they recommend. You can also ask your primary care doctor or a mental health agency for suggestions. You can contact a free, confidential Helpline to help you find mental healthcare providers: call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or use a treatment service locator option online. There are many options for mental health care, so please keep looking to find a good fit for you.
Where can I find a psychiatrist without insurance?
Many psychiatrists will work with clients on a sliding scale (charging you according to your income level). You may also be able to find affordable psychiatric care through your primary care doctor, community health centers, mental health agencies, local hospitals, or medical schools. Asking the fees for psychiatric services can help you find care that you're comfortable with financially. Your mental health is valuable, and there are many options for accessible, affordable mental health care.
Connecting with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
If you or a loved one has mental health concerns, your primary care physician or community health center can offer good resources for finding help. Connecting online with a licensed mental health professional can also be a great way to find mental health care. At BetterHelp, online options for therapy are convenient, accessible, and affordable, and you can connect with culturally competent, licensed mental health professionals.