Counseling is still the primary treatment approach for most mental illnesses, commonly in conjunction with medications. Medications can be prescribed by any medical doctor and family physicians are often the first to prescribe for anxiety, insomnia or depression. If there are other health problems or the condition is greater than mild, a specialist and psychiatrist is the best choice for medication. Most medications used for mental health conditions are not addictive, and while they do have side effects (greater in people whose general health is impaired, such as the elderly) the risks of these side effects must be weighed against the life-destroying effects of chronic anxiety, depression or addiction. There are many professions which provide counseling, including social workers, family therapists, mental health counselors and psychologists. Each state has different terminology and licensure. In general, a psychologist with doctoral degrees have the most advanced training.
Finding a good fit
Psychotherapy is very personal and requires a great deal of comfort with the counselor. No one counselor is right for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with trying a few people to see who is best for you or your loved one. Most psychotherapists have websites now, allowing you to get a feel for personality and style before you meet.
Accessibility is important as well. Mental illnesses can worsen suddenly with stress, and the counselor should be easy to contact and see. Many therapists use email and texting, so there is not a long delay in receiving help when problems arise. Early treatment often minimizes the severity of relapses.
The important thing is to begin the process. Find a counselor who is empathetic and proactive. Spouses and partners should almost always be involved to some degree. Look for someone who will allow input and be flexible. Great treatment is available, and mental health conditions can be very well-managed in most cases. Stigma for treatment is diminishing, and rightfully so. No one should suffer unnecessarily from conditions which can be improved with treatment.
Robin L Goldstein, EdD
Past President, Palm Chapter Florida Psychological Assoc.