Practicing good mental health means choosing what you spend time thinking about, filling your mind with positive things, and learning that happiness is a choice. Spending time in God’s Word and prayer can provide comfort and wisdom in both good times and bad. But each of us can sometimes experience problems that overwhelm our own ability to maintain clear positive thinking. That’s when finding a good mental health professional can be priceless.

If you’ve tried to get better on your own and nothing is improving, or if you feel unable to help yourself, it’s time to get serious about finding help. Connecting with a professional can seem overwhelming; there are so many choices. Here are some ways to make a choice that is right for you and your circumstances.

What Type of Professional Should You Go To?

There are several professions that provide special training and experience in helping people with mental health challenges. Some of them are:

  • Licensed marriage and family therapist: best skilled in addressing problems in relationships and families.
  • Professional counselor (may have one of several degrees): best skilled in helping individuals find constructive ways to cope with life challenges or address problems stemming from their past.
  • Addiction counselor: best skilled in helping those struggling with addiction find a pathway to living free.
  • Social worker: best skilled in helping individuals address the social and environmental issues affecting their mental health. Some provide excellent personal counseling.
  • Psychologist: best skilled in diagnosing abnormalities in mental processes. Some are skilled in helping individuals develop healthier thinking patterns and providing ongoing therapeutic support.
  • Psychiatrist: medical doctors best skilled in diagnosing and treating brain disorders, including providing and managing medication when needed.
  • Pastor: best skilled in providing spiritual support. Pastors differ greatly in their training and skills in the counseling area. Some pastors provide valuable insight and faith-based support in mental health areas.

Considering what kind of help you think you need most can help you know where to look first. Search for a professional from this list who has the skills and training to address the problem you are faced with.

What Do I Look For In A Professional?

Before connecting with a mental health professional, think carefully about what you want help with. Write down some specific questions you want answers to. Here are some you might consider:

  • What problem are you struggling with?
  • How would you like your life to be better?
  • Do you have a preference for a man or a woman professional?
  • Do you desire a professional who can support and understand your faith?

It’s best to connect with a professional who has interest and experience in helping people with problems similar to yours. If you have marriage problems, a marriage and family therapist or a pastor with experience in that area may be an excellent choice. If you struggle with serious anxiety or depression a psychologist or psychiatrist may be most helpful.

If you’re not sure what kind of help you need, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a professional who seems appealing to you. Consider asking your friends, coworkers, or medical doctor for a recommendation. Do an internet search. Some mental health professionals will provide an initial consultation at no cost to help you decide whether or not they’re the one you wish to continue working with.

Ask lots of questions either on the phone when you schedule your first appointment, or at your initial visit. Many people need to check out two, three, or more professionals before they feel comfortable making a commitment to an ongoing therapeutic relationship with a specific individual.

Be as clear as you can about the extent of what you see as your challenges right from the start. Ask your potential counselor, pastor, or psychologist specifically what kind of help they may be able to provide. What do they see as a likely outcome of working together? Have they worked with others who have similar problems as you do? How long do they anticipate a professional relationship may last? What goals might they have for your progress? No professional can guarantee any of these results at the outset, but they should be able to talk about the process, and what you can expect.

After your first appointment you should:

  • Feel that the professional likes and understands you.
  • Feel that you can understand and respect the professional.
  • Feel hopeful that working with this professional will improve your wellbeing.

Working with a mental health professional may feel slow and difficult. That’s normal. Mutual understanding and respect, however, are absolutely necessary for you to receive any benefits from the relationship.

Does Faith Make A Difference?

If you’re a person of faith, you already know that faith makes a difference. Or at least you hope it does. It’s appropriate to ask about the faith of the professional you’re considering working with if that’s important to you. At least be sure that they will be able to consider the spiritual aspects of your health and how that relates to the challenges you’re facing.

Some research has shown that for people with a religious faith, incorporating spirituality into cognitive-behavioral therapy leads to better outcomes. That benefit was true whether or not the mental health professional shared the same faith as the individual seeking help. Don’t be afraid to bring up spiritual matters right from the beginning.

Finding and choosing a mental health professional can seem difficult. Pray about the matter. Don’t let the difficulties stop you from seeking help.

Sometimes we all need another person to provide perspective and support. Asking for help may be the best thing you ever do for yourself – and for those who care about you.

Your Turn: Have you tried to connect with a mental health professional? What criteria were important to you? Leave a comment below. 

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