How to Find a Psychiatrist

Three Parts:Finding a Psychiatrist Who's Right For YouChoosing a PsychiatristAssessing Your Individual Needs

A psychiatrist (sometimes confused with a psychologist) is a medically trained physician with a specialization in psychiatry who diagnoses and treats mental disorders by prescribing medicine and using psychotherapy. [1] If you are concerned by your own behavior, feel out of control, or are changing your life patterns in ways that make you unhappy, you might benefit from talking to a psychiatrist. Finding the right psychiatrist takes time and patience, but getting the right one for you is essential for successful treatment.

Part 1
Finding a Psychiatrist Who's Right For You

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    Speak to your primary care physician about a psychiatric referral. Your main doctor will be able to assess your condition and provide an official diagnosis. It is not necessary in all situations to obtain an official diagnosis before visiting a psychiatrist, but a physician will help to identify the specific psychological obstacles you are facing and suggest potential treatments. [2] Your doctor will also have a good working knowledge of mental health specialists available in the area, and an idea of which specialists might work well for you.
    • You can also speak to other doctors in your area if you do not have a primary care physician or family doctor.
    • Ask your doctor if you should look into a certain subspecialty of psychiatry. Mental health is a complex field of care, and you might benefit from seeing a specific kind of psychiatrist. An overview of the different types of psychiatric therapy can be found here.
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    Identify family and friends who may have referrals. Close friends and family may be familiar with the psychological resources available in your area, and can help during the initial stages of finding help. Furthermore, psychological difficulties can be compounded by isolation, and thus it is important to share your thoughts and feelings with those you trust. [3]
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    Ask for a referral from a trusted member of your community. If you are not comfortable speaking with family or close friends, you can also speak with other members of your community. These may include a spiritual advisor, nurse, social worker, mental health worker and others. More generally, you can inquire about available psychological services at a local social service agency, hospital psychiatric department, or mental health association. [4]
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    Search online databases for psychiatrists. Many psychology associations, nonprofits, and community services can help you find the right psychiatrist. There are many online sources to help you find the right therapist in your area. An example that covers Canada and the United States can be found here.
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    Check with your health insurance provider to see what types of mental health specialists are available under your plan. Most health insurance plans cover mental health services, but the options vary widely. [5] Private insurers may have an 'approved list' of practitioners covered by your insurance.
    • Find the your best options. Look at the list of psychiatrists and treatment options that are both covered by your insurance and recommended by your doctor. Choose the plans that promise the most feasible treatment for your individual situation.
    • Also check any terms imposed, including authorizations, network benefits, contributions towards care if required, and contributions towards long-term medications that may not be covered.
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    Don't be deterred if you are not insured. There are several alternative, lower-cost treatment options for people without insurance who require psychiatric help. Additionally, some companies offer low-cost prescription drugs for uninsured patients, as well as payment plans to help you cover the cost of prescriptions.
    • When you call or visit a clinic, ask whether there is a sliding scale payment option for uninsured patients.
    • Inquire at a government-funded clinic whether they offer a pay-what-you-can option.
    • Call your local college/university psychiatry or psychology department and ask whether they offer low-cost or free psychiatric services. [6]

Part 2
Choosing a Psychiatrist

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    Choose a psychiatrist. Based on your physician’s assessment, diagnosis and referral, choose one or more psychiatrists whose approach and methods are most appropriate to your individual situation.
    • When choosing a psychiatrist, consider their previous client base, your own comfort level, office location, and anything that might factor into your therapy.
    • Do background research on specific psychiatrists who appear suitable. Important factors to consider are education and training, areas of specialization, and number of years in practice. Additionally, make sure to check into a potential psychiatrist's license - licensing rules and practices are diverse and can differ significantly from community to community. [7]
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    Call, email, or visit the psychiatrists you would like to meet and schedule a session. Schedule the first session for a time that feels comfortable for you. It might be tempting to cancel the appointment at the last minute, but you should not.
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    Ask questions. The first session is a time for you to see if the psychiatrist fits your needs and preferences. Asking specific questions about a psychiatrist's background and approach, as well as the nature and duration of possible therapies, is an important way to evaluate whether a therapist is right for you. Questions might include:
    • What is the psychiatrist's educational and professional experience?
    • What experience do they have in treating your specific type of psychological issue(s)?
    • What is their treatment approach to your specific issue(s)?
    • How often and for how long does the psychiatrist expect to see you?
    • Are there ways to communicate with the psychiatrist in between regular visits?
    • What is the cost of treatment, and does their practice accept your insurance? [8][9]
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    Make sure you and your psychiatrist agree on the treatment methods and goals of therapy. Mutual understanding and agreement between you and your therapist is vital for successful treatment. [10]
    • Sometimes you need more than one session to realize that a psychiatrist is not right for you. If that happens, ask your psychiatrist either to change their approach or provide you with a referral for another specialist better suited to your particular needs.

Part 3
Assessing Your Individual Needs

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    Be aware of significant changes in mood, outlook, thoughts and emotions that may be signs that you should contact a psychiatrist. Different forms of anxiety, depression and mental illness will affect different people in different ways, but there are some telltale signs to be aware of. Note: While changes in mood and emotion may indicate that you require psychiatric help, self-diagnosis can only take you so far. Symptoms typical of a specific type of mental illness can also accompany a range of psychological and physical illnesses, and thus you should always discuss your concerns with a physician. [11]
    • Disproportionate, irrational, or overwhelming fear of everyday activities and interactions may point toward one of several anxiety conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. [12]
    • Persistent feelings of unhappiness, worthlessness and guilt, irregular sleeping patterns or insomnia, loss of interest in regular activities, suicidal thoughts and other changes in thinking and behavior may be signs of depression. [13]
    • Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses may be accompanied by one or more initial symptoms, including difficulty with concentration, loss of energy and feelings of apathy, withdrawal from social circles, suspicious or paranoid thoughts, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, major mood swings, and more. [14]
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    Don't be ashamed or afraid to seek help. Overt and subtle stigmas around mental illness continue to exist, and these may deter you from searching for help. Personal feelings of inadequacy or weakness resulting from psychological difficulties may also prevent you from visiting a psychiatrist. It is important to avoid isolating yourself by speaking with a family member, close friend, spiritual adviser, or another person you trust. [15]
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    Get an assessment from your physician. Visit your primary care physician (or alternative doctor, if need be) to discuss your situation, be professionally assessed, and receive a diagnosis. You can also see a psychologist, psychiatrist, LCSW, LPC, or LMFT for a diagnosis of psychological disorders. [16]


  • Reach out for help. If you are struggling with symptoms of a mental disorder, it can be difficult to motivate and organize yourself to find the right psychiatrist. Friends and family can help you research physicians, contact your health insurance company, and transport you to the psychiatrist.
  • Prioritize your feelings, comfort, and thoughts when choosing a psychiatrist. While others’ opinions are important, ultimately you are the patient.
  • Always check for personal references and recommendations and research into all possibilities thoroughly.
  • Ask questions. Medical healthcare systems are often confusing to patients, and mental health more so. If you are confused or worried, you have the right to ask for clarification and to understand your healthcare.
  • Be patient. You cannot start and finish your road to recovery within a week, and it might take a long time to find a psychiatrist who works for you. Do not get discouraged!


  • If you are experiencing suicidal or violent thoughts, get help immediately. Do not wait for a psychiatrist, though anticipate speaking with one in the near future.
  • Always check that your psychiatrist is registered and if in doubt, consult your national register.

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Categories: Emotional Health