Finding a Mental Health Professional

The most important step in treating a mental health condition sometimes feels like a challenging one: finding a mental health professional. A trustworthy and knowledgeable mental health professional will be a valuable ally. It may take a little time and persistence to locate this ally or assemble a team of allies. Many times it is hard to know where to start. The plan below can help you to get started and find a provider with whom you feel comfortable.

where to start
Step 1: Think About What You Are Looking For

People have many different reasons to consult a mental health professional. Are you looking for someone who is licensed to prescribe medication? Or are you looking primarily for someone to talk to?

Here are some things to think about:

  • If you haven’t already, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. They may also be able to recommend or help you connect with a mental health provider in your area.
    • If you and your provider have determined that seeing a mental health professional is the next step, ask them if they have any recommendations, or know someone who accepts your insurance. This sheet on Choosing a Therapist is also a good place to begin your search.
  • If you have a mental health condition that may benefit from medication, you should consult a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, rather than solely relying on a primary care doctor.
  • If you’re seeking help with emotions, behaviors and thinking patterns, you should locate a therapist or counselor.
  • If you have to wait for an appointment, you can start using other support resources in the meantime. Peer support groups, such as those sponsored by NAMI, are available for free. Your local mental health authority may also be able to connect you with licensed peer specialists in your state.

Step 2: Make The Call

Sometimes, especially for former athletes where there was a stigma associated with reaching out for help, it can be hard to make that phone call. If you are comfortable, use your support system to either help you make the call to set up the appointment, or even go with you that first time. If it’s your first time seeking help, tell the person on the phone so that they can block out enough time for a good conversation.

If you’re told that new patients have to wait many months for an appointment, it would be a good idea to make an appointment anyway. Then call the second and third numbers on your list. You can always cancel your first appointment if you find someone who can help you sooner. Another way to get an appointment sooner is to join the waiting list for cancellations. You can ask if they have a waitlist for cancellations and ask them to let you know if a cancellation occurs.

If you feel you can’t wait weeks or months for help, see your primary care doctor as soon as possible to get treatments and support to help you manage until you have your team assembled. If you’re in an emergency situation, call 911 or go immediately to a hospital emergency room.

Step 3: Ask Questions

In your first visit it’s reasonable to ask questions. Be honest about the fact that you’re looking for someone you can work with long-term. During the first session the provider will ask a lot of questions to get to know you better. Feel free to ask them any questions you might have at this time. Here are some questions you might want to think about or ask:

  • Do you feel comfortable with this person? Even if this person has a good reputation or a high level of education, the most important thing is whether you can work well together. While the personal questions that a mental health professional asks may make you uncomfortable at times, the person shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. You should feel that this person is on your side.
  • How much education and professional experience does this person have?
  • Has this person worked with people similar to me? Have they worked with former athletes? For how long?
  • How will you work together to establish goals and evaluate your progress?
  • How often will you meet and how hard will it be to get an appointment? What is the therapists policy on calling or emailing between appointments?
  • If you’re concerned about your ability to meet insurance co-pays or deductibles, bring it up now rather than later. Ask if you can pay on a sliding scale or at a discount. Doctors and therapists would like to know ahead of time because it’s important to continue treatment without interruption.

Step 4: Build A Relationship

Sometimes the first person you visit might not “feel right” or lack experience with your particular mental health condition. It may take one or two to find that person you connect with. This is normal. If this should happen then look back at the list of potential providers you created and call the next number on the list.

Remember that you’re recruiting your support team who can help you with your treatment goals long-term. With a little persistence, you’ll find people who will listen to you, take your perspective into consideration and work with you to improve your sense of well-being. In order to get the most out of your appointments, use this worksheet to prepare for your appointment.


Many types of mental health care professionals can help you achieve your recovery goals. Healthcare professional job titles and specialties can vary by state. The descriptions below give an overview of what to look for and what credentials to expect from a mental health professional. Finding the right professional is easier when you understand the different areas of expertise and training.

Prescribe and Monitor Medication

The following professionals are able to prescribe medication. They may also provide assessments, diagnoses and therapy.

  • Primary Care Providers can prescribe medication but it may be wise to consider a visit to someone who specializes in mental health care. Primary care and mental health professionals should work together to determine the best treatment plan for each person. Shortages of healthcare professionals are not uncommon in many parts of the country. As a result, more primary care providers are being trained and equipped to provide mental health care.
  • Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors with medical and psychiatric training. They can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe and monitor medications. Some Psychiatrists are also able to offer counseling and provide therapy.
  • In some states physician assistants or nurse practitioners are also qualified to prescribe medication.

Therapy and Assessment

A therapist can help you better understand and cope with your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They provide guidance and help improve the ability to reach recovery goals. These mental health professionals may also help assess and diagnose mental illness.

  • Clinical psychologists with a doctoral degree in psychology are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy. Some may have training in specific forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, along with other behavioral therapy interventions.
  • Psychiatric or mental health nurses may have various degrees ranging from a registered nurse with an associate’s degree to a nurse with a doctorate degree as a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Depending on their education and licensing they provide a range of services including assessment and treatment of mental health conditions, case management and therapy.
  • Licensed clinical social workers have a master’s and/or doctorate degree in social work and are trained to diagnose, assess and address various mental health concerns, provide individual and group therapy, and coordinate care via case management and advocacy. Different states have different titles for their licensed clinical social workers, so it may be a good idea to look up the different credentials within your state.


Working with a counselor can lead to better ways of thinking and living. Counselors assist with developing life skills and improving relationships.

  • Counselors are trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. Counselors may focus on different areas: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Mental Health Counselor, Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LCADAC), Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT).
  • Pastoral counselors are clergy members with training in clinical pastoral education. They are trained to provide counseling.
  • Peer specialists have lived experience with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. They have often received training and certification and are prepared to assist with recovery by developing strengths and setting goals.
  • Social workers (B.A. or B.S.) provide case management, inpatient discharge planning services, placement services and other services to support healthy living.

Resources for Finding Providers

There are many online resources available to utilize when creating your support team. These resources are not regulated by Athletes Connected and when seeking a mental health provider we encourage you to research and select a licensed professional that is the best fit for you.

  • You can get referrals from your family doctor, clergy or utilize the NAMI HelpLine to identify local support groups, providers, treatment options, and local crisis centers.
  • Your insurance company can provide a list of providers who are in your plan. Sometimes, your health insurance company will cover only certain types of providers, so check how your plan works by calling your insurer’s information number or visiting their website.
  • Eligible veterans can get care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1-877-222-8387).
  • You can find affordable mental health services through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Visit SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator or call 1-877-726-4727.
  • Your local health department’s mental health division or community mental health center provides free or low-cost treatment and services on a sliding scale. These services are state funded and are obligated to first serve individuals who meet “priority population criteria” as defined by the state mental health department.
  • Your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) can issue a referral to a provider. Reach out to your Human Resources office to get more information about your company’s EAP.
  • Providers who accept Medicaid may be listed by your state Medicaid office, which you can find by using the map.
  • You can use Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory to search for mental health professionals in your area who accept your insurance.
  • You can use the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatrist Finder to search for psychiatrists in your area who accept your insurance.
Additional Resources