Tips for Selecting a Mental Health Professional

For many Americans seeking help from mental health professionals, selecting a provider is an important decision that should be made carefully. Credentials, competence and your comfort level with the provider are worth considering.

There are different types of professionals out there to help. The following are the most common for mental health care:


Have medical degrees, can prescribe medication and have completed three years of residency training (beyond medical school) in mental health care.


Have a doctorate in psychology and, generally, complete one or two years of internship before licensure.

Professional Counselors

Have a minimum of a master’s degree in a mental health discipline, and at least two years of post-graduate supervised experience.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Typically have a master’s degree or doctorate in marriage and family therapy, and at least one year of supervised practice.

Social Workers

Have a minimum of a master’s degree in social work and at least two years of post-graduate supervised experience.

Who’s the Best Fit?

Finding the right mental health professional requires a bit of work. If you are depressed or have another serious mental illness, it can be challenging to do that work on your own. If you are in this situation, ask family, friends or your primary physician for assistance. Here are some reliable ways to locate a provider:

  • Through referrals by physician, friends or family members
  • Ask your health insurance company for a list of providers
  • Check your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work for a referral

Also take into account factors that are important to you like age, race, gender, religion and cultural background. It is not wrong to rule out certain providers because they don’t meet the criteria; you will be establishing a long-term relationship with this person, and you need to feel as comfortable with him or her as possible.

9 Essential Questions to Ask

  1. What types of treatment do you provide?
  2. What is your training or experience with my problem area?
  3. How will we determine treatment goals?
  4. How will we measure my progress?
  5. What do you expect from me?
  6. What are your office hours?
  7. How do you handle emergencies?
  8. Do you charge for missed appointments?
  9. Are you in my health plan’s provider network?
3 replies
  1. Rosie Beckett
    Rosie Beckett says:

    My sister is going through some depression and she is thinking about seeing a counselor. My favorite part of this article is the list of questions you provide to ask potential mental health counselors. I will make sure to tell my sister to ask about the type of treatments counselors provide as well as their experience!

    • Jacqueline Charles
      Jacqueline Charles says:

      Seeing a counselor is a great idea; depression is hard to work through alone. We are glad you found this article helpful.


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