Choosing a Provider

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Choosing a Provider

A key part of moving toward wellness is finding providers who you feel comfortable with. It's also a good idea to look for providers who have worked with people who have your particular condition.

Often, a good first step is to make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Your doctor may begin by making sure your symptoms are caused by a mental health condition and not something else. Then your doctor will either work on a treatment plan or recommend that you see a mental health professional. Even if your primary care doctor treats you, it still might be good to talk with a mental health service provider at some point in your treatment. Below are some suggestions for early steps:

  • You can get referrals from your family doctor, clergy or local Mental Health America office (which also may provide mental health care services) and crisis centers. Consider getting a few names, so you can interview more than one person before choosing.

  • Your insurance company can provide a list of providers who are in your plan. Sometimes, your health insurance company will cover only certain types of providers, so check how your plan works.

  • Eligible veterans can get care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, go to or call 1-877-222-8387.

  • You can find affordable mental health services through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Visit SAMHSA's Treatment Locator or call 1-877-726-4727.

  • Your local health department's mental health division or community mental health center provides free or low-cost treatment and services on a sliding scale. These services are state funded and are obligated to first serve individuals who meet "priority population criteria" as defined by the state Mental Health Department.

  • Your company's employee assistance program (EAP) can issue a referral to a provider. Reach out to your Human Resources office to get more information about your company's EAP.

  • Medicare offers a list of participating doctors on its website, (Click on "Find a Doctor").

  • Providers who accept Medicaid may be listed by your state Medicaid office, which you can find by using the map at

  • You can use Psychology Today's Therapy Directory to search for mental health professionals in your area.

Prepare Yourself

Before calling a potential provider, make a list of questions, such as:

What experience do you have treating people with my condition?

Do you have a particular approach, expertise or training?

How much will treatment cost me? Am I responsible for a co-payment?

Do you deal directly with my insurance plan or do I need to?

  • When you call, you may get an answering machine or service. Leave times the provider can reach you and whether or not it's OK to leave a message on your answering machine or with the person who answers your phone.

  • To be clear about what your doctor advises, you may want to have a trusted family member or friend along at your appointment. They can write down answers for you, and you can both compare notes after the visit.

Make a list of questions to ask at the first appointment. Don't hesitate to ask a lot of questions. You want to make sure you find the right match. Usually, the first meeting is a chance for you and a provider to see if you feel comfortable working together. You should come away with a sense of how the provider hopes to help you. Don't feel bad about ruling out providers based on the criteria you've identified. Your comfort level is most important, and plays a role in how well you establish a relationship with your provider. Some examples of first-appointment questions include:

  • Do you have admitting privileges at a hospital?

  • Are you willing to communicate with my other doctors and therapists to coordinate care?

  • What can I expect during a typical appointment? How long will appointments last?

  • What happens if I need to cancel or change an appointment? Is there a fee?

During a first visit, be prepared to also answer questions about yourself, like how often you've had symptoms. The provider might also ask about alcohol and drug use, since that can affect your treatment, but he or she won't report any illegal drug use. Make sure to mention all of your symptoms to get the most effective treatment.

If you don't feel comfortable with the professional after the first, or even several visits, talk about your feelings at your next meeting. Don't be afraid to contact another counselor. Feeling comfortable with the professional you choose is very important to the success of your treatment.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Provider

Before you begin your search for a provider, you might want to take a look at the questions on this page. While there is no way to guarantee that you will be one hundred percent satisfied with the provider that you choose, taking the time to consider what factors are most important to you when it comes to your care may help you in making the best decision.

Type of Doctor/Preferences

  • Do you have any preference about the gender of a doctor?

  • The age of a doctor?

  • Is it important to you that your doctor is bilingual or has a specific background or specialty?

  • What are the three most important qualities you think would be most helpful to you in a doctor/therapist (location, ease of appointment, comfort with staff, etc.)?  

  • What are three qualities you think would be the least helpful?  


  • How hard is it to schedule an appointment with your doctor when you need one?

  • How important is quick access to you?

  • How hard is it to contact your doctor outside of hours?

  • Do you think you need someone who will always be accessible?

Other Staff

  • What kind of other staff does your doctor use - interns, students, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, etc.?

  • Are you comfortable with treatment from these people or are you only interested in seeing your doctor?

  • Do you feel comfortable around the other staff such as receptionists? 

Use of Appointment Time

  • How long does your doctor sit with you?

  • Do you feel rushed in those meetings?

  • Does your doctor allow you adequate time to ask questions?

Office/Appointment Environment

  • How comfortable are you with the environment?

  • Is the decoration distracting?

  • Are you comfortable in the office?

  • Is it located in an area that makes you feel comfortable?

2000 N. Beauregard Street,
6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

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