Reviewed by Jodi Jaspan, MS, LPC
If you or a loved one struggles with a mental health condition, you may be wondering whether you need a referral to get treatment from a clinician, typically a psychologist or psychiatrist. The answer depends on which specialist you’re trying to see.
A psychologist has a doctorate degree in the field of psychology (either a PhD or PsyD), and is trained in therapy and psychological testing. A psychiatrist earns a medical degree and can prescribe medication, as well as provide therapy. This is the main difference between the two; a psychologist cannot prescribe medication.
You typically don’t need a referral for a psychologist, but to see a psychiatrist, you will need a referral from your doctor. However, if you enter a mental health treatment program, you will likely have access to both types of professionals.
The Light Program employs psychologists and psychiatrists in our outpatient programs. Contact our admissions team at (610) 644-6464to start treatment.
How Do I See a Psychiatrist?
If you feel you need to see a psychiatrist, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider and ask them if they will provide a referral. Your doctor may not grant the request right away. Doctors will often prescribe medication first and only refer you if your condition does not improve. There are also many conditions that can be effectively managed with therapy and other holistic techniques. Your physician may recommend you try outpatient therapy first before progressing to a medication.
How to See a Psychologist
You can contact a mental health treatment center yourself and schedule an appointment with a psychologist there. The most complex part of the process is making sure the psychologist is in your insurance coverage network. When you make the initial phone call or fill out a contact form, be sure to ask about this. You can also explore the center’s website to see if they have a list of accepted insurances.
You don’t always need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for your condition. Therapists, counselors, and social workers are all trained in therapeutic techniques. There are also alternative therapies available at some mental health centers, such as art or music therapy, yoga, and meditation.
Anyone can see a therapist for a variety of reasons. Some therapists specialize in treating certain mental illnesses, but they are also available for everyday challenges and issues. You may seek their help to sort through conflicts, improve relationships, process your emotions, or reach a personal goal.
How Do You Start Treatment?
You can choose to start treatment for a mental health condition at any time by simply scheduling an appointment. Some mental health professionals own a private practice. Others work at clinics or centers, and scheduling is handled by an entire admissions department. The staff at the treatment center will schedule an intake appointment where you will be paired with a specialist who can best serve your needs.
Situations Where You Should Seek Immediate Care
If you are in crisis, you should go to your local emergency room for immediate care and a referral to a psychiatrist. A crisis situation includes suicidal thoughts or ideation; thoughts of harming yourself or others; or an episode of psychosis, which could cause delusions and auditory or visual hallucinations.
If you or a loved one experiences any of these urgent symptoms, please call 911 or a crisis line such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
It’s important to get appropriate care as soon as possible in this situation. Hospital emergency rooms have psychiatrists on-staff who can provide immediate care. Following your stay, you will likely receive a referral to an outpatient or intensive outpatient program.
Schedule an Appointment with The Light Program
The Light Program has a team of dedicated treatment professionals that includes psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed professional counselors, and therapists. We will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan, and we take a conservative approach to medication. You can learn more about our programs or find a location near you.
If you are interested in seeing a mental health professional for yourself or a loved one, contact The Light Program by calling (610) 644-6464 or filling out a contact form on our website. We will schedule an appointment at the earliest available date and time.