PTSD Fact Sheet: Finding a Therapist

National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs
PTSD Fact Sheet: Finding a Therapist

Finding a Therapist

When selecting a therapist there are several things to consider. A professional who works well with one individual may not be a good choice for another person.

Issues to consider when choosing a therapist:

  • How to find a therapist (with online and other resources)
  • Specific help for veterans
  • How to find a support group

Who is available to provide therapy?

There are many different types of professionals qualified to provide trauma focused therapy, including psychiatrists, doctoral-level clinicians, masters level clinicians, clinical social workers, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and marriage and family therapists. Below we describe some of the most common of these professionals.

Clinical Psychologists

According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists are professionals who specialize in psychotherapy and other forms of psychological treatment are highly trained professionals with expertise in the areas of human behavior, mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and behavior change. Psychologists apply scientifically validated procedures to help people change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between an individual and a psychotherapist.

Clinical Psychologists have doctoral degrees (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D.) from graduate programs that specialize in the study of clinical, research, and educational psychology. In addition to their graduation study, clinical psychologists must have another 1 to 2 years of supervised clinical experience to be eligible for licensure. Licensure is granted after passing an examination given by the American Board of Professional Psychology. Although psychologists are doctors, they cannot prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Workers

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the primary purpose of social work is to enhance human well-being. Social workers help meet the basic human needs of all people and empower those who are vulnerable, oppressed, or living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession's dual focus on the individual in a social context and the betterment of society. Social workers help people identify and manage the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Certified social workers have a master's degree or doctoral degree in social work (MSW, DSW, or Ph.D.). To be licensed, clinical social workers must pass an exam given by the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW).

Masters Level Clinicians

Masters Level Clinicians have a master's degree in counseling or psychology (MA). Graduate training for the master's level requires at least 2 years of schooling beyond the 4 year college degree. To be licensed, masters level clinicians must pass an exam as well as other qualifications that vary by state.

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists attend medical school and have a medical degree (MD). As with other medical specialties, psychiatrists participate in a 3- to 4-year residency training in psychiatry after they complete 4 years of medical school. Child psychiatrists must complete at least 1 year of concentrated clinical experience with children. Board certified psychiatrists have also passed a written and oral examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Psychiatrists, like medical doctors, can prescribe medications. Some also provide psychotherapy.

Choosing a therapist

Selecting a therapist is a highly personal matter. A professional who works very well with one individual may not be a good choice for another person. There are several ways to get referrals to qualified therapists such as licensed psychologists.

There are a many things to consider in choosing a therapist. Some of these issues are practical such as location, cost, and what insurance the therapist accepts. Some are more professional such as the therapist's background and training. Still others are more personal such the interpersonal style of the therapist. There are some questions that you can ask before you select a therapist that may help in finding a good fit. Other issues, such as a therapist's style you wont know until you begin therapy.

Some people choose to meet with a few therapists at the beginning before determining who to work with. Most however try and get a referral to someone known in their area and then proceed with that person unless a problem occurs. Either way, here is a list of questions you may want to ask a potential therapist.

  1. What is your educational background? Are you licensed? How many years have you been practicing?
  2. What are your areas of expertise?
  3. What experience do you have working with people with trauma and or PTSD? Do you have any specialized training in PTSD treatment?
  4. What kinds of PTSD treatments do you use? Have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?
  5. What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45- minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have a sliding-scale fee policy? How much therapy would you recommend?
  6. What types of insurance do you accept? Will you accept direct billing to or payment from my insurance company? Are you affiliated with any managed care organizations? Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid insurance?

How do I find a therapist?

Listed below are some ways to locate a therapist (at the bottom of the list are resources specific to veterans). When you call, tell whomever you speak to that you are trying to find a mental-health provider who specializes in helping people who have been through traumatic events. Check this website regularly for updated information on how to get help. We will be listing more ways to get help as they become available.

There are many ways to find a therapist. A good place to start is to ask friends and family members if they know anyone who they would recommend. However, even if they know someone they liked, this therapist might not have expertise in trauma treatment.

Another way to locate a therapist is to make some phone calls.

  • Contact your local mental-health agency or family physician.
  • Call your local state psychological association
  • Consult a local university or college department of psychology
  • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime's toll-free information and referral service at 1-800-FYI-CALL. This is a comprehensive database of thousands of community service agencies throughout the country that directly support victims of crime.
  • If you work for a large company or organization, call the human resources or personnel office to find out if they provide mental-health services or make referrals.
  • If you are a member of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), call to find out if mental-health services are available.

Some local mental-health services are listed in the phone book in the blue Government pages. In the "County Government Offices" section for the county where you live, look for a "Health Services (Dept. of)" or "Department of Health Services" section. In that section, look for listings under "Mental Health." In the yellow pages, services and mental-health professionals are listed under "counseling," "psychologists," "social workers," "psychotherapists," "social and human services," or "mental health." Health insurance may pay for mental-health services and some are available at low cost according to your ability to pay.

There is also a lot of information that can be found on-line (on the computer). In many cases you can access a list of services or therapists in your area. In some cases areas of expertise are provided. Listed below are links and descriptions of some of these sites.

The Center for Mental Health Services Locator http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/databases/

Provides you with comprehensive information about mental health services and resources and is useful for professionals, consumers and their families, and the public. This site also provides a Frequently Asked Questions about mental health.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America offers a referral network.

The Association for Advancement of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT, formerly AABT) is a professional organization that maintains a database of CBT therapists.

Sidran offers a referral list of professional therapists, as well as a fact sheet on how to choose a therapist for PTSD and dissociative disorders.

If you are an American Veteran

VA medical centers and Vet Centers provide veterans with mental-health services that health insurance will cover or that costs little or nothing, according to a veteran's ability to pay. Following deployment to a combat zone after discharge, if you have enrolled for VA services, you are qualified for two years of care for conditions potentially related to your service.

VA medical centers and Vet Centers are listed in the phone book in the blue Government pages. Under "United States Government Offices," look in the section for "Veterans Affairs, Dept of." In that section look for VA Medical Centers and Clinics listed under "Medical Care" and for "Vet Centers - Counseling and Guidance," and call the one nearest to where you live. Or, you can call:

  • The VA Health Benefits Service Center toll free at 1-877-222-VETS
  • The Vet Centers' national number 1-800-905-4675

For online help go to www.va.gov and look for the VHA Facilities Locator link under "Health Care." The VA also offers the MyHealtheVet and Seamless Transition websites. For extensive resources see our Online Resources section for Veterans.

How can I find a support group?

The National Center for PTSD does not provide PTSD support groups, although many local VA medical centers may have various types of groups. Listed below is information on how to find support groups online or in your area.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America offers a self-help group network.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has a website with information on advocacy for those with mental illness, including affiliates who provide family support groups in different states.

About.com's trauma resource page offers a comprehensive listing of information, resources, links, and support groups (see Forums) on a wide array of topics related to trauma, particularly incest and child abuse.

Posted on BrainLine July 25, 2008

From the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs. www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

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