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This week, in conjunction with the launch of the Change Direction campaign for mental health awareness, TeacherPop’s wellbeing expert, Janna Miller, is addressing mental health in our schools. Today’s post, part IV in the series, outlines six tips for finding a mental health professional. Read part Ipart II, and part III.

In my last post, I discussed the five signs of suffering, or signals that someone you know might be struggling with a mental health concern. Either way, these signs can be an important indication that you or someone in your life could benefit from the help of a mental health professional. Unfortunately, finding a mental health professional can be a difficult process if you aren’t sure what to look for. Below are six tips to help you navigate this process either for yourself or someone else.

1. Finding a good therapist is a bit like buying a new car: you want to find one that meets your needs, it probably requires a little research, and taking it for a test drive and kicking the tires is probably a good idea, too.

2. Gather a list of possible providers and determine who is covered by your insurance carrier, perhaps by visiting your insurance’s website and searching mental health benefits. Word of mouth is a great way to find a good provider, and it is definitely appropriate to ask around if any of your friends or colleagues know of any good therapists. Finally, you can visit Psychology Today’s website to search for providers in your area. Once you generate a list, consider doing some research to learn more about the provider.

3. Ensure the person you’re seeing is licensed by the state, and has met the minimum standards in their field. One way to find out is to search for the provider on your state’s licensing board for physicians, psychologists, and licensed therapists.

4. Your primary care provider may be able to prescribe medication for mental health concerns if you have uncomplicated depression or anxiety issues. However, for more complex mental health concerns, such as suicidal thinking or multiple mental health issues, or for help determining which diagnosis best fits your situation, a psychiatrist should definitely be consulted. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask your primary care provider.

5. Choose which type of professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker) based on whether you would like to be evaluated for medication versus talk therapy to explore concerns and/or learn new strategies for coping and addressing mental health symptoms. Keep in mind that the degree the person holds is often much less important than the individual, so go with someone with whom you feel comfortable. The most important thing is that you engage the process of getting help.

6. Your first session with a counselor or therapist can be used to get to know your provider and determine if you think his or her working style will be a good fit with your needs. It is perfectly appropriate to enter into a first therapy session with some skepticism, not knowing if it is something that you want to do. A lot of people feel that way. Just going once doesn’t commit you, and it is OK, just like buying a car, to kick the tires and take it for a test drive. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions such as “what is your view on how psychotherapy works” or “what is a typical psychotherapy session like with you?”

If you have any additional questions about the process, please feel free to reach out to me at jannavmiller@gmail.com.

Please help create a culture in which mental health optimization is valued. Start by making a pledge to know the signs of suffering and share your commitment using the hashtag #ChangeMentalHealth.