It\u2019s not uncommon to need mental health treatment at some point in life.\u00a0 Perhaps you\u2019ve experienced a trauma, been feeling unusually sad or anxious, or are experiencing marital problems.\u00a0 Maybe you\u2019re battling an addiction that you can\u2019t seem to kick or feel completely overwhelmed and stressed out.\u00a0 Or maybe, your future feels so bleak that you\u2019ve started to wonder if life is worth living at all. Regardless of the specific reason, you know you need to get some help.\u00a0 Perhaps your physician, pastor, or someone else who cares about your well-being has suggested it\u2019s time. You may worry that seeing a \u201cshrink\u201d would be a sign of weakness \u2013 or even worse \u2013 an indicator that you\u2019re certifiably \u201ccrazy\u201d.\u00a0 And heaven forbid anyone else know that you are thinking about getting or already receiving \u201cprofessional help\u201d! Not to mention, the mere thought of navigating the maze of alphabet soup that seems to come with the mental health territory \u2013 PhD, MD, PsyD, MA, LPC, LCSW, etc. \u2013 can be a bit daunting in and of itself!\u00a0 \u201cAren\u2019t they all pretty much the same?\u201d you may be wondering.\u00a0 (If so, you\u2019re not alone.) So, where do you start?\r\nTypes of Treatment Providers\r\nIt\u2019s helpful to have a brief understanding of the different types of providers before choosing one.\u00a0 While your PCP can diagnose a mental health condition and write a prescription, it\u2019s important to remember that mental health is not his or her area of expertise.\u00a0 \u00a0That\u2019s why it\u2019s generally not a good idea to rely upon your PCP for your mental health care. Your PCP can, however, give you a referral and help point you in the right direction.\r\nPsychiatrists\r\nPsychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who have specialized training in the treatment of mental health conditions.\u00a0 Many specialize in treating specific populations (e.g. children or elderly individuals), or even specific disorders (e.g. OCD or addictions).\u00a0 Psychiatrists can prescribe medication and may also provide psychotherapy.\u00a0 Of all the various mental health providers, psychiatrists are often the most expensive per visit.\r\nPsychologists\r\nPsychologists hold a doctorate degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D.) from a postgraduate training program and specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders and issues.\u00a0 They provide psychotherapy and may also offer psychological testing.\u00a0\u00a0 As a general rule, they don\u2019t prescribe medication (two states do allow psychologists to prescribe with additional training).\r\nClinical Social Workers\r\nThese individuals are social workers who specialize in providing mental health services. Most have a master\u2019s degree, but some do go on to obtain their doctorate in social work as well.\r\nLicensed Professional Counselors (L.P.C)\r\nThese individuals typically have a master\u2019s degree (M.A. or M.S.) from a graduate program in counseling, psychology, or marriage and family therapy.\r\nPsychiatric Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP-BC)\r\nThese nurses have at least a master\u2019s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing.\u00a0 They can diagnoses and treat mental health disorders, and, depending on the state in which they practice, may also prescribe medication. It should be noted that training and licensing requirements vary for mental health professionals from one state to the next.\u00a0 Credentials also vary depending on the state, which can make it even more confusing. Each of the mental health professionals listed above can be found in a variety of settings, including private practice, inpatient psychiatric settings, hospital ERs, and drug and alcohol rehab programs.\r\nMaster\u2019s versus Doctorate Degree\r\nWhen looking for a mental health professional, you may want to consider the difference in training between someone with a master\u2019s degree only, and someone with a doctorate degree.\u00a0 With the exception of medical doctors, all other mental health professionals (in most states) are required to complete their master\u2019s degree as a prerequisite to entering a doctoral level training program.\u00a0 This is important to understand because it means those with doctorates have more years of specialized training.\u00a0\u00a0 So, for example, clinical psychologists have both a master\u2019s degree and a doctorate degree. Most master\u2019s programs are two years of graduate level schooling.\u00a0 Most doctorate programs require two additional years of school, plus a one year internship.\u00a0 Psychologists and medical doctors are required to do a post-doctoral residency (a period of supervised clinical experience in the field) after they finish their doctorate degree. This is not to say that a mental health professional with a doctorate degree is automatically superior to someone with only a master\u2019s degree.\u00a0 Rather, it\u2019s to point out that the level of training between the two is not insignificant and is something you may want to seriously consider when choosing a treatment provider.\r\nSpecialized versus General\r\nJust like some physicians, dentists, and other health care professionals are very generalized in their practice while others are highly specialized, the same is true with mental health professionals.\u00a0 Some don\u2019t specialize while others do. So, how important is this? It depends. As a general rule of thumb, it\u2019s better to see someone specializes in treating your particular disorder (or category of disorder) or your age group (or other demographic) if possible, especially for particularly complex or less common disorders. For example, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a very complex psychiatric disorder that can be particularly difficult to treat effectively.\u00a0 A mental health professional who has very little experience treating OCD may end up doing more harm than good.