Are psychological services provided by my primary care physician?

Written by DanielleBosely MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

It’s understandable that patients would love to get all of their medical care under one roof. It’s not only one-stop shopping, but many people grow to become comfortable with their primarycare doctor over the years. They know they need psychological help and they just can’t imagine opening up to a stranger about their personal problems. It would be so much easier if they could spill their worries to their PCP they’ve been seeing regularly all these years.

In a perfect world, that would be nice. But the truth is, a PCP doesn’t really know the first thing about treating a patient with psychological issues. These patients need individualized care. Rarely are any two patients in these scenarios alike. Often, one patient might present with depression that is being caused by a touch situation in their lives. In another situation, someone may be clinically depressed due to a chemical imbalance. In these cases, a PCP may be able to help a psychologist to treat a patient in tandem, but PCPs cannot provide this kind of care on their own.

Enter, the Psychologist

So, what does a psychologist stand to offer that a PCP cannot? For starters, the psychologist knows how to approach patients with psychological needs. It goes beyond simply asking how they’re feeling and what they’ve been eating. Instead, psychologists must know how to make their patients comfortable. Then, they must have a knack for coaxing them into opening up about their troubles. A PCP may be friendly and outgoing, and a patient might feel relaxed with them, but the PCP simply doesn’t know how to respond to serious issues that plague someone who needs psychological services.

Therapy

Psychologists also train in their own specialties sometimes. They might specialize in treating children or battered women, for example. Initially, patients may be looking for a referral from their PCP to get them to a good psychologist. This may require opening up a bit about what is troubling them — something the patient shouldn’t fear doing. When the doctor knows more about what kind of help you need, they can point you in the best direction possible.

Working Together

In some cases, a PCP may be able to work with a psychologist to help you get better. For example, some 8 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Women with PMDD may need more than just psychological care, though. Often, they are intolerant to their own natural hormones. Sometimes they need bioidentical hormone replