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If you’re looking for a psychiatrist, the first thing to do is to make sure he or she board certified in psychiatry. You can do this through the American Board of Medical Specialties or with a website like Vitals.com. After that, the personal relationship is most important because you’re revealing emotions and concerns.
There are strong differences in the approaches various psychiatrists take with their patients. You may feel strongly that you don’t want to take medication or undergo a particular style of therapy to treat your problem. Ask the psychiatrist about his or her style of practice. Some are trained in the psychoanalytic field. Others are more focused on cognitive behavior change. And some believe much more in medication than others. Most don’t rely too heavily on medications, using a combination of therapy and drugs if appropriate. But it's worth checking.
You may see many surgeons for a consultation and not get charged. But for psychiatrists, time is money. Be aware that many will bill you for a consultation or if you cancel an appointment. So ask before you schedule a visit. Their rates also vary immensely and depend on what your health plan has negotiated with them. Before you make an appointment, check the number of mental-health visits covered by your insurance policy and what the costs might be if you use a psychiatrist who’s out of your network.
Lastly, check a psychiatrist’s disciplinary history. They’re rarely sued for malpractice, but they can be disciplined. The whole area of inappropriate relationships with patients is an area of concern for psychiatry. Your state health department should have information online about whether the psyhiatrist you're considering has had any disciplinary actions taken against him or her.
John J. Connolly is president and CEO of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. and former president of New York Medical College.