Finding a Mental Health Professional

Professional therapy from a mental health specialist can relieve anxiety and suffering.

There is no way to put a dollar value on a healthy sense of well being and improving the quality of your life. We cannot cure dystonia yet, but we can learn how to create rich and rewarding lives in spite of dystonia. The assistance of a qualified professional can help inidviduals navigate the challenges of adjusting to life with dystonia. Several things to keep in mind when considering professional psychotherapy ('talk therapy') are:

  • The most important part of therapy is that you feel comfortable with the therapist. Research has shown that it is not so much the kind of therapy that makes the difference, but the relationship between client and therapist that is crucial. Most therapists will be willing to learn about dystonia and/or speak with your neurologist if they are not familiar with it, and the DMRF is happy to provide educational materials.
  • The best way to find a therapist is through a referral from a doctor, a friend, or a support group member. The next best way is to contact the national or local associations.
  • Interview three different therapists before choosing one. You can sometimes get a sense of a therapist by talking with them on the phone.

There are many kinds of therapy, and many professionals are trained in multiple approaches. Therapists then combine techniques from these various approaches that fit their own style and personality and the needs of the patient.

Some of the common forms of therapy include:

  • Family therapy or couples therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Gestalt
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Psychoanalysis (psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy)

Medication may be used with psychotherapy. For many people, this is the best approach to treatment.

Therapy is an investment in you--one of the best you can make--so like finding the right neurologist, there has to be a good match.

Here is a rundown of various types of mental health professionals, their qualification, and licenses:

►Psychiatrist: if you need medication for depression, an anxiety disorder, or a phobia, seek a psychiatrist, the only mental-health professional who is an MD and can prescribe medication. Certainly your neurologist should be consulted, or your neurologist may prescribe these same medications. For the most part, psychiatrists who are consulted for medications do not provide psychotherapy. Do not expect a psychiatrist to explore the problems of your life unless you already have that understanding at the beginning.

►Psychopharmacologist: An MD, usually a psychiatrist or a neurologist, who specializes in complex issues of medication and their interactions. Your neurologist may suggest you see this type of physician because of the medications you are already taking and the close monitoring that is needed.

►Psychologist/Psychotherapist: Has a PhD or a PsyD in psychology and is licensed by the state in psychology or marriage and family therapy. These professionals specialize in talking with clients about their problems. Some specialize in cognitive-behavioral therapy which is usually time-limited and focused on alleviating symptoms. Other psychologists focus on long-term dynamic therapy and will help you explore previous patterns, relationships, and feelings. Psychologists also do testing and assessments where needed. For referrals in your area contact the American Psychological Association at or 800-964-2000.

►Psychoanalyst: Is a psychotherapist who uses dreams, free association, and an intense relationship with the client to delve into the subconscious processes that underlie all of his/her feelings and behaviors. Classical psychoanalysis requires that the patient meet with the therapist three to four times a week to build the relationship between the two.

►Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor/Marriage and Family Therapist: An MFCC or MFT has earned a Masters degree in counseling, completed a minimum number of supervised hours in practice, and has a state license. These therapists are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families and may use different types of therapy depending on what is needed by the client. Sometimes whole families are seen together or an individual is seen and works with the therapist in relation to their family problems. For referrals in your contact the American Association of Marriage Therapists at or 703-838-9808.

►Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Has a Master's degree and state license in social work. Social workers have a great deal of training in working with medical issues. Hospitals and clinics often employ social workers to work with their patients. Contact the National Association of Social Workers at

►Pastoral Counselors: Are trained in psychology and theology and are usually certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. They often do the same type of counseling that social workers or marriage and family therapists do. For referrals contact the American Association of Pastoral Counselors at or 703-385-6967.

►Online Counselors: There are many highly qualified therapists that are working online. For those who might find it easier to interact with someone by phone conferencing, computer, or email, this is worth exploring. Online therapy is not the same as sitting with someone and interacting on a regular basis where that person gets to know, see, and understand you, but for short term problem-solving, it may be worthwhile. Visit,, or for specialties, types of therapy, qualifications, and fees.

Information provided by Karen K. Ross, PhD, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in Los Angeles, and Jennifer Pader, MDiv, STM, a psychotherapist who works in New York City.

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