Finding a Diabetes Mental Health Provider

In my days of being newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I became quickly frustrated (and shocked) about the lack of mental health resources available for the diabetes community. As a mental health therapist, I considered myself fortunate enough to know the ins and outs of the system. But, I also recognized (and needed!) more guidance than “ask your doctor.”

Here are some ideas and suggestions for finding a mental health provider who may be suitable to meet your needs:

Psychiatrists vs. Psychologists vs. Therapists

Let’s start with the basics. Not all mental health providers are the same. Here’s a breakdown:

Psychiatrists

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medication if it’s determined necessary for a patient’s treatment. Psychiatrists can treat mental health conditions, though typically do not focus their practice on providing therapy. They are also able to determine how a mental condition is impacting other medical issues such as heart disease, obesity, alcoholism and diabetes! This can be particularly helpful if you feel like your mental health issues have taken a toll on your physical heath.

Psychologists

A psychologist is a social scientist who’s trained to study human behavior and mental processes. Psychologists can work in a variety of research or clinical settings and can diagnose a mental disorder or problem and determine what’s best for the patient’s care. Psychologists often works in tandem with psychiatrists. Psychologists can also provide therapy, though oftentimes contribute in forms of academics and research.

Therapists (Licensed social workers, mental health counselors, etc)

Therapists (such as myself) are licensed to provide a variety of treatments to help patients make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to solve problems. Therapists provide support and guidance, while helping patients make effective decisions within the overall structure of support. Licensed therapists can diagnose mental health conditions, though typically cannot prescribe medication (unless they are also a psychiatrist or psychologist). Therapists often work in tandem with psychiatrists.

Determine what kind of expertise you need

No matter what your issue, it’s important to find a mental health provider that fits your needs. Above all else, this person should be someone you feel comfortable with and who has the expertise to help address your specific concerns.

One question to ask yourself is how important is it that your therapist understands diabetes. Consider the following:

  • If you are struggling with an issue directly related to having diabetes, then seeing a professional with experience working with people with diabetes will be really helpful.
  • If you’d be dealing with this issue regardless of having diabetes, then finding a provider who has expertise in diabetes may be less important.

In some areas of the country, finding a specialized provider can be difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Here are some things you can try to find a mental health provider who’s suitable in meeting your needs:

Ask your endocrinologist

Your endocrinologist can often be a good place to start when looking for help with diabetes-specific mental health concerns. They should be familiar with the resources in your area and can hopefully refer you to a provider they trust. When dealing with diabetes-specific mental health challenges, it’s important that your therapist and endocrinologist work closely together in your treatment. Ask your endocrinologist for a referral to make this treatment coordination easier.

Check with your diabetes organizations

At the time of this post, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has been aiming to grow its directory for mental health professionals who have diabetes expertise. This is exciting and needed, and I hope it continues to expand in upcoming years.

Many other large diabetes-focused organizations have regional chapters that keep a list of local resources, which hopefully includes mental health professionals. Contact one of the diabetes organizations in your community to see if they can provide a referral.

Ask your diabetes community

Other people with diabetes can be some of the best resources for finding help in your local area. If you know others with diabetes, ask around to see if anyone knows of a provider in your community that they recommend.

There is also a very active Diabetes Online Community (DOC) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Beyond Type 1 where you can ask others for resources. If you do an online forum to find a mental health provider, just be mindful not to share too much about your private concerns publicly.

Online therapy & coaching

Some therapists (like myself) are able to offer therapy and/or coaching services online with a secure video connection. If you are open to online services, it may expand access to your specific needs. It’s important to know that state licensure laws do not allow therapists to provide therapy services for people who are not physically located within the state of licensure. For example, since I’m licensed to practice in New York State, I’m only legally and ethically allowed to provide teletherpy services to clients who also live in New York.

Some therapists (also like myself) work out options for coaching services as an alternative option to these teletherapy laws. Coaching is different than therapy in that it does not diagnose or treat any mental illness that is included in the DSM-V. However, depending on your needs, coaching still highlights strengths, offers support, challenges limited beliefs, and addresses thinking patterns that keep you stuck.

Check out the Coaching & Therapy page to learn more about my coaching options.

Keep an open mind

If you can’t find a provider who specializes in diabetes, remember that you can still find help within the mental health community. Mental health professionals are trained to deal with a variety of conditions and circumstances. If you’re struggling with depression and diabetes, for example, a therapist who specializes in depression can still be helpful. He/she may not know exactly how diabetes works, but that therapist will know how depression works. As long as you share and communicate how diabetes impacts you and your depression daily, your therapist can still be helpful in helping to treat your symptoms.

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