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As more Americans become aware of and in tune with their mental health, the need for finding mental health professionals also increases. Whether you’re looking for routine therapy sessions or want to explore a more complex health concern, the key to a successful and productive engagement is finding the right provider. Here are three considerations when you begin your quest to seek the right mental health professional for you.

1. Shop Around and Take Your Time

Much like you would begin your search for a new physician, approach your quest for a mental health professional with the mindset that it’s ok to shop around before making a decision. Call a few different offices and inquire if they are accepting new patients. Consider writing down a few key questions to ask, too, including those that verify each professional’s specialty care niche.

The Virtual Therapy Movement

Even before the pandemic, the virtual therapy movement was already taking hold. Maybe you’ve seen the commercials for platforms like Talk Space, with gold medal Olympic champion Michael Phelps as the spokesperson. There are others, including Dr. Phil’s Doctor On Demand, a platform that connects individuals with panels of doctors and professionals digitally. The New York Times recommended other virtual mental health services like AmWell, Teladoc, and MDLive, as well. These are all perfectly acceptable options if the professionals within these platforms meet your needs. The virtual engagement simply makes them more accessible and convenient, especially if you’re in a region that doesn’t have in-person access to mental health professionals.

The Qualities of a Great Mental Health Professional

Everyone’s different. What makes you comfortable during a sensitive conversation might be different from what puts someone else at ease. You’ll, of course, want someone who you feel is a good listener with robust knowledge of mental health. But you may also want someone who is friendly. For some, a more direct and stern approach to mental health is best. Whatever demeanor you need from a professional, do your best to find a good fit.

Questions to Ask Before Deciding

Ask each potential provider if there is an opportunity to have a ten or 15-minute consultation to see if you feel comfortable before committing. Inquire about the professional’s credentials and specialties. For example, some are more suited for marriage and family therapy, while others specialize in disorders. Know what you need from your ideal therapy experience and make sure to only move forward with those who are qualified to help.

2. Know What Kind of Mental Health Professional You Need

Having a life coach or therapist who can help guide you in daily life is one thing. Needing a mental health professional who can help you manage medications is an entirely different service. Before choosing a provider, it’s best to know which types of credentials will be best suited for your mental health needs.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists

There are key differences between psychologists and psychiatrists that may sway your decision. Psychologists tend to be the most commonly understood as these professionals usually work in private offices, schools, and hospitals. They specialize in the science behind behaviors, including emotions and thoughts. They usually hold Ph.D. degrees and do not prescribe medication. Psychiatry is different in that these professionals diagnose, treat, and prevent mental health disorders using lab tests, physicals, and medications when necessary. These professionals can be an M.D. or D.O.

Psychoanalysts and Psychotherapist

If your search has you exploring psychoanalysts, know that this field is not credentialed by state or federal law, meaning anyone can claim to be a psychoanalyst. Their practices generally follow the repressed memories, unconscious impulses, and anxieties. And they tend to follow the traditions of Sigmund Freud. Psychotherapy is usually a general term for a broad range of mental health professionals. Psychotherapy is more about “talking about your problems,” although there are many schools of thought that also explore behaviors and cognitive behavioral therapies.

Mental Health Counselors

Your search might have you exploring various mental health counselors, which is a term used to describe a variety of licensed or professional practitioners within several key fields. Inquire specifically for each about their experience, education, and fortes. These mental health professionals can generally be helpful in dealing with marriage problems, job-related stress, substance abuse, and family issues.

3. Explore Your Health Insurance Coverage

One of the more critical steps in your search for a mental health professional involves verifying your health insurance coverages. You’ll want to make sure you identify someone who falls into any in-network provider categories. Understanding your current health insurance plan will help you explore any out-of-pocket costs that apply to mental health services.

Referrals Are Great Places to Start

Performing a few online searches might provide a dizzying number of mental health professionals in your area. And no one really wants to spend countless hours calling all 120 listings. To trim up that list, ask your current healthcare providers for referrals within your network. Your family physician or general practitioner might be able to point you to a specific group of mental health professionals or list a few colleagues.

Employer-Sponsored Group Plans Vary

If your health insurance plan is through your employer, you’ll need to check with your Human Resources coordinator to verify coverage options for mental health and wellness. Behavioral health services are not mandated for all types of companies and plans. You can also look to verify coverage in your description of plan benefits.

Marketplace Insurance Plans

If you have health insurance through the ACA Marketplace, you will have provisions, regardless of your plan type, that cover mental health services. Mental health services, along with substance abuse and disorder-related services, are considered as essential health benefits. To learn more about what your ACA health insurance plan covers, you can contact your insurer directly for a better understanding of your benefits.

Consider these three steps as part of your search for the best mental health professional for you. And for any ACA Marketplace questions about insurance, essential health benefits, and enrollment, contact W3LL!


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