Choosing the right doctor and/or therapist for your mental health needs might seem like a daunting task. Determining the appropriate type of doctor for your specific needs is a very important step toward getting the right treatment. Following are some suggestions for beginning your search:

  • Talk to trusted friends, family, or clergy about professionals they might have seen.
  • Ask another health care provider for a recommendation.
  • Ask your health insurance company for a provider list.
  • Use a referral service from a national professional organization for therapists or doctors.
  • Call a local or national medical society or mental health organization.
  • Look in the phone book under categories including social service organizations and counselors.

Prior to scheduling your first appointment, think about the things you would like to know about your potential new doctor and/or therapist. Finding the right mental health professional is important to effective treatment. Things you might want to ask about include:

  • His or her education, licensure, and years in practice
  • Fees, lengths of sessions, insurance coverage, and office hours
  • His or her treatment approach and philosophy
  • His or her specialization by age group or particular disorder

Some of the health care professionals who might help address your mental health needs include:

Primary care doctors—In many cases, the primary care doctor is the first contact for health care. Primary care doctors can be family practitioners, general practitioners, or pediatricians. These doctors can prescribe medicines and treat most general medical disorders. When necessary, a primary care doctor will refer patients to a specialist.

Holistic and alternative medicine doctors—These doctors are specialists in complementary and alternative medicines, holistic medicine, nutritional medicine, and herbal medicine treatments. These doctors might be able to prescribe standard medicines but often choose different approaches that might combine natural medicines with mental health therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). After these doctors determine appropriate wellness plans or treatments, they might refer patients to mental health therapists such as life coaches, psychologists, or psychoanalysts.

Psychologists—Psychologists are trained to provide professional counseling on psychological and emotional issues. They can specialize in areas such as marital counseling, relaxation therapy, stress management, or sex therapy. Psychologists are not allowed to prescribe medicines.

Psychoanalysts—Psychoanalysts follow Sigmund Freud's theories that painful childhood memories contained in the subconscious are the cause of emotional disturbances. Psychoanalysts are similar to psychologists because they usually deal with emotional issues and might—but generally do not— prescribe medicine

Psychoanalytic therapy relies on the principle of transference, that is a pattern of both conscious and unconscious feelings and thoughts about the analyst that reflect similar feelings and thoughts about other important figures in the patient’s life (such as parents). The goal of the treatment is to make the unconscious conscious so that the patient can begin to recognize maladaptive patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are no longer relevant to their current life circumstances. While psychotherapy is usually performed on a weekly to monthly schedule, psychoanalytic sessions are conducted four to five times a week.

Psychiatrists—These professionals specialize in the treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. A psychiatrist can prescribe medicines and might establish therapy sessions to treat the patient.


The Joint Commission. How to Choose a Quality Behavioral Health Care Provider Accessed 3/27/2013

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/4/2013…#12267