I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to seeking and dealing with mental health care professionals. My first experience was when my kids were young and I fell into my first major depression. A short time later, my kids and I were diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Over the years, my kids experienced bouts of depression and anxiety as well.
Finally, my son, as a young adult, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a serious mental illness. So dealing with routine mental health care has been the norm as I continue my own battle against depression and try to help my son relieve the symptoms of his devastating illness.
But finding quality care hasn’t always been easy. I’ve dealt with mental health care professionals who lack understanding of certain mental health conditions as well as some who bring biases to their profession and favor unproven treatments. There’s even been an unethical one or two along the way.
So, I find it no surprise that countless mental health care professionals lose their licenses each year as a result of patient abuse, sexual misconduct, fraud, substance abuse, unlicensed practice, medication violations, and more.
Fortunately, in my experience, the good therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have far outweighed the former.
So, should you be faced with a crisis, know how to find a good mental health care provider with the expertise you need and who you can trust.
How to Find a Good Mental Health Professional
Most mental health care professionals adhere to ethical guidelines. But as with any field, there are always exceptions. So know how to screen.
Begin your search by asking family or friends for recommendations or ask your primary care doctor how to find a good mental health professional. You can also contact area clinics for recommendations or consult your yellow pages or online directory. Phone three or four therapists and ask about their credentials, policies, and treatment methods. The following are good questions to ask:
- What are your areas of expertise?
- How much experience do you have with my particular issues?
- Are you licensed or certified by the state?
- Has your license ever been suspended or revoked? If so, can you tell me about the situation?
- What are your professional affiliations?
- What forms of treatment and therapy do you provide? What evidence is there to support its effectiveness? Is there controversy among mental health care professionals regarding this treatment?
- What are your fees? Do you accept my insurance or work on a sliding scale?
If you can’t get answers to these basic questions over the phone, look elsewhere.
If you’re satisfied with the therapist’s responses, check with your state-licensing department to verify the license status and to make sure no actions have been taken against the therapist.
Once you begin therapy, complications could still arise. According to Larry E. Beautler, Bruce Bongar, and Joel N. Shurkin in A Consumer’s Guide to Psychotherapy: A Complete Guide to Choosing the Therapist and Treatment That’s Right for You, therapists who base their beliefs on personal experiences often reject scientific findings that don’t coincide with their beliefs.
As a consumer, do your research to assure the validity of your diagnosis or form of therapy or treatment. If you discover contradictions from reputable sources, discuss it with your therapist. It may be a simple misunderstanding or data of which your therapist was unaware. If your therapist rejects the information, ask why and determine if the reason is valid or is based on personal opinion. If it’s preventing you from obtaining a proper diagnosis and/or treatment, find a therapist that recognizes those findings.
Though rare, unethical therapists have been known to misdiagnose for financial gain. More common, those with questionable practices may recommend unnecessary, inappropriate, outdated, or unproven treatments. That said, “Your therapist is obligated not to take advantage of you, either intentionally or unintentionally through negligence or ignorance, and to act only in your best interests,” explain Jack Engler, Ph.D. and Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. in The Consumer’s Guide to Psychotherapy: The Authoritative Guide for Making Informed Choices About All Types of Psychotherapy.
Mental health care ethics
There are certain rules set by state licensing divisions as well as the American Psychological Association and other mental health associations providers must follow. Be aware that mental health care providers may not:
- disclose information about you without prior written consent or even verify that you are being seen by the therapist except under certain situations. These are largely limited to when child abuse is reported or when a patient is a serious and imminent danger to self or others.
- suggest that you do something that is undeniably harmful, immoral, or illegal.
- treat you for or offer services that are outside his or her area of expertise.
- offer experimental or unproven therapies without informing you of such.
- make sexual advances whether you approve of them or not.
- treat you if you have any kind of relationship with the therapist outside of therapy.
- degrade you because of your values or problems or pressure you to change them.
These are only some of the ethics therapists must uphold.
If you feel your rights have been violated or your therapist has treated you with negligence, there are several options according to Engler and Goleman. If the violations are minor, you might want to discuss the problem with your therapist. You can also seek a second opinion to determine whether it’s a misunderstanding or a valid complaint.
If your complaint seems valid and is serious enough, you can file a formal complaint with the appropriate ethics committee or with the state licensing or certification board. This is an important step if there’s concern that someone else might be harmed by the therapist’s practices.
Finally, if your therapist acted negligently, rather than just unethically, a civil malpractice suit may be in order.
Remember though, most people have positive experiences with their therapist. By knowing how to find a good mental health professional, being aware of unforeseen problems, and taking precautionary steps, you’ll reduce the risk of a negative experience.
by Kimberly Blaker
Posted: January 26, 2018
Feel free to share your comments on this post and subscribe to my blog below.