Choosing the Mental Health Professional That Is Right for You...
How do you know what kind of mental health professional is right for you? When you are looking for help, the last thing you need is to feel confused about those that are there to help! The first thing to remember is that you are building a relationship with this individual. You will be sharing vulnerable information, so just like dating, keep trying until you find one that you really feel comfortable with.
A counselor may carry a title such as Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a Professional Counselor (LPC), or a Pastoral Counselor (LPC). The "L" in front means they are licensed to practice in your state, so if you are planning to pay privately be sure to make sure they are licensed to practice or are at least under supervision. All of these therapist do similar work in that they will listen to you, do talk therapy, and help you figure out if you need additional help. Expect each one to have their own style, and specialty or have a certification that lets them focus in that treatment style (i.e. play therapy for children, PTSD treatment, sex therapy). They have the ability to diagnose (important for billing with your carrier) and refer to a psychologist or psychiatrist if necessary.
A Psychologist usually has a doctorate degree (Ph.D) and is trained to do talk therapy, research, and administer assessments. For example, if you believe you may have Bipolar Disorder and want someone who can assess that for sure, a psychologist can do that with testing and some may do the talk therapy with you as well.
A Psychiatrist has been to medical school and specialized in mental health and medication management. If your counselor or psychologist recommends on-going or temporary medicine to alleviate symptoms, they (or your doctor) may need to refer you to a psychiatrist. He or she will not have time or possibly the training to do talk therapy, so they may recommend that you continue working with your therapist on how you feel. Your therapist can work along side your psychiatrist to make sure your medication is working properly. Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, you will not have as hard of a time working with your carrier for coverage.
Now, if you are trying to go through your insurance, you may need to get a referral from your primary care doctor. Check your insurance carrier to be sure. Some carriers will offer to pay between 8-12 sessions before you will need another referral. A lot of mental health professionals have moved away from working with insurance carriers due to the complexity or billing as well as carriers demanding a diagnosis for approval for more sessions. This is still a great way to go as you can sometimes get a receipt of payment and forward that to your carrier for possible partial reimbursement (just make sure your therapist is licensed).