How to Choose a Psychiatrist

Story by Mimi Greenwood Knight

The human brain is an amazing and intricate organ responsible for our thoughts, feeling, memories, and moods. When something goes awry in these areas, you may seek the help of a psychiatrist. Gone are the days when mental health was considered embarrassing or taboo. One in four of us will be affected by mental health issues in our lifetime. And just as you’d seek the help of a cardiologist for a heart problem, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor with in-depth training and experience in diagnosing and treating issues of the brain. A good psychiatrist is one that performs to your expectations — whatever those may be.

Keep in mind, if you’re experiencing mild depression or anxiety, your primary care physician (PCP) may feel comfortable prescribing your general mental health medications. But if you’re dealing with more in-depth psychiatric disorders, it’s time to seek a psychiatrist or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP). Psychiatrists are MDs or Dos highly specialized in mental health issues and psychiatric medications. A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) doesn’t have the in-depth training or education of a psychiatrist, but there tend to be more of them available. So, they may be easier to get in to see.

The first thing you need to know in your search for a psychiatrist is there aren’t enough of them, so it may take fortitude initially to get in the door. Begin your search on a website such as or These sites allow you to search for doctors by name, specialty, and location and provide feedback on the doctors, including a background check. You can also read online reviews from patients.

As you call to make consultation appointments, your fortitude may be tested. Be prepared for voice mail, not a human being, when you call. State clearly your reason for calling. You want an appointment as a new patient. Your insurance is such-and-such. Your concern is (depression, anxiety, etc). Then spell your name and leave a single number to contact you. Know that you may have to do this more than once before anyone calls you back. They’re just that busy and that much in demand.

Once you have a consultation, bring a list of questions and a list of any past and present medications. Do you provide psychotherapy (talk therapy)? What’s your treatment philosophy? How often do you see your patients? How long are appointments? What happens if I have an emergency outside office hours? Additionally, ask other questions about your specific medications, treatments, and other points of view specific to you.

These questions aren’t about judgement but about opening a dialog on issues that matter to you and deciding whether this person is someone you can be completely open and honest with and ultimately help you. A trusting relationship is a two-way street, so treat any potential doctor with the same respect you expect to receive from them.

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