Steps to Take
What to Expect
Crisis Hotlines


What to Expect

Most people have little or no idea what to expect from a mental health professional. Just remember, you’re not alone. Below, we’ve listed the main steps that someone seeking help will go through. Seeking mental health care is very similar to seeking other types of health care.

Making the First Call

  • Once you make a phone call for an initial assessment, you will make an appointment. Unfortunately, some people experience a wait to get an appointment with a mental health professional. The time it takes to be seen varies depending on where you are seeking help, how many mental health professionals are in your area, and other factors.
  • If you do not feel that you can wait, you should contact a crisis hotline immediately or dial 911. They will direct you to immediate help.
  • Usually, you will not be asked to do anything to prepare for your appointment. You might want to write down what medications you take if any to share with the doctor or counselor you see. Otherwise, the best thing to do to prepare is to relax as much as possible. Just focus on the fact that the person you will see wants to help you. It is that simple.

Arriving for Your Appointment

  • When you arrive for the first appointment, you can expect to be greeted by a receptionist who will ask you fill out some information about yourself, your issues and how you expect to pay for services.
  • An arrangement for payment will be made prior to seeing the mental health professional. This may include payments, insurance, sliding scale payments based on your income, or other financing options. Whatever your current financial situation, you can receive services. Never let a lack of money stop you from seeking the services you need.
  • At your first appointment, you will have an initial assessment. A Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP), a Psychologist, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ARNP), and a Psychiatrist can complete an assessment. Many of these professionals are listed on our Finding Help and Resources Page and others can be found in the Yellow Pages under counselors, therapists or mental health.

Talking to the Mental Health Professional

  • Once the paperwork is completed, expect your initial interview with a mental health professional to last between 50 and 90 minutes. This will occur in an office with a comfortable environment.
  • There will be questions about your feelings, the way you see yourself and your issues and some questions about your history -- what types of treatment have you may have tried in the past.
  • There may be a referral for a physical examination to determine if hormones or other bodily functions may be causing your problem.
  • Some times, though not always, the mental health professional will ask to see someone who knows you well, like a spouse, parent, sibling or co-worker to get their point of view about your situation. This is intended only to gather information that you may not be aware of. The mental health professional cannot, by law, share anything you have said to them with others, including your family if you are over 19 years old. Your privacy will be respected at all times.

Your Treatment Plan

  • After this initial session, a written treatment plan or case plan will be developed as part of your clinical record. This will give you a road map for the best steps you can take to receive treatment. You should have opportunity to review that case record and to agree to that treatment plan. If you have any questions about your treatment plan, do not hesitate to ask for an explanation.
  • At every point of the treatment process, you have the right to review your case record. You may ask to pay for a copy of parts of the record you wish to take with you; however, the record is the property of your mental health professional. The record is a document to help them remain accountable for the services they provide you and it helps them to document progress. This case record is kept with the same respect of privacy as all of your medical records.
  • After the initial session or two and the treatment plan is established, you should know the direction of the course of treatment, which may include self-help groups, medications, out patient treatment and counseling, and rarely, residential or inpatient care.

Your Rights and Responsibilities

  • Please remember, you are the consumer of services and therefore you should be in control of what happens after listening carefully to what your mental health professional suggests as the best course of treatment. Do not follow treatment advice without full confidence in your mental health professional.
  • If you are not comfortable with your mental health professional, you have the right to seek another opinion or go through counseling or other treatments with a different mental health professional.
  • The most effective treatment is the one that you participate in. Do not be afraid of opening up to your mental health care professional. They need to understand you and what you are feeling as much as possible to be the most help to you.
  • Ask questions whenever you have them. Your treatment should be a team effort between your mental health care professional and yourself.