8 Tips for Choosing a Psychiatrist

  • Man looking away
    A Personal Decision
    Making the decision to ask for help with your feelings, relationships or behaviors can be difficult. But seeking help from a psychiatrist may be one of your first and most important steps toward overcoming your struggles. As a medical doctor, the role of a psychiatrist in mental health is mainly in diagnosing conditions and prescribing medication or other treatments to help manage your symptoms, such as sleep problems, anxiety, or psychosis. Some psychiatrists counsel patients as well, or perform certain psychiatric procedures, including psychotherapy. They also can make recommendations and referrals to psychologists and counselors. If psychiatry is not familiar to you, it can be hard to find a provider you feel comfortable with. What qualifications should they have? Here are some important factors to help you find a psychiatrist who is right for you.

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    1. Get Referrals
    Start with a referral list of potential psychiatrists from your primary care doctor, healthcare clinic, or insurance company. You can add to this list by asking family, friends, and other healthcare providers for recommendations. Take the time to research the doctors’ credentials and experience on Healthgrades.com or another reputable website. Psychiatrists are MDs or DOs. You'll discover there are many different types of psychiatric practices and clinical subspecialties. Some may work only at residential facilities or hospitals, while some may work at regular medical practices alongside other providers or in private practice. As you narrow down your list, call each psychiatrist’s office to make a consult appointment to meet and interview the doctor.

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    2. Research the Psychiatrist’s Credentials
    Board certification is one of the most important factors to consider when you are choosing a psychiatrist. It tells you that the doctor has the necessary training, skills and experience to provide healthcare in psychiatry. If you are researching doctors for your child, look for a doctor who is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry. For an aging parent? Look for a doctor who has experience treating this age group, a subspecialty known as geriatric psychiatry. Also confirm that the psychiatrist has no history of malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. You can find the psychiatrist’s medical school, training hospital, certifications, and malpractice and disciplinary history on Healthgrades.com and state websites. Your insurance company also may have some of this information.

  • Woman suffering from migraine talking with doctor
    3. Consider the Psychiatrist’s Experience
    When you’re facing mental health issues, experience matters. The more experience a psychiatrist has with a condition or procedure, the better your results are likely to be. Ask how many patients with your specific condition the psychiatrist has treated. If you need a specific procedure, such as biofeedback, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or electroconvulsive therapy, ask how many of the procedures the doctor has performed (or ordered) and find out about complication rates—complications the doctor has encountered as well as your own risk of complications.

  • Young woman visiting with female doctor
    4. Consider Gender
    It’s important to feel comfortable with your psychiatrist’s gender because you will need to openly discuss personal information. When it comes to mental health, your own gender is also an important consideration. Psychiatrists are becoming more skilled in caring for women and men differently and in helping transgender or nonbinary individuals. Ask the psychiatrist about his or her recent training and experience specifically related to your condition and your gender identity.

  • African American male doctor typing on laptop at desk in office
    5. Ask About Telehealth Capabilities
    Healthcare providers can diagnose and treat some patients using telecommunications technology, including two-way video, smartphones, and email; it's called telehealth. Ask if the doctor offers telehealth capabilities. Telehealth doesn’t replace hands-on in-person office visits, but for many patients, it means fewer trips to the doctor’s office. Some conditions can be managed by sending symptoms and vital signs you collect at home and having a “virtual visit” with your provider. Telehealth can also be used for routine follow-ups and minor complaints too, making it a convenient option. Check to make sure your health insurance will pay for telehealth services.

  • Doctor handing paper to female patient
    6. Evaluate Communication Style
    Choose a psychiatrist with whom you are comfortable talking and who supports your information needs. When you first meet the psychiatrist, ask a question and notice how he or she responds. Does he or she welcome your questions and answer them in ways that you can understand? Trust your instincts. Therapy can take months or years and you will need to build a relationship of mutual trust. Find a psychiatrist who shows an interest in getting to know you, who will consider your treatment preferences, and who will respect your decision-making process.

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    7. Read Patient Reviews
    Reading what other people have to say about a doctor can provide insight into how a doctor practices medicine, as well as how his or her medical practice is operated. Patient reviews typically reflect people's experience with scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment, and office staff friendliness. You can learn how well patients trust the doctor, how much time he or she spends with their patients, and how well he or she answers questions. Keep in mind that psychiatrists typically have fewer patient satisfaction survey results compared to a primary care physician, for example, so try not to base your choice solely on patient ratings and reviews. 

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    8. Know What Your Insurance Covers
    Your insurance coverage is a practical matter. To receive the most insurance benefits and pay the least out-of-pocket for your care, you may need to choose a psychiatrist who participates in your plan. You should still consider credentials, experience, patient reviews, outcomes, and hospital quality as you select a psychiatrist from your plan. During your research independently of your insurance network, you may come across psychiatrists in private practice who do not accept insurance at all. These doctors are not only out-of-network and the appointment costs can be quite high, but it also means you are responsible for submitting an insurance claim if you choose to. Unfortunately, patients sometimes have to make sacrifices to get an appointment and receive the care they need. If you are struggling with care or paying for that care, contact your state's mental health services and ask about additional resources available to you.

8 Tips for Choosing a Psychiatrist

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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