Doctors Who Treat Mental Illness

Choosing the right doctor and/or therapist for your mental health needs may seem like a daunting task. But, finding the right doctor is an important step towards getting proper treatment. A number of different types of doctors can treat mental illness, including the following:

  • Primary care doctors: In many cases, your primary care doctor may diagnose and treat your mental illness. When necessary, the primary care doctor will refer you to a specialist.
  • Holistic and alternative medicine doctors (such as naturopathic doctors or NDs: These doctors are specialists in complementary and alternative medicines, holistic medicine, nutritional medicine, and herbal medicine treatments. They may be able to prescribe standard medications but often choose different approaches that may combine natural medicines with mental health therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). After these doctors determine appropriate wellness plans or treatments, they may recommend other mental health therapists such as life coaches, psychologists, or other kinds of psychotherapists.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists are usually doctoral-degree professionals (PhD or PsyD) trained to provide professional counseling on psychological and emotional issues. They can specialize in areas such as marital counseling, relaxation therapy, stress management, or sex therapy. Psychologists do not have medical training and therefore are not allowed to prescribe medications except in certain states where they have been given prescribing privileges by the state legislature.
  • Psychoanalysts: Psychoanalysts follow Sigmund Freud's theories and other more modern theories that posit painful childhood memories contained in the unconscious are the cause of emotional disturbances. Psychoanalysts can be psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers by training. They deal with emotional issues through talk therapy and sometimes may also recommend medications, either prescribed by the therapist (if the therapist is a psychiatrist) or by another physician. Psychoanalytic therapy relies on the principle of transference, that is, a pattern of both conscious and unconscious feelings and thoughts about the analyst that reflect similar feelings and thoughts about other important figures in the patient's life (for example, parents). The goal of the treatment is to make the unconscious conscious so that the patient can begin to recognize maladaptive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are no longer relevant to their current life circumstances. While psychotherapy is usually performed on a weekly to monthly schedule, psychoanalytic sessions may be conducted several times a week long term. Psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy is usually most appropriate for people who are struggling with problems around life satisfaction, relationships, and conflicts in pursuing personal or professional goals.
  • Psychiatrists: These professionals are medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications and may conduct therapy sessions or collaborate with non medical therapists to treat the patient.


The following are some suggestions to help you find the right doctor for you:

  • Talk to trusted friends, family, or clergy about professionals they may have seen or know.
  • Ask another health care provider for a recommendation.
  • Ask your health insurance company for a provider list.
  • Use a referral service from a national professional organization for therapists or doctors.
  • Call a local or national medical society or mental health organization.
  • Look in the phone book under categories including social service organizations and counselors.
  • Use Internet or web-based information sites to find mental health professionals who specialize in treating problems similar to those that you may be experiencing.

Prior to scheduling your first appointment, think about the things you would like to know about your potential new doctor and/or therapist. Questions you may want to ask about include:

  • His or her education, licensure, and years in practice
  • Fees, lengths of sessions, insurance coverage, policies around missed appointments, and office hours
  • His or her availability in case of an emergency
  • His or her treatment approach and philosophy
  • His or her specialization by age group or particular disorder



WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 07, 2017
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