Q. I know that I have issues that I need to deal with, such as anxiety, depression, and unsuccessful suicide attempts (obviously); and all of these recently have been becoming more worrisome. I have only ever once seen a psychologist for one visit, while in college (been out of college for 4 years) only so she could give a report to the college doctor; I was placed on a med (not sure what though and was only on it for about 3 months before not taking anymore). I am now very open to going to my pcp, a therapist, and/or a psychiatrist to hopefully decrease some of my issues. My question is who am I suppose to see first? My pcp, a therapist, or a pdoc? I have read my health insurance policy contract and I know I don’t need a referral to see any of these people. I have gone online but can’t find much and what I can find contradicts what something I found somewhere else stated. Who are you supposed to begin with for mental health issues?

A. Start with a therapist. Not all therapists are created equal so you’ll need to be hunting for not just any therapist but a well-qualified and seasoned therapist. One way to begin this process is to go to your phone book (or check out Psych Central’s Therapist Locator ) and call approximately six to ten therapists and talk to them over the phone.

Explain the issues that you want help with and ask if he or she has treated others with similar problems. If so, you want to know how they treated the issue. How many years have they been in practice? The purpose for calling the therapist is to get a sense of what they are like and what method he or she uses to treat his or her clients.

While you’re calling around you will likely get a sense of whether a therapist is friendly. Do they seem interested in helping you? Does the therapist seem knowledgeable? Make appointments with the therapists that you liked over the phone and meet them in person. Choose the therapist who seems the most qualified and who you feel the most comfortable with.

Once you find a therapist, he or she can refer you to a doctor or a psychiatrist for medication if the two of you judge this to be an appropriate action.

Conversely, you could start with your primary care doctor (PCP) and ask if he or she knows any good therapists. You can also ask around to see if your friends or family know of any competent clinicians.

If you begin this help-seeking process with a psychiatrist he or she is likely to give you a prescription on your first visit. Psychiatrists generally do not engage in any form of talk therapy. You may be interested in medication but medication alone rarely effectively cures any of the issues you are struggling with. If you begin a medication regimen you will still likely need therapy so it may be more efficient to start with a therapist and then seek a psychiatrist if you and your therapist deem it appropriate. I hope this answers your question.

I wish you luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Apr 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). What Type of Mental Health Professional Should I See?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/04/28/what-type-of-mental-health-professional-should-i-see/