Psychologist taking notes on a clipboard while talking to a female patient on a couch

How to Find the Right Mental Health Provider for You

Deciding to seek help for a mental health issue or substance use disorder is a major step forward on the road to recovery. There are several thousand professionals in the state of Michigan working in the behavioral health field that want to help.

But not every mental health issue deserves the same approach: people experiencing depression and anxiety may benefit from a different approach than those struggling with substance use disorder or a severe, chronic mental illness.

Licensed master social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants all help people with their mental health and substance use disorders. All can provide or refer to psychotherapy. But there are key differences to understand about the professions.

Medical providers

Out of all the types of mental health professionals, psychiatrists are the only ones with training as medical providers and have completed medical school. This means they can investigate any underlying physical conditions that are contributing to symptoms.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, neuromodulation and other physiologic interventions. In combination with therapy services, psychiatrists are the best provider to help you address severe, chronic mental illnesses – like major depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Non-medical providers

Non-medical providers include licensed master social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists and psychologists. They all can diagnose and treat but are not able to prescribe medications. These professionals may work alongside a psychiatrist or other medical provider who is licensed to prescribe medication, but cannot direct them to prescribe any medication.

The largest difference between non-medical providers is their education and training. Licensed master social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists and psychologists can all provide assessment, diagnosis and therapy.

Finding the right approach 

Primary care providers may be able to help start your mental health journey, as they are able to prescribe medications for many concerns including depression, anxiety, sleep issues and other similar conditions and interventions, and refer you to psychotherapy. But if that medication does not work, it may be time to switch to a mental health professional to determine the right combination of medication and therapy for you.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find a mental health professional. On the back of every BCBSM and BCN insurance card is a phone number for mental health and substance use help. That number leads to a live person that will help connect members with the right in-network professional that is closest to them.

When vetting mental health professionals, find out what kind of therapeutic interventions they use. There are different approaches to psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, humanistic therapy and integrative therapy. Ask the professional to explain how they practice in lay terms to see if it’s the right fit.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Battling mental illness or a substance use concern is difficult to do alone. Professionals are available to provide treatment and support, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is here to help you find them.  If you have further questions or need assistance, please call the mental health number on the back of your insurance card for help from a qualified mental health professional.

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Photo credit: YakobchukOlena

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