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Schizophrenia: Choosing a Doctor and Therapist

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 09, 2021

Types of Mental Health Specialists

Choosing the right doctor or therapist to treat schizophrenia and other mental health issues makes a big difference. How do you find those professionals?

A number of professionals can help you manage mental illnesses, including the following:

Psychiatrists

These doctors diagnose and specialize in the treatment of schizophrenia and other mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. They can prescribe medications and do “talk therapy.”

Psychologists

They can’t prescribe medicine in most states. Psychiatrists and psychologists often work hand-in-hand and treat many of the same conditions.

Psychologists can also give someone tests to see how well they’re able to handle normal daily life.

You may want to look for a psychologist who does cognitive rehabilitation, remediation, or enhancement. This type of therapy teaches them how to communicate their own needs and show that they understand the needs of others.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs)

These professionals are trained to provide professional counseling for psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues. They can specialize in areas such as marital and family counseling, relaxation therapy, stress management, and sex therapy.

Because LCSWs and LPCs are not medical doctors, they can’t prescribe medications.

Psychoanalysts

These psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals have advanced training in psychoanalysis, which is a particular form of psychotherapy. But psychoanalysis isn’t considered an appropriate treatment for schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis. So this isn’t the type of specialist that your loved one needs.

Family Therapists

Family therapy can help family members of people with schizophrenia process their own feelings and better care for their loved one. It might include education about schizophrenia as well as stress reduction and problem-solving strategies. You can get family therapy from a psychologist, therapist, or clinical social worker.

Primary Care Doctors

In many cases, your regular doctor may diagnose your illness or refer you to a specialist.

Peer Counselors

Peer counselors are people who have gone through mental health issues and use their own experiences to help others. They don't actually treat schizophrenia. But they're trained to share coping strategies and give support.

Case Managers

A psychiatric nurse, social worker, or occupational therapist might serve as your case manager. They help plan your care and work to make sure you get the services you need. They may also help you handle crisis situations.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists are trained to help you hold a job, attend school, and otherwise function in your day-to-day life. They might teach you how to better deal with your symptoms or show you how to establish a healthy daily routine.

Holistic and Alternative MedicinePractitioners

They specialize in complementary and alternative medicines, holistic medicine, nutritional medicine, and herbal medicine treatments. Some may be able to prescribe medications but often choose different approaches that may combine natural medicines with mental health therapies.

First, they’ll consider what you need. Then, they may recommend other mental health therapists such as life coaches, psychologists, or psychoanalysts.

Remember, no complementary or alternative treatment can take the place of your medications. Check with your primary doctor or psychiatrist before you try one of these treatments.

The Team Approach

Because schizophrenia can affect so many areas of your life, it's best to have a coordinated team of professionals to help you and your family.

This approach can reduce symptoms, help you keep working or attending school, and improve your quality of life. If you've had schizophrenia for a while, it may help keep you out of the hospital.

How to Find the Right Mental Health Professional

To get referrals, you could ask:

You can also:

  • Use a referral service from a national professional organization for therapists or doctors.
  • Call a local or national medical society or mental health organization.

Before you schedule your first appointment, make a list of questions so you get the information you want, such as their:

  • Experience in working with people who have schizophrenia
  • Education, licenses, and years in practice
  • Fees, lengths of sessions, insurance coverage, and office hours
  • Availability in case of an emergency
  • Treatment approach and philosophy
  • Specialization by age group or condition
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCE:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Mental Health Professionals: Who They Are and How to Find One," "NAMI Peer-to-Peer."

The American Journal of Medicine: "Schizophrenia for Primary Care Providers: How to Contribute to the Care of a Vulnerable Patient Population."

Psychiatry: "Community Service Models for Schizophrenia."

Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment: "The role of family therapy in the management of schizophrenia: challenges and solutions."

Mayo Clinic: "Family therapy."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Occupational Therapy for Mental Health."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Schizophrenia."

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