\u00a0\u00a0 Another example would be choosing a mental health professional who specializes in treating your particular age group (i.e. child, adolescent, adult, or geriatric), or even your particular sexual orientation (e.g. a therapist who specializes in treating lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender adults).\u00a0 The clinician who is specialized is going to have a much greater understanding of the unique aspects and treatment challenges that are part of your particular disorder, age group, and so on. While working with a specialist is preferred, keep in mind that it\u2019s not always possible.\u00a0 If you live in a small town or rural area, you\u2019re likely going to have a difficult time finding someone who is specialized.\u00a0 That doesn\u2019t mean you should just forget treatment altogether.\u00a0 It also doesn\u2019t mean you should be too quick to dismiss the person you do see, and assume he or she isn\u2019t qualified or competent.\u00a0 Working with a specialist is just a recommendation \u2013 if it\u2019s possible to do so.\r\nLicensed versus Unlicensed\r\nEven the best clinicians started out unlicensed.\u00a0 Licensure doesn\u2019t automatically mean someone is going to be truly competent or the best fit for you, and lack of a license doesn\u2019t mean someone is incompetent or won\u2019t be able to help you.\u00a0 Working with an intern, psychology resident, or any other non-licensed mental health professional doesn\u2019t mean you won\u2019t get very good care.\u00a0 Just be sure that he or she is working under appropriate supervision. If your financial resources are limited, an intern or resident will often provide treatment at a lower fee than someone who is licensed.\u00a0 This can be an advantage also, in that it may enable you to stay in therapy for a longer period of time. (This is not to imply that a license to practice isn\u2019t important, but to remind you that a lot of people who are very good at what they do haven\u2019t yet gotten licensed for one reason or another.\u00a0 As long as they are under appropriate supervision, don\u2019t be too quick to rule them out.)\r\nResources\r\nUnfortunately, mental health treatment almost always costs money.\u00a0 And it can be very expensive.\u00a0 Psychologists and other types of therapists typically charge anywhere from $75 an hour to $150 an hour.\u00a0 Psychiatrists\u2019 fees may range from $125 to $200 or more per hour.\u00a0 This depends on many different factors, including location, level of specialization, and whether or not they are just starting a practice and seeking new clients or well-established with a waiting list. When choosing a mental health provider, you need to make a thoughtful decision in terms of how much price will dictate who you choose.\u00a0 The more expensive, more specialized, more experienced clinician may be able to diagnose you more quickly (and accurately), and get you on the right path in terms of the most effective treatment regimen much more readily than a less experienced or less specialized colleague. If you have health insurance, always check with your insurance company before selecting a provider.\u00a0 Some providers may not be covered at all, or you may be required from a list of \u201cpreferred providers\u201d.\u00a0 It\u2019s also important to know up front the extent of coverage (e.g. how many therapy sessions) and limits of the benefits you can receive.\r\nWhere to Start\r\nIt can be a bit daunting to start searching for a mental health professional.\u00a0 It\u2019s important that you choose carefully, and find the best fit for you.\u00a0 Don\u2019t hesitate to do some research and talk to several different people.\u00a0 The more informed you are, the better decision you can make.\u00a0 The last\u00a0 thing you want to do is jump into treatment with someone only to end up feeling you\u2019ve wasted your time and money after several sessions. In addition to your insurance company (if they have a provider list) and your PCP (who can offer some referrals), talk to people you know such as your close friends, relatives, or someone at your church. Do some research online.\u00a0 Many mental health professionals have their own website.\u00a0 If you are struggling with PTSD, for example, you might do an online search for \u201cPTSD therapist [your city]\u201d, \u201cPTSD psychologist [your city]\u201d, or \u201cPTSD treatment [your city]\u201d.\u00a0 If you don\u2019t know your diagnosis, you can leave that part out and just search \u201cpsychologist [your city]\u201d, and so on.\u00a0 A website will give you both a feel for the particular provider (including his or her treatment approach, training, any specialty areas, and philosophy), and information regarding basics like office hours and fees. The yellow pages are another good place to look for a provider if you don\u2019t feel comfortable searching online. Once you\u2019ve narrowed your search, don\u2019t hesitate to make some phone calls.\u00a0 Ask questions about the person\u2019s treatment approach and experience.\u00a0 Talking to the prospective mental health provider on the phone will also give you some idea of whether or not you will feel comfortable with the person. When you find someone you feel good about, set up an appointment.\u00a0 Keep in mind that your treatment is for YOU, not the therapist.\u00a0 If you truly feel it\u2019s not a good fit, and just isn\u2019t working, it\u2019s OKAY to stop therapy and look for another provider.\u00a0 Of course, remember that therapy is often uncomfortable at times, because it\u2019s like open up an infected wound and gradually cleaning it out.\u00a0 So, you owe it to yourself to be open-minded, but also to find a different provider if necessary. Mental health treatment is an investment in yourself and in your future.\u00a0 Do your due diligence when looking for a mental health professional, and you\u2019ll have a greater chance at finding someone who\u2019s the right fit for you from the beginning.