Questions to Ask When Choosing a Mental Health Care
Provider and Doctor
Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
Choosing a mental health provider or therapist is
different from choosing a physician for treatment of physical ailments. When
people look for a doctor, especially for treatment of a specific condition, one most often seeks a
physician who has excellent credentials and experience in the necessary field.
The personality characteristics of the doctor and his/her communication style,
while not unimportant, generally play a secondary role in the choice.
Unlike most physician visits, mental health care can
involve many hours of one-on-one communication with your therapist and perhaps
an ongoing relationship over time. Therefore, choosing a mental health care
provider involves a frank assessment of the therapist's personal and interaction
style and how these match with your own personality and needs, in addition to an
evaluation of the provider's clinical competence and reputation.
Before you begin selecting a therapist, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a preference for one particular kind of
training or educational background? Mental health care providers come from a
number of different educational backgrounds and may be psychiatrists,
psychologists, social workers, advanced practice nurses or clinical nurse
they may have another kind of background or training. Only therapists with
certain educational backgrounds and licenses are legally allowed to
prescribe medications. Is it important to you that the counselor be legally
authorized to prescribe drug treatment if necessary?
- Would you like to find a therapist who specializes in one particular
condition or type of problem?
- What kind of person are you most capable of talking
to about your personal situation? Do you have a preference for a male or
or is this not relevant for your choice?
- How much time are you willing and/or able to commit to therapy?
- What kinds of therapy does your insurance cover? Does
your insurance cover therapy only by certain types of therapists (e.g.,
medical doctors)? Must you choose a therapist from an approved provider list?
Does your HMO require a referral to a therapist from your primary physician? If not all
costs are covered, can you afford to pay the difference between covered
costs and actual fees?