You’re a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pro. You know when to call your rheumatologist, physical therapist, or your PCP. But when do you call for mental health support?
Making the decision to reach out to a mental health professional, and following through with contacting someone, is a big step. We had more questions than answers when it came to the topic of mental health. So, we asked an expert!
Jennifer Shrier, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains when and why to seek professional help — and, perhaps more importantly, HOW to find the right clinician for you!
Jennifer Shrier LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, with a private practice in NJ and NY. She received her Masters at NYU’s Shirley Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, and her Bachelors of Science at Cornell University. She treats adults, and young adults, addressing a variety of issues including chronic illness, relationship conflicts, depression, anxiety, pregnancy, postpartum, self esteem, divorce, job loss, identity exploration, trauma, grief, and loss.
1. When might someone choose to see a mental health professional?
Jennifer: Mental health issues are more common than we realize, and receiving the help of a professional can be the first step towards addressing our emotional well being and feeling better. Those living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or another chronic illness are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Anxiety is essentially, a fear. If we become aware of a challenge or any doubt we have, we can address it. Believing in ourselves, and our strength, to face anything, can eliminate the fear.
Strength and self-confidence can be the most important elements of a positive self esteem and the endurance to handle the persistent symptoms of a chronic illness. It becomes easier to build our strength and confidence in ourselves with support from others, and spending time around others who believe in us, and our capabilities. Recognizing that we are not alone, and receiving help from others, can make a difference. We must utilize the support system we have, and even recruit one, if we identify the need.
In addition to feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety, it may be useful to speak with a mental health professional when:
- experiencing decreased self-confidence
- suffering a loss or trauma
- struggling with difficult life situations or changes
- experiencing relationship conflicts and/or communication difficulties
- attempting to overcome substance abuse or addiction
These are some broad categories. In general, it can be beneficial to visit a mental health provider when seeking to feel calmer and to gain clarity and understanding about yourself and life circumstances.
2. What does a mental health provider do to assist?
Jennifer: When seeking a mental health professional, feeling comfortable with the treatment provider, is one of the most important aspects of selecting someone. Because the goal is to share symptoms, experiences, concerns, thoughts, feelings, and fears that may exist, it is significant that the client feel secure and safe with the provider. The strength of the clinical relationship can be one of the most important parts of mental health treatment.
The type of treatment varies in mental health, just like a medical illness, based on the symptoms and needs of the patient. Mental health providers may help by:
- identifying problems
- providing assessments (including psychosocial assessments, identification of stressors, and assessment of functioning)
- performing psychological testing
- prescribing medication
- providing psychoeducation
- setting goals
- outlining a plan for treatment
- making referrals (for housing, hospitalization, additional treatment, programs, and more)
3. There are many types of mental health professionals. Who should I see?
Jennifer: Mental health providers vary by background training and provide different functions according to the type of degree and license they have.
A psychiatrist (a practitioner with a medical degree in psychiatry, MD or DO) has the ability to prescribe medication and can continue to provide medication management for the treatment of mental health conditions. Psychiatrists may also provide mental health counseling. Though medication may be needed for the treatment of certain symptoms or conditions, it is not used to treat all mental health issues.
A psychologist (a practitioner with a PhD or a PsyD degree) can perform psychological testing, which evaluates a person’s behavior, personality, and capabilities in the effort to determine the need and plan for treatment. Psychologists may also provide mental health counseling or psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is the study of the unconscious mind.
A social worker (a practitioner with an MSW, and an LMSW or LCSW) can conduct a psychosocial assessment to assess a person’s emotional and mental health. This type of evaluation assesses the person’s role within their family and community, and draws from a person’s background, social relationships with others, and influence from one’s environment. Social workers also provide mental health counseling.
Editor’s Note: Some types of people who may claim to offer mental health support, such as life coaches, may not have any licensure or have completed any verified curriculum. While these people may offer some benefit, they are not subject to the rules, standards of care, and liabilities of licensed professionals. For these reasons, working with licensed professionals is considerably safer. You wouldn’t turn to a person without the appropriate credentials to perform surgery — is it worth the risk with your mental health?
4. Okay I’m in. But how do I go about finding a mental health professional that works for me?
Jennifer: There are various ways to select a mental health provider. The internet allows us the opportunity to search for a mental health practitioner with great convenience. Psychology Today lists mental health practitioners by zip code and specialty, and further describes providers by profile advertisements. Psychology Today also verifies the background and state licensure of all providers before listing them on the website. Many mental health practitioners also have their own websites, identifying their capabilities, background training, specialties, and treatment modalities
When seeking the help of a mental health practitioner, it can be helpful to speak to a primary care physician, or a guidance counselor at a school. They often have names of providers for mental health services, to whom they refer patients and students. Colleges often have counseling centers that provide mental health treatment, or a contact that can refer students off campus for services.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization set up to provide resources for those seeking mental health education and treatment. Their website provides information about various mental health conditions, and options for support services. NAMI has a help line committed to assisting those in crisis, as well as a suicide prevention line.
It is important to realize that you are not alone. Receiving support and addressing concerns comes easier without stigma. We don’t have to struggle if we get support.
Editor’s Note: Mental health services may be covered by your insurance. The benefits page of your insurance should help you identify practitioners that are covered. Some licensed professionals may not accept insurance. Mental health professionals are used to hearing questions about payments and insurance. If you have questions about coverage, pricing, or concerns over the affordability of the care, bring it up as soon as possible with the mental health professional. They may be aware of solutions that can help make mental health care a viable option.