Psychological Therapy: Finding The Right Type Of Treatment For You

By: Toni Hoy

Updated May 04, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

It's not uncommon for people to struggle with taking steps to seek mental health help, even when they know they need it. Some of the reasons may be due to the stigma that surrounds mental health. Another reason may be that the person just isn't ready yet.

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The reality is that mental health problems are more common than most people realize. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States live with some type of mental illness. That number equates to about 46.6 million people in 2017. About 13-20% of people who experience mental health symptoms are children.

To complicate things further, many mental health symptoms overlap, which sometimes makes it difficult to diagnose a condition accurately. Also, there are many different types of clinical professionals, and it can be confusing to know what type of professional provider will work best with you to meet your needs. Many of the choices in provider may be limited by insurance companies or healthcare providers.

Most people feel a bit tenuous or anxious at the first therapy appointment. Feelings of discomfort will dissipate over time as the client develops trust with the professional. In many cases, once someone begins to make progress by taking medication and participating in psychological therapy, things may improve quickly.

Navigating From Symptoms To Treatment

The types of symptoms will help narrow down the type of treatment therapist that an individual may need. If you've had similar symptoms in the past, you may already have a good idea of where to start. If you haven't, it can be helpful for you to have a diagnostic evaluation that will point you in the right direction.

Symptoms in children and adults vary. Here are some common symptoms that children experience:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Social withdrawal

Adolescents also experience many of the same symptoms as children. As they grow older, they may also experience issues with substance abuse, eating disorders, or defiance of authority, theft, and truancy.

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Common adult symptoms include:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression, sadness, or irritability
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries, and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Intense fear of weight gain

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis such as having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, don't wait. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Where Do I Start in Trying to Find A Mental Health Therapist or Counselor?

There are many ways to find a competent and qualified therapist or counselor. Your primary care provider is usually the best place to start. Your doctor should have your entire health history. In most cases, your doctor knows you and your health needs best and will be the best person to refer you to the right treatment specialist.

If you're still in need of a psychologist or want to know more about how to find one, contact BetterHelp.

Depending on your insurance plan, insurance companies often limit your options to a select group of mental health providers, and they will help you choose one. If you have Medicaid or Medicare, they will also be able to help you find a treatment specialist that's covered under your plan.

Veteran's should call the Veteran's Administration for a referral.

Many employers now have Employer Assisted Programs (EAP). An EAP is an employer-sponsored program that's designed to intervene in helping with problems that negatively impact an employee's work performance. EAPs began as a confidential program for helping employees deal with issues like alcohol or substance abuse. In recent years, EAPs have broadened their services to include a range of services including childcare, elder care, financial problems, legal challenges, and relationship challenges. There is no charge for the employee to take advantage of these services.

Many EAP programs offer a variety of options for counseling including phone, video-based counseling, online counseling, email interactions, or in-person meetings. Some EAP plans offer assistance for other services including nurse lines, legal assistance, and adoption assistance. Also, plans may extend coverage to spouses, non-marital partners, and children living in the same dwelling as the employee.

Still another organization that can help locate an appropriate mental health provider is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A local clergy member or crisis center is an additional option for referrals to therapists and counselors.

Most areas also provide some type of state-funded mental health organizations. These facilities are often located within counties. Local mental health organizations offer free treatment, low-cost treatment, or treatment on a sliding scale. State-funded mental health programs are obliged to serve those who meet certain criteria as defined by the state.

Because you will have a somewhat personal relationship with your therapist, it's usually advisable to get the names of a few different therapists and interview them before scheduling an appointment.

What Is the Difference in Mental Health Professional Credentials?

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Therapists and counselors obtain different titles based on their education and training. Here's a breakdown of the types of mental health professionals and their educational requirements.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that has special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medications as necessary. Some psychiatrists limit their practices to children and adolescents or other specific populations

Psychologist

Psychologists usually have a minimum of a doctoral degree. Their training involves passing exams upon graduation, and both a school and license related internship of supervised practice before they can practice independently. Psychologists can perform assessments, evaluations, make diagnoses, and provide psychotherapy treatment.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed Professional Counselors earn a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. They complete boy school and license related internships under supervision before they begin to practice independently. Professional counselors can perform assessments, evaluations, make diagnoses, and provide psychotherapy treatment.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental Health Counselors must earn a master's degree and meet the same requirements of a licensed professional counselor. These are similar titles for the same profession.

