So, you know that you want to start taking your mental health more seriously. First of all, take a moment to feel proud of yourself. It's not easy to seek help, especially for something as stigmatized as mental illness, but by even reading this article you're already taking a step towards healing and health. Let's begin by getting a better understanding of kinds of mental health professionals.
The Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist
As Psychology Today states, "Although psychologists and psychiatrists work together to treat the patient's underlying mental health, they each have different educational backgrounds, training, and scope of practice, and play a unique integral role in the treatment of mental illnesses."
A psychiatrist is a doctor who has completed medical school like any other MD, meaning they have the ability to prescribe medication. Typically, a psychiatrist completes medical school and then participates in a four-year long residency "to learn about the diagnosis and treatment modalities for each psychological condition, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After completing their psychiatric residency, which includes extensive psychotherapy training including cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, they can choose to further their training through a sub-specialization in a fellowship," according to Psychology Today.
Instead of earning a medical doctorate, a psychologist goes to graduate school to earn a doctoral degree such as a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) Psychologists are also trained to diagnose mental illness, but unlike psychiatrists, they cannot prescribe medication in most states. Because of this, they often work with a psychiatrist to care for a patient holistically. They are, however, experts in administering various forms of therapy.
Define Your Needs
Your first step should be to consider your needs. What are your symptoms? Are you looking for diagnosis? Therapy? Psychoactive medication? Medication management? If you are just looking for someone to process feelings and events with, a therapist (psychologist) might be the best option for you, and they will inform you if they think you should also seek out the additional care of a psychiatrist to administer medication.
But if the possibility of psychoactive medication is something you'd like to explore, you may want to start by finding a psychiatrist to supervise your mental health treatment. If you have been diagnosed before, you may want to seek out a specialist for your particular affliction. For example, if your issue is with your ability to pay attention for a sustained amount of time, you may want to seek out a specialist in attention deficit disorders. If you want to see a psychiatrist about unpredictable changes in your moods, you may want to find someone who specializes in mood disorders. If you aren't sure what exactly you're looking for, and you just know that your mental health isn't where you want it to be but you aren't sure why, then that's okay, too. Of course, it's important not to diagnose yourself before even seeing a doctor, and any psychiatrist will be able to assist you in figuring out what exactly it is you need to address.
Finding a Good Fit
You should check in with your insurance company to see if psychiatric care is covered by your policy. If you have insurance, you definitely want to seek out a mental health care provider who takes your insurance. If you go to your insurance company's website, there's likely a "find doctor" feature that allows you to enter your location, the speciality of the doctor you're looking for, and other specifications. It's also a great idea to ask around. One of the best things about social media is the way it makes it easy to crowdsource information from local friends. Odds are, you have at least one friend or acquaintance who had a great experience with a psychiatrist and would be willing to send you their information. Or you could ask your primary care doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist they think might fit your needs.
Don't Be Afraid to Look Around
There are lots of reasons why a psychiatrist and a patient may not be a great fit for each other, and you don't have to feel bad about deciding a doctor isn't for you. To check if a psychiatrist is a good fit, it's important to be extremely honest in your entry interview and to ask lots of questions. What kind of disorders do they usually treat? How do they feel about a specific kind of medication you're interested in? What kind of experience do they have? Are they willing to work with you and a therapist? Even if everything seems great on the surface, it's okay to try another psychiatrist just because you didn't feel comfortable with the first doctor you tried. It's important that you trust your psychiatrist, so don't be afraid to look around until you find one you believe in.