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How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, Treated

How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, TreatedSometimes you just need to know the basics. For instance, if you think something is wrong with your mind, your emotional life, and you want to get help for it, where do you even begin?

With today’s knowledge, the steps toward getting a valid mental disorder diagnosis and treatment are fairly simple. Unless otherwise required by your health insurance plan, you should generally start with a mental health professional — either a psychologist or psychiatrist. These are the specialists of mental health, and usually have the greatest knowledge and depth of experience to be able to diagnose you and setup a treatment plan with you that will be most effective.

If you haven’t seen your primary care physician or family doctor in some time, it never hurts to also see them at the same time — to rule out any possible physical causes of your symptoms. This is especially true if you have a health condition or family history of certain health problems (because sometimes physical maladies can mimic mental disorder symptoms).

The most important thing to understand about mental health treatment is that it often takes two specialists, working in conjunction with one another, to be most effective in helping you. Most serious mental illness is treated with both psychotherapy and medication, including concerns such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Study after study has demonstrated that this is the most effective treatment regimen — to help you get better, faster.

So if your mental health professional recommends one without the other, please, ask questions:

  • Why aren’t you recommending psychotherapy? Why aren’t you recommending medication?
  • How much direct experience have you had in the treatment of this condition?
  • Is there anything else I can do to help me in this process?

Here is the basic outline of good treatment for a mental illness or mental health condition:

Mental illness diagnosis and treatment

Now, this is just a general, basic, and simplified outline of treatment and some first steps — it is not meant to apply to every person and every situation. Many people’s situations will be unique and require a different approach, perhaps with additional treatment providers or different types of treatment.

But for most people and most kinds of mental disorders, this is the basic workflow for getting a reliable mental health diagnosis and getting started on a treatment path. Keep in mind, too, that many commonly-prescribed psychiatric medications take 6 to 8 weeks before you’ll feel their effects, and that psychotherapy changes generally take 6 months to a year of weekly therapy sessions for most common concerns.

Good luck with your diagnosis and treatment!

How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, Treated

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, Treated. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Mar 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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