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker holds a master's degree in social work. They also practice in a supervised setting before becoming independently licensed. Licensed clinical social workers can provide psychotherapy, and in some states diagnose mental health problems.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

Those who earn the designation of Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor have specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse counselors may have only a bachelor's degree but do receive supervised practice and training. They are limited to practice within substance use disorders and situations. Some licensed professional counselors and other professionals obtain a drug abuse counselor license as well, although they receive training to work with substance abuse disorders without this license.

Marital and Family Therapist

A marital and family therapist is a professional therapist with a master's degree. They have specialized educational training in marital and family therapy. Marital and family therapists may provide individual and group counseling, perform assessments, and provide a diagnosis.

Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral Counselors are clergy members who have had training in clinical pastoral education. They're trained to provide independent and group counseling. These professionals may not be required to obtain licensure.

What Can I Expect from an Appointment with a Therapist?

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It's normal to feel hesitant or fearful about the first appointment with a therapist. Unsettling feelings will diminish or disappear after the first few sessions.

The initial contact with your therapist usually consists of a screening where you'll spend a few minutes chatting on the phone. You'll have an opportunity to ask any pressing questions including a brief discussion about their approach to working with patients and their philosophy about treatment. If everything goes well, it's time to schedule an appointment.

During the first visit, you'll briefly talk about the problems that led you to schedule an appointment. Your therapist will want to know more about you, your home and work life, and others who are important in your life and provide a support system. Your therapist will let you know if they need you to go through any evaluations so they can provide a diagnosis and set up a treatment plan. At this point, they'll give you an indication about how many sessions to expect and discuss payment arrangements.

The treatment plan will usually start around the second session. The first few sessions will help you and your therapist build rapport. Therapy can be somewhat painful or uncomfortable at times early in the process. As treatment ensues, you should start to feel gradual relief from your symptoms and start to make a gradual progression towards feeling better.

The Value of Support and Support Groups

Once you've started therapy (also called counseling), you may need additional support in between counseling sessions. Peer support groups are helpful for everyone, especially those who don't have a strong support network among their family and friends. Your mental health provider may offer a support group at various times in the coming weeks or months.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support groups across the country for people living with mental illness and support groups for family members of people who live with mental illnesses.

People who live with mental illnesses may also benefit from drop-in centers or warm lines where they can talk to someone right away. These services often prevent individuals from being hospitalized.

As mentioned before, online therapy can be a viable option for individuals who don’t have resources in their local area or are hesitant about seeing a therapist in person. Know that many studies have compared the efficacy of traditional therapy against online therapy, and both are equal in terms of quality and effectiveness. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavioral therapy is a practical and effective form of mental health care. The study’s authors found that CBT delivered through the internet is effective for concerns such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, and social anxiety disorder.

Online therapy is a great way to access mental health resources, especially if such resources are not available nearby or if you are not comfortable going to traditional therapy. Online therapists are uniquely trained and qualified to offer therapeutic resources through modalities such as video conferences, phone calls, and live messages. Additionally, online therapy is convenient and accessible. You can schedule appointments around your busy schedule. There’s no need to go to a physical office or wait in line.

The right treatment specialist and the right type of therapy are available. Feeling better starts with taking the first step to getting help. Here are just a few testimonials from people who’ve reached out to BetterHelp with similar issues:

“Tracey is helping me to get my life back. She always gives me information that helps me to understand perspective, understand my emotions and when it’s ok to be emotional and when it isn’t helpful. She encourages me and connects with my feelings, good and bad. She is the reason I now know that what I’ve felt for so long is not permanent and that I am 100% capable of taking my life back.”

“I have only had a couple of sessions with Perry so far and I am already mind blown at the things he has helped me to uncover and realize. Quite frankly I felt like I was a mess and had no one to turn to. Perry has already helped me to save my job and we are currently working on many self improvement goals that I want to conquer. Revamping certain parts of my relationship with my husband is also something we are working on and my husband is so happy that I have taken this step. I am excited for what is to come and to finally get the help and support that I have needed for a long time now. I have a lot of things to work on and with Perry’s help I am confident I can change my life for the better.”


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