Do I Need a Referral to See a Psychiatrist?

Published on: 28 Sep 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Muhammad Munir, MD
woman in black jacket sitting on chair

Updated 5/12/2022

Do you need a referral to see a psychiatrist? The answer to this question really depends on a couple of factors. First, you need to know whether or not your health insurance requires you to get a referral. Second, the type of specialist you want to see might determine if you need a referral. 

It’s generally more common to need a referral for a psychiatrist than it is to see other mental health professionals, like a psychologist. This is only one difference between a psychologist vs psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists would prefer to see you only after you have first gone to your primary care doctor to get a referral, but this isn’t always the case. You can also call a psychiatrist and schedule an appointment for yourself or your family (any children under 18) without needing a referral from a primary care physician. It is important to check with your health insurance first to see what’s covered, what your out-of-network providers’ options are for any potential reimbursement, and then you can ask for referrals from your primary care doctor, your insurance, friends, or family.

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Can You Self Refer to See a Psychiatrist?

Depending on your insurance, you may be able to see an in-person or online psychiatrist without getting a referral from your primary care provider. Finding out can be as simple as calling your insurance company and asking: do I need a referral to see a psychiatrist? 

If your insurance does not require a referral, you can self refer to the psychiatrist of your choosing. In this case, you’d find a doctor— either via online search, recommendation, or through a directory— and simply schedule an appointment for a consultation. Keep in mind that some psychiatrists prefer you to be referred by another medical doctor. 

“It is not uncommon to call an office directly to speak to make inquiries, after you’ve done some research online about specialties, treatment modalities and also practice setting. Sometimes, speaking with support staff can offer a wealth of information about the practice itself and let you know they can support what you’re experiencing in terms of symptoms. Similarly, at Talkspace, a client match consultant often walks you through the process and what is offered in terms of availability and styles.”

Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW 

How to Get a Referral for a Psychiatrist

If you’re unsure about your psychiatric care needs or if you know for sure that your insurance will require you to get a referral, you can schedule an appointment with your primary doctor or a general practitioner (GP). At that appointment, you can discuss your symptoms and your doctor will help you figure out if your next step should be to seek psychiatric treatment. 

Occasionally, a primary care physician might first prescribe psychiatric medication before giving you a referral. Then, if your mental health condition doesn’t improve, they’ll often be ready to move on to the next step and refer you to a psychiatrist.

“Primary care physicians are well suited to prescribe medications for anxiety and depression; and depending on dosages and clinical severity, they might refer you to psychiatric specialty. Practices are sometimes fluid in terms of protocol, specific to some insurance plans. So it’s important to educate yourself on the specific steps required to access psychiatric care, in order to minimize stress during the process.”

Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

Getting an appointment with a psychiatrist

Even if you don’t need a referral for your insurance, you may still want to consider seeing a GP or your primary care provider before you look for a psychiatrist. Your medical doctor may immediately refer you directly to a psychiatrist they know and trust. Or, they may give you information about mental health professionals in your area who can help you get started. Mental health teams can meet with you and better assess your need for mental health treatment. 

You also have the option of contacting a private psychiatrist directly, or you can use an online service to find a doctor.

 If you don’t want to make multiple calls asking whether they accept your insurance or are accepting new patients, Talkspace’s online psychiatry services could be a great option for you because you can get started seeing someone right away.

Finally, if you’re in immediate need of mental health professional help, most major hospitals have psychiatric care. You could go to the emergency room or find a community mental health clinic for mental health services. 

Perhaps you know which psychiatrist you’d like to see, but you haven’t yet decided when to see a psychiatrist. Again, if your need is urgent, be sure to let the receptionist know when you call. They may be able to find you a quicker appointment or get you on a cancellation list.  

“It can be confusing and sometimes ambiguous when you’re trying to understand if consulting with a psychiatrist for medication management is needed. If you look for a practice that has a multidisciplinary approach, it can feel reassuring and  can be a likely indicator that the practice itself has a team approach equipped with a therapist or social worker perhaps, and sometimes even a nurse practitioner; which may represent a more comprehensive level of treatment not solely focused medication management.”

Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

How to get treatment

Once you find a psychiatrist you want to work with, whether it be via a referral or any other way, you’ll begin with a consultation appointment. You should expect to spend some time during the initial call discussing your needs and expectations about what you hope to get out of mental health treatment. 

You can use that time to uncover what type of treatment you need their help with. A mental health condition a psychiatrist may treat includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADHD
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • OCD
  • Sleep disorders

Either on the first call or during the first visit, you can ask specific questions about methods, too.

Some of the things you may want to ask about could include:

  • What is their approach to working with patients?
  • What is the philosophy regarding psychiatric care?
  • Do they have a concentration or specialty?
  • Where did they go to school?
  • How long have they been practicing?
  • How much does a psychiatrist cost?

Can you see a psychiatrist without a referral? In short, sometimes. But there are several factors at play that make this question not so simple to answer. Wondering how to find a psychiatrist? Start with a brief assessment with Talkspace to get matched to the best online psychiatrist.

Sources:

  1. How to See a Psychologist or Psychiatrist. The Light Program. https://thelightprogram.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/do-you-need-a-referral-to-get-treatment/. Published 2019. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  2. Get Help With Depression. Psychiatry.org. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  3. Help for Mental Illnesses. NIH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help Revised 2019. Accessed August 24, 2021. Get Help With Schizophrenia. Psychiatry.org. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia. Published 2020. Accessed August 24, 2021.
  4. Finding Help: When To Get It And Where To Go. Mental health America. https://www.mhanational.org/finding-help-when-get-it-and-where-go Published 2021. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  5. What Is Psychiatry? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-psychiatry-menu Published 2021. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  1. Top 5 Reasons to Consult with a Mental Health Professional, UR Medicine. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/mental-health-wellness/seek-help.aspx Published 2021. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  2. PTSD Treatments. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments Updated  2020. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  3. Treatment: When to Seek Professional Help and Where to Find Help for Major Depression. American Addiction Centers Resource. https://www.mentalhelp.net/depression/when-to-seek-professional-help/ Published 2021. Accessed August 23, 2021.
  4. Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Psychiatry.org. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ocd  Published 2021. Accessed August 24, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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