As this is an initial article for this venue I struggle deciding the subject to address and what is important to the readers. My struggle is similar to those my new clients share with me when they initiated their search for mental health care. Their dilemma, like mine, is “Where do I begin?” and “What is important to share?” and is similar to anyone search for help in the maze of mental health care. “Am I normal or am I really crazy?” and “who and where do I turn to for help?”

A search for mental health professional starts with a maze of many options. WHO to talk to or contact for help? Some may say, “I’ll speak with my pastor, or the pastoral counselor at church.” Someone else contact their family doctor with the belief, “there must be a medication to make me feel better” or they may consider alternative or herbal remedies. While others may refuse to even consider medication, they would rather “talk it out.” What is the BEST way to find help for your mental health problem? Do I need a specialist? What is the difference between a Psychiatrist, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker, Professional Counselor, and Marriage and Family Therapist? They all are possible professionals to help with mental health problems! How do you find a “qualified mental health professional” that has experience with your particular mental health or life problem? Who is the right one? The answer: it depends. It depends on the problem, if you know what the problem is or not, and how it affects you and your life. It depends on what things you have done to handle the problem, and personal choice.

You may decide to consult with your primary care physician, family doctor or pediatrician for a referral. As the use of the internet increases many counselors have an online presence. The internet search engine, “Google” has listing for the search with key words like Lexington Kentucky and Counselor has 2.1 million “hits.” From there you can narrow down to your part of town.

I have found that many clients seek out services through “word of mouth.” It may feel weird asking people at work. However, if someone has a positive experience with a mental health professional, they often share the information with co-workers or friends.

When medication is desired, the only one who can prescribe is a medical doctor or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Family physicians and primary care physicians prescribe more often than any other medical specialty. If your doctor does not feel comfortable prescribing, they may ask you to consider talking to a specialist. A psychiatrist who is Board certified is ideal. A psychiatric nurse practitioner may also provide medication management and often they may offer therapy too. However, Psychiatrists do not usually do counseling/therapy and may refer you to another qualified mental health professional, either within their group practice or know a professional with whom they feel comfortable collaborating on your treatment.

If you do not want medication, there are many options for therapy or counseling. You may need an assessment or psychological testing to determine if it is a serious psychological problem. A clinical psychologist does a variety of psychological testing while some assessments and evaluations for some psychological problems can be done by other mental health professionals. However, special testing for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), many learning disorders like dyslexia, psychological or neuropsychological problems like the memory problems resulting from stroke require special testing, especially when work or schools require making reasonable accommodations.

If you are fairly aware of the problem, or need help sorting through unusual life problems you may decide to seek counseling or therapy from any one of the various qualified mental health professionals. A licensed mental health professional includes: Professional Clinical Counselors, Clinical Social Worker, psychologists, advanced nurse practitioners, or marriage and family therapists. They are licensed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and they meet various qualifications in their education, experience, and they have the minimal amount of skills to perform the job of helping you and/or your family. Therapists/counselors specialize in various areas, like children/adolescents or adults, substance abuse, marriage and family, play therapy, life coaching or grief counseling. Some professionals focus on a particular specialty like autism, personality disorder, or trauma.

I like to think of finding a counselor/ therapist is like buying a car! You have to find one that fits your needs. They must be affordable, a good fit for your schedule and within a reasonable distance for your convenience. You want to feel comfortable because you will share personal information and want to know you can trust them. Ideally, they will understand if it is not a good fit just as you must be willing to accept if they feel they are not a good fit for you.

The important questions to ask mental health professionals are:
Do you have special credentials in this area?
What is your experience in working with this problem?
What is your success rate in helping with someone with this problem?
How long do you expect the treatment to last?

Finally, consider yourself knowledgeable about yourself and your problems. We often have the answer and only need someone to guide us toward optimal health.

Author's Bio: 

Janet Vessels is a mental health practitioner and a licensed professional clinical counselor. As the owner of the Center Child and Family Counseling, PLLC, she has practiced professional counseling for over fifteen years with children, adolescents and families. Her practice specialties are play therapy and a variety of trauma therapies including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).