How to Connect to Mental Health Counseling

Entering psychotherapy is an act of the greatest courage… It is because they possess this courage, that many patients, even at the outset of therapy, are people who are basically stronger and healthier than average.

Being in a suicidal state is, by its nature, being in crisis and experiencing distress. Whether your suicidal pain is caused by a mental health disorder (such as depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder,) or by stressful life events (involving health, work, relationships, finances, etc.), you are now having a hard time coping with your distress. While friends and family can be of immense support, sometimes more is needed.

Just as someone who has a serious infection needs to be seen by a doctor, someone struggling with suicidal thoughts needs to be under the care of a mental health professional. While I believe that the material in this website will give you the tools to cope with your suicidal thoughts, you should use these pages in conjunction with receiving mental health counseling. 

It can feel daunting to reach out and get professional help. But simply taking the first step and setting an appointment with someone can dramatically turn your sense of hopelessness around. There are a number of professionals who have experience in treating people who are in a suicidal crisis:

  • Psychiatrists (MD)
  • Clinical Psychologists (Ph.D.)
  • Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP)
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT)
  • Pastoral Counselors
  • Drug and Alcohol Counselors (CADC)
  • Family Practice Physicians and Internists

Locating a Counselor

  1. Often the best way to get help soon is to make an appointment with your primary care physician to get a referral for counseling. This is especially helpful if your insurance plan requires a referral to authorize the visit.
  2. Word of mouth. Ask people you know (family, co-workers, friends, or family physician) if they know of anyone in the counseling field who has been helpful to them or to others.
  3. Search the Internet directly for the kind of professional you are seeking.
  4. Associations of helping professionals. You can contact these organizations for referrals to mental health professionals in your area. Here are some phone numbers to start with:
    • American Psychiatric Association: (202) 682-6220
    • American Psychological Association: (202) 336-5800
    • National Association of Social Workers: (800) 638-8799
    • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy:   (202) 452-0109
    • American Association of Pastoral Counselors: (703) 385-696
    • American Society of Clinical Hypnosis: (312) 645-9810
  5. Websites
    Recently the magazine Psychology Today created an invaluable online international directory of mental health professionals, support groups, and treatment centers. You can find a link to their search engine on their homepage. Or visit Good Therapy, another website that you can use to search for counselors in your area.
  6. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are another resource you can turn to for help. They are offered at many places of employment and provide assistance to employees with work-related or personal problems that may affect their job performance, physical health, or mental and emotional well-being. Most programs normally offer six free sessions.

    While you will not be seeing a suicide prevention specialist, an EAP counselor can help you deal with the problems that are contributing to your suicidal state and then refer you out to someone who works in the suicide prevention field.

What If Mental Health Services Are Limited Where You Live?

Good mental health resources in the United States can be hard to find. This is especially true in rural areas where there is a shortage of psychiatrists and psychotherapists. If you live in a rural area and cannot find a practitioner near you, there are a number of organizations that provide online counseling. Look into or to get started. 

Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Resources

No Health Insurance?
If you don’t have health insurance to pay for your therapy and counseling, there are still ways that you can find support. There may be below-cost or no-cost mental health services in your area which you can access by reaching out to nearby mental health agencies or hospitals for leads. 

On line
Some of the counselors on referral websites such as Psychology Today or Good Therapy may offer payment on a sliding scale. 

Pastoral Counseling
Your place of worship may have a pastoral counseling department that will provide you with counseling from a spiritual perspective.

Another source for excellent low-cost mental health services is to call reach 211, or access their website. 211 is an agency that has been connecting people to low-cost health and social service organizations for many years.

Counseling for Issues Other than Mental Health

Having a mental health disorder is not the only factor that can lead to a suicidal state. Problems with work, health, finances, relationships, or chemical dependency can also create a major crisis in someone’s life. These kinds of troubles can bring about suicidal thinking or worsen already existing suicidal thoughts

If your problems fall into one of these categories, it’s important that you reach out to counseling services that specialize in the area where you are struggling. Those services may include:

  • Financial and credit counseling
  • Marriage counseling
  • Domestic abuse counseling
  • Treatment for chronic physical pain
  • Drug and alcohol outpatient or inpatient treatment centers
  • Counseling for veterans who suffer from PTSD
  • Spiritual counseling for those who have lost their sense of purpose

Find a Therapeutic Alliance

The relationship between you and your mental health care provider(s) will play a critical role in your healing process. When that relationship consists of collaboration, warmth, and support, it is called a “therapeutic alliance.” 

To increase the likelihood that you will form a therapeutic alliance with your future therapist, you will want to interview several counselors before you make a final decision about the person who will be your guide and advocate. If you see a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner for medication, you will also want to establish a therapeutic alliance with that individual.

My Success in Finding Professional Support

During my most recent suicidal episode, I was desperate to find a prescriber who could help me. Using Psychology Today’s Find a Psychiatrist” page, I typed in my zip code to obtain a list of psychiatrists in my area.  I scrolled down the page until a young, enthusiastic face jumped out at me; the psychiatrist that just graduated from the prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical School. He was new to Portland and thus could see me immediately. 

Twenty minutes into our first session he said, “I believe I know what you need. Given the fact that you have suffered from treatment-resistant depression for a year, I think getting a course of electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy might be beneficial. I am writing a referral for you to see the ECT doctor at Oregon Health and Science University. I want you to see her immediately.”

Three months later I checked into Providence Hospital to begin my treatment. It proved to be the turning point in my recovery.  

Because isolation is a major risk factor for suicide, surviving a suicidal crisis requires the support of other people. Seeking professional help, along with getting support in your personal life, will play a huge role in helping you to heal from your suicidal pain.

Journal Reflection:
My Experience of Counseling

Using your own journal or the Experience of Counseling form, reflect on your experience and attitudes about counseling:
  1. Reflect back on what is happening now, during your suicidal crisis.
  2. What steps have you personally taken to reduce your pain and deal with your crisis?
  3. Do you think that seeing a counselor might be helpful to you right now? Have you sought one out in the past? If so, what were the results?
  4. If you have not yet sought out counseling, what barriers have you encountered? Do you have any negative beliefs about getting help? If so, what are they? Are financial considerations an obstacle?
  5. If you have not been able to afford counseling, have you sought out low-cost services?
  6. What steps could you take now to begin the process of finding professional help?