Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/8/2021
So you’ve decided to get help, and right now you’re in the process of finding yourself a psychiatrist for your mental health concerns.
We have one word for you: congratulations.
Deciding to get help is, for most people, the single-hardest part of the mental healthcare process.
After all, it’s the last part of the journey you’ll do without support and guidance, and it’s true that for many people, the scariest part of getting help is asking for it the first time.
Now that you’re onto the next challenge, though, the big question is: where do you go to find that help?
Countless resources and internet advertisements these days are competing for the business of your mental health expenditures, and everyone with a light therapy product or a fidget spinner wants your attention.
The best solution, as you might already suspect, isn’t any gadgets—it’s a professional who can support you on your journey.
Finding the right one isn’t hard, but it may take a few tries to find the right person for you.
It’s helpful before you start scheduling appointments to understand what you need from a psychiatrist.
Before your insurance company starts issuing copays, defining what you need and who you need it from is important.
Mental illness isn’t a one-size-fits-all sort of specialization, so unlike your ear nose and throat doctor, there’s more to how you pick them than whether they know where your ears, nose and throat are.
Mental health services and psychiatrists in private practice are available all over the world, but psychiatric care may differ based on your condition.
Psychiatry is a medical field focused on emotional, mental and behavioral disorders. From panic attacks to hallucinations, thoughts of suicide or “voices” in your head, you may have a very different set of reasons to reach out to a psychiatrist than the next person.
Psychiatrists deal with depression and anxiety symptoms — as well as other issues that affect happiness.
Because psychiatrists are medical physicians, they’re capable of prescribing medications as a means of treatment in addition to other treatment options like therapy.
They may use psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to assist you in your treatment, and they may treat you a few times a month or multiple times a week depending on the needs of your condition.
Typically, therapy will be goal-oriented, with the “goal” being that you leave their care eventually with a sense of control and optimism, and a series of healthy coping mechanisms in your utility belt.
That utility belt may also have a prescription or two — stimulants for ADHD, antidepressants, sedatives, mood stabilizers and other medications may help you cope with the symptoms of depression, panic disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or even insomnia.
Identifying what problems you’re seeking help with is one of the most crucial steps in this process, because once you have words to describe what you want help with — ”I’m sad all the time,” “I have no motivation,” “I can’t focus at work” — a psychiatrist will have a better idea of how to guide you through treatment.
That said, there are practical questions to consider, as well.
One of the first questions you’ll want to ask is in regards to insurance. Because healthcare can sometimes be so expensive (even mental healthcare), it’s important to make sure that you understand the costs of working with your therapist of choice and any subsequent psychiatric help they may recommend.
That may be easier in some states than others — check your healthcare coverage plan and local laws for more information.
Moreover, there may be a limit to how many sessions you can have covered by your insurance, so it’s best to review your plan for guidance.
If you’re seeking long-term treatment, you may need different coverage than what you currently are able to get covered.
Furthermore, you’ll want to make sure that the psychiatrist you’re considering has the appropriate experience and training for what you’re seeking treatment for.
In other words, if you’re grieving over the loss of a loved one, you won’t want to go to someone whose career has been spent working with anxiety (unless you’re dealing with that, as well).
Once you’ve scheduled a first meeting, you’ll be able to ask more detailed questions—what sort of therapy your potential psychiatrist recommends, how often they recommend sessions and how much it will cost — before and after insurance. Out of pocket costs may be significant with the wrong coverage plan.
Other obvious concerns, like their location relative to where you live or work and their availability for additional sessions if needed are all going to be based on your perceived need.
You’ll want to make a list of questions based on your concerns (schedule flexibility, treatment modalities, etc.) before you attend that first consultation.
So where do you go to get help getting help? There are many databases and listings available online and elsewhere to help a first-time patient find the right therapist for their needs.
Two websites in particular are simple and effective: the American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool is here.
Likewise, the National Institute of Mental Health has a database and a series of resources available here to help you find the care you need.
You might be best served, however, in going the referral route. A referral from a primary care physician or other medical doctor that you feel comfortable with may lead you to a more ideal arrangement.
Your regular healthcare provider may have a better understanding of your needs and who you are, and their network of contacts may be the best option for finding recommended, well-respected, local options for mental health support.
You can also contact your health insurance provider directly to learn about your plan, as well as ask for a reference list of in-network providers near you.
If you’re concerned about the financial aspect of finding the right care, they’ll know more than anyone.
Whether you go with their recommendation or not, it’s typically a good place to start, if only to learn more about what you do and don’t want from a long-term support professional for your mental health.
Finding a mental health provider is no easy task, and once you factor in the complicated nature of health insurance plants, there are many ways where the search for help can necessitate help of its own.
Mental health issues can be draining, and we get that a lack of guidance can be its own hurdle to treatment plans.
To keep things simple, here’s some advice. Start with the family doctor. If you don’t have access to one, the community clinic or various local community agencies might be able to direct you to the right people.
A mental healthcare professional with the correct specialized training for your particular psychiatric conditions is just a call away, and your health insurance will cover at least some of it.
If you’re unsure where to start, read our mental health resources guide.