Types of Mental Health Doctors and How to Find One
Different types of mental health doctors have dedicated their careers to helping people treat mental illness, overcome mental health struggles of all kinds (Common Mental Disorders Many Face), and create a life of wellbeing and emotional health. A common concern among people experiencing mental health difficulties is finding the right doctor to provide the right kind of help. People have options because there are different types of mental health doctors.
Mental Health Doctors are Medical Doctors
A medical doctor is a professional who has attained a high level of education, built experience through residency, and become licensed to diagnose and treat illness, both physical and mental. All medical doctors have at least basic training in recognizing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness.
No matter the type of mental health doctor, it's imperative that a medical doctor possess qualities that treat a person rather than an illness. All types of mental health doctors must be
- knowledgeable about illnesses as well as human beings
- thorough and able to resist the temptation of diagnosing the first thing that comes to mind
- patient and willing to take the time and effort to correctly diagnose a mental illness as well as to match the right mental health treatment to the individual client
Types of Mental Health Doctors
"Mental health doctor" is an umbrella term that applies to any medical doctor who treats people experiencing mental health disorders (List of Mental Illnesses). Under this umbrella are specific types of doctors, including
- medical doctors
- doctors of osteopathy
- general practitioners/primary care providers (sometimes called PCPs)
- family practitioners
Psychiatrists are the medical professionals with the most comprehensive understanding of the human brain/mind. Psychopharmacologists are specialists in psychiatric medication and medication management.
General practitioners/PCPs and family practitioners can be either medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs). While both are doctors of medicine, DOs take a more holistic approach to medical treatment than do MDs, who tend to focus on specific illnesses.
Is One Type of Mental Health Doctor Best?
Each type of mental health doctor can provide help for people experiencing mental health disorders. (Questions for Your Mental Health Doctor) All can diagnose mental illness, and all can treat mental illness by prescribing mental health medications. So who is the right choice?
Many experts recommend that people begin with a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist because it is this mental health doctor who has the deepest and broadest understanding of the mind, what can go wrong, and how to fix it.
However, it's not always possible to see a psychiatrist first. Especially in rural areas, psychiatrists can be few and far between. Even in metropolitan areas, they are often in high demand and there can be weeks- or months-long waiting lists to see a psychiatrist.
Other times, people have a great rapport with their PCP and prefer to talk to him/her about mental health issues before considering other mental health doctors. What is "best" is what is right for you:
- someone with whom you're most comfortable
- you can see in a timeframe that works for you
- you can trust with your mental health
An additional factor in deciding which type of mental health doctor to see is insurance. Different insurance companies will accept different providers, which means that, unfortunately, a decision is often made by an insurance company.
Where To Find Mental Health Doctors
When someone decides to seek help for mental health, it can be overwhelming to know where to find a mental health doctor. The following suggestions are reliable places to search and find mental health help of the medical variety:
- you can start with your family doctor or by calling your county medical society for a referral
- clinics and hospitals in your community; many have directories, fact sheets, and/or brochures about local medical doctors and clinics
- local phone directories and online searches for psychiatrists or other doctors in the area
- find-a-therapist.com, a website dedicated to helping people find local mental health care, including psychiatrists and other mental health doctors
- Finder.psychiatry.org, a directory service of the American Psychiatric Association that allows people to search for psychiatrists by zip code or city
- insurance companies will tell you who is in their approved provider network
Several types of mental health doctors exist to help people identify and treat mental health disorders. Finding one that's right for you will go a long way in mental health recovery.
Last Updated: 20 May 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD