Should I trust a friend or my employer for referral to a mental health professional?
“People are more likely to ask their friends and colleagues who knows a good mechanic than who knows a good psychotherapist,” says Gregory Simon, M.D., a psychiatrist and mental-health researcher at Seattle's Group Health Cooperative. “If one can screw up the courage to ask, word-of-mouth recommendations are very good.”
Our findings confirm that advice. Only 20 percent of respondents who saw a mental-health therapist got the name from a friend or family member. But that group had a better outcome than those who saw a therapist recommended by their employer or through an advertisement. People who were referred by their medical doctor or another mental-health professional also got good results.
Though psychologists and social workers can't themselves prescribe drugs, some have arrangements with psychiatrists who will prescribe and monitor drugs for their patients. Among our respondents, 66 percent of psychologists' and social workers' patients reported that they received drug treatment as an adjunct to talk therapy.
“Many insurers refuse to allow psychiatrists to do anything but prescribe drugs, except for the most severely ill patients,” notes Bruce Schwartz, M.D., associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, and one of two consultants who helped us design our survey and interpret the results.
Regardless of how ill respondents were when going into therapy, their outcomes were virtually identical whether they saw a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. “This shows that if you leave people to their own devices, they're going to come up with a therapist they like and who helps them,” says William Sanderson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y., our other consultant.