Now that we’re almost halfway through the school year, it’s a good time to step back and ask yourself how you’re doing with your mental health. There’s no doubt in my mind that the semester was hard. And there were probably particular periods in the classroom that felt like lows. Were you able to harness resources (both personally and by reaching out to those around you) to manage your teacher stress and wellbeing?
With winter break ahead, now might be a good point to invest some time in locating a counselor to work with next semester. Because finding a mental health professional can be a difficult process, below are some tips on what to look for:
- 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.
- There are a bunch of different types of mental health professionals, so it can be confusing. In short: 1) psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD) who primarily prescribe medication for treatment. Some also engage in talk therapy; 2) psychologists are doctoral (PhD) level providers who provides counseling, psychotherapy, and assessment, but typically do not prescribe medication (this varies state-to-state); 3) Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed professional counselors (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) all have master’s degrees in their respective areas and provide counseling and psychotherapy; and 4) primary care providers, or family doctors, while not actually mental health providers, often prescribe psychiatric medications.
- You want to make sure the person you’re seeing is licensed by your state, as this ensures they have met the minimum standards in their field to provide competent services to you. Search for the provider on your state’s licensing board for physicians, psychologists, and licensed therapists.
- Choose which type of professional based on whether you would like to be evaluated for medication or engage in talk therapy and learn new strategies for coping and addressing mental health symptoms. The most important thing is that you engage the process of getting help. If you see one provider and determine that your needs for treatment might benefit from a slightly different angle, the person will make a referral.
- You can begin to gather a list of possible providers by determining 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.
- 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.
- 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 for your needs. It is perfectly appropriate to enter into a first therapy session with some skepticism, not knowing if it is something you want to do. 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?”
- Pastoral counseling, often with a provider who is a religious/spiritual leader, can be an excellent option, particularly if your concerns are of a religious or spiritual nature. However, if you are exhibiting symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression, more severe anxiety, disordered eating, substance abuse, etc., then seeing a licensed mental health professional is the best option.
It can be a challenge to figure out the best way to get help for a mental health concern. If you have questions about the process, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.