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Mental Health

Finding the Proper Health Treatment Professionals

11/30/2006

Question:

I`m having some depression/stress issues in my life and I was wondering what the best way is to find a good psychologist/psychiatrist. Also what is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist and which one is recommended for these issues?

Answer:

To answer your last question first:

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who has been to medical school and completed at least a three year residency in psychiatry. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications, and are especially skilled at taking care of patients who are hospitalized and who suffer from severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disease.

A psychologist usually has a PhD in psychology and cannot prescribe medication. It usually takes 2 to 7 more years of graduate school after college to become a psychologist. Psychologists are especially skilled in assessing various kinds of thinking and learning problems, and provide counseling and therapy.

Two other groups of professionals who provide mental health care are non-psychologist counselors/therapists and primary care doctors. Many counselors have training in social work and are LCSWs (licensed clinical social workers) or have degrees in counseling. Most have a masters degree from college, and many also have a PhD. Like psychologists, they do not prescribe medications, but do provide counseling and education.

Primary care doctors (family doctors, internists and pediatricians) are also trained in mental health and take care of many patients with depression. They are skilled in diagnosing mental illness and can prescribe medication. They often work with counselors in treating patients. Primary care doctors will consult with psychiatrists for very sick or complicated patients.

Finding a "good" psychiatrist or psychologists first involves you knowing what you want. Do you want counseling? Do you think you might need medication? Do you think this might be just for a little while, or for several years? As you answer those questions, look to your primary care doctor for both assistance with a diagnosis and referrals to counselors and psychiatrists.

In addition, your health insurance company may have a list of mental health professionals that they will pay for. Asking friends, co-workers, ministers or church officials and other health care workers is also a good way to get recommendations. Then meet with the mental health professional for at least 2 or 3 times before deciding if the relationship is working. Not all counselors are right for all patients, and you need to find one that works for you.

Good Luck.

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati