The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that roughly 25,500 psychiatrists are working in the United States today. Unfortunately, though, not all of these psychiatrists have the same qualifications or capabilities.
For those who are struggling to find a good psychiatrist, or any other type of mental health medication prescriber, it can be hard to know what characteristics to look for and which ones to avoid when evaluating a mental health professional. Answered below are some common questions that may help with narrowing down the search and choosing a good psychiatrist sooner.
Table of Contents
(click on a question below to be directed quickly)
What does a Psychiatrist do?
Where can I find a psychiatrist?
How do I know if a Psychiatrist is any good?
Do you have to be referred to a Psychiatrist by your doctor?
Why is it so hard to find a good Psychiatrist?
How long do you have to wait for an appointment with a Psychiatrist?
Can I get mental health medication from a different provider other than a psychiatrist?
What Does a Psychiatrist Do?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to assess patients and their psychological issues from both a mental and physical perspective. To become a psychiatrist, one must first complete medical school, just like any other physician.
From here, psychiatrists-to-be must take and pass a written exam so they can become licensed to practice medicine. Then, they must complete an additional 4 years of a psychiatry residency before they can begin working with psychiatric patients.
Where Can I Find a Psychiatrist?
Both the American Psychiatric Association and Psychology Today offer tools that help those in need of mental health support to find qualified psychiatrists in their areas. These tools are easy to navigate and allow users to search for psychiatrists based on a variety of criteria, including location, specialty, and insurance coverage.
In addition to utilizing these online tools, those who are looking for a good psychiatrist can also seek a referral from their primary care physician or another medical or mental health professional.
For those who do not have health insurance, contacting organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can be a good starting point. Representatives from these groups can provide resources to find affordable mental healthcare options, including psychiatrists who accept Medicaid.
How Do I Know If a Psychiatrist Is Any Good?
When they’ve never seen a psychiatrist before, it can be difficult for those struggling with mental health conditions to know if the person they’re meeting with is a good fit for them. For those who are feeling uncertain, watching for the following “green flags” can help them to know if they’re moving in the right direction with their current provider:
- They are active listeners and don’t appear distracted by other things (e.g., they look at the patient when they’re speaking, rather than staring at their computer or tablet)
- They don’t make patients feel rushed
- They give the patient choices, rather than saying there is only one solution to a particular problem
- They regularly seek and value input from the patient
- They acknowledge the patient’s identity and unique traumas
- They’re willing to consider alternative diagnoses
Do You Have to Be Referred to a Psychiatrist by Your Doctor?
Often, patients will need a referral from another healthcare provider, such as their primary care physician, before they can see a psychiatrist. This is especially true when they’re going through their insurance provider to pay for treatment. However, it is very common that patients can make an appointment with a psychiatrist without a referral.
It may seem like an annoying extra step to have to get a referral from another provider. However, this additional step may prove to be useful. Sometimes psychiatrists will not see clients unless they have been referred by another provider.
A primary care physician, a physician assistant, or another provider may know of a psychiatrist who is a good fit for the specific patient’s needs and can point them in that direction. This saves the patient from having to do a lot of research on their own to try and find a good psychiatrist.
Why Is It So Hard to Find a Good Psychiatrist?
The United States is currently going through a psychiatrist shortage. In fact, 60 percent of counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrists at all, according to a report from New American Economy.
This shortage, combined with a growing demand for mental health support (especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic) has made it more difficult than ever for people to get the care they need.
One helpful alternative to working with a psychiatrist is to work with other mental health medicine providers, such as psychiatric nurse practitioners, or mental health physician assistants.
How Long Do You Have to Wait for an Appointment with a Psychiatrist?
The amount of time someone has to wait before they can get an appointment with a psychiatrist varies a great deal depending on many factors, including where they live and the number of providers in their area who are covered by their insurance.
According to one study published by Psychiatric Services, which looked at psychiatrist availability in Boston, Houston, and Chicago, the average wait time for a first visit was 25 days. The study also found that 20 percent of psychiatrists were not accepting any new patients.
Can I Get Mental Health Medication from a Different Provider Other Than a Psychiatrist?
Because it can often take quite a while before one can get an appointment with a psychiatrist, a lot of people find themselves wondering if other providers can provide them with the mental health medication they need to start feeling better.
The good news is that other providers can write prescriptions for these medications, including primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and psychiatric nurse practitioners.
At ALL IN, we offer mental health medication through our medication services.
25,500 psychiatrists: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021
American Psychiatric Association: What is Psychiatry?
American Psychiatric Association: Find a Psychiatrist
Psychology Today: Find a Psychiatrist
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Find Your Local NAMI
SAMHSA: Find Treatment
New study shows 60 percent of U.S. counties without a single psychiatrist. New American Economy. (2019, July 23). Retrieved August 31, 2022, from https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/press-release/new-study-shows-60-percent-of-u-s-counties-without-a-single-psychiatrist/
Malowney, M., Keltz, S., Fischer, D., & Boyd, J. W. (2015). Availability of outpatient care from psychiatrists: a simulated-patient study in three US cities. Psychiatric Services, 66(1), 94-96.
Written By: Natalie T.
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, LMFT
Edited By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik
Last Updated : 04/18/2023
Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.