Finding the Right Psychologist for Counseling, Testing, or Therapy

Sometimes searching for the right service or provider can be more overwhelming than you anticipated. As a Tampa psychologist in practice for several years, I know the difficulties some clients have faced in seeking services. Have you recently tried to search for a mental health provider, like a psychologist, only to find that you are completely overwhelmed with information? Perhaps you are left wondering what to look for in terms of a provider that will suit your needs? In this post, I will offer four strategic steps to finding the right mental health provider for your needs whether you are looking for counseling, psychological testing, or medications for psychological symptoms.

1. First understand the differences in providers and services they can offer. Let’s start with an overview of the primary types of mental health providers.

  • Licensed Psychologist (or referred to as simply a Psychologist): A doctoral level provider who received a degree typically in Counseling Psychology or Clinical Psychology. There are few differences between Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology. Counseling Psychology has historically emphasized positive mental health outcomes, strengths, and vocational functioning a bit more, whereas Clinical Psychology has emphasized psychopathology and treating negative mental health symptoms a bit more. However, at present date, both specialties address similar presenting concerns.
    Within the classification of psychologist, you will also find differences in the type of specific doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). A Ph.D. indicates experience in integrating psychological science, practice, and scholarly teaching (i.e, conducting research studies while also practicing and teaching psychology) and a Psy.D. indicates experience in mostly the practice of psychology. These degrees can be different in terms of the program courses, program foundation, and acquired skills.
    All licensed psychologists can provide psychological or psychoeducational testing and evaluations, provided they are trained in that given area of testing. As a differentiator from other providers, psychologists offer psychological and psychoeducational testing with standardized psychological assessment tools. Therefore, they can provide Learning Disability testing, Gifted testing, Autism Spectrum Disorder testing, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder testing, and testing for other mental disorders supported by concrete evidence and data. Psychological/psychoeducational testing is often necessary and highly recommended in order to confirm the aforementioned diagnoses and any individual strengths a person may possess because many constructs cannot be assessed without standardized psychological measures. Psychologists can also provide psychotherapy and counseling, and they have received more years of educational training in doing so than master’s level counterparts. Licensed Psychologists cannot (in most states) prescribe medication for psychological symptoms. Keep in mind that some practitioners (e.g., postdoctoral fellows) are unlicensed. These unlicensed practitioners can practice under the supervision of a Licensed Psychologist, but they must disclose their status and supervisor from the outset. If your presenting concern is more severe or if you prefer a more seasoned practitioner, I recommend seeking a licensed professional.
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: Typically a master’s level provider (sometimes a doctoral-level provider in that area of specialty) who received a degree in an area such as mental health counseling, social work, or marriage and family therapy. The emphasis of most of these degrees is on counseling within various modalities (e.g., individual, group, family, couples) and often working within multidisciplinary systems. These providers cannot provide psychological or psychoeducational testing (unless under the supervision of a Licensed Psychologist). These providers cannot prescribe psychotropic medication.
  • Psychiatrist: A medical doctor specialized in adult or child/adolescent psychiatry. Although most psychiatrists can provide counseling or psychotherapy (if they are trained in doing so), they often offer medication management or newer psychiatric treatments, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. It is best to see a psychiatrist if you are considering medications for mental health concerns. Keep in mind that the most effective treatments for mental disorders often incorporate medication and counseling, but you can see any mental health specialist to receive treatment recommendations personalized to your needs.

2. Ask for referrals from a trusted source, such as your Primary Care Physician. Alternatively, you can search for providers online using a reputable online directory that verifies providers, such as psychologytoday.com.

3. Next, independently verify the selected providers’ credentials, training, and relevant experience.

Regardless of the type provider you decide to go with, I would highly recommend verifying the provider’s credentials on your state’s board website (e.g., for psychologists in Florida, it is the Florida Department of Health: https://appsmqa.doh.state.fl.us/MQASearchServices/HealthCareProviders

Most providers also have websites that delineate their educational background and relevant training. It is always good to check to see how the provider’s educational background and training fits within your expectations and presenting problems. I recommend ensuring a provider’s educational background comes from a reputable and respected institution because not all programs are created equally. Of course, everyone has different preferences when it comes to what this looks like. For example, some people may prefer institutions with a strong empirical research background (or what is referred to as a Research 1 Institution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_I_university).

In terms of searching for a provider with relevant experience, keep in mind that different treatment approaches can often be equally effective for a presenting concern or disorder. For example, when it comes to treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder, most established treatments (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) can be equally effective if administered accurately and personalized to your needs. There are some cases where certain treatment approaches (e.g., Exposure with Response Prevention for Specific Phobias) are superior to other approaches. A well-trained provider will know these distinctions.

Once you verify the provider’s credentials and review their education and training, I recommend requesting a phone consultation with any of the providers you are considering (note that most providers offer a complimentary yet brief phone consultation). During this consultation, I suggest you share what you are looking for in terms of what you want support with and what you are looking to gain from the services you are seeking. You do not have to go into detail but do share what has impacted you the most leading up to seeking services. As a cautionary note, I recommend you do not self-diagnose (e.g., “I have depression”) and instead just share what you are experiencing in terms of symptoms and concerns. If you are looking for support in addressing low self-worth and feeling inexplicably sad for a long period of time, share that during the consultation. You should also share what you are seeking to gain from services. For example, if you are wanting to increase your productivity at work within specific tasks although you may feel extremely sad multiple days out of the week, share that too. This consultation will allow the provider to share how her, his, or their training relates to what you want support with and what you are looking to gain. This also allows you to determine what provider truly listens and appears to be a good personality fit for you.

4. Fourth, remember the difference between what you want vs. what you need in a provider.
Although you want to work with a provider who feels like a good fit in terms of personality, remember this is not the only important variable. Other important variables include the provider giving you tools and strategies to address your presenting problems, providing honest feedback, being action-oriented, and staying on track with what you need to work on based on an agreed treatment or action plan. You are ultimately seeking services in order to further develop and that should be the primary focus. This can be assessed and discussed in the first few sessions with your provider. If you start to notice you’re going off track, you’re not begin challenged sufficiently toward attaining your goals, or you’re not exploring tools and strategies to make changes, I encourage you to share this with your provider. Together you can explore what might be missing or what you might need more of.

In sum, remember searching for the right provider may be a bit more challenging than expected, but there is hope for you to find the right fit with these four strategic steps. At Interface Consulting and Psychological Services, we are glad to offer support for those interested in psychological testing or psychoeducational testing, individual counseling, and leadership development consulting services. Message us on our site or call us at 813-421-2375 for a free consultation.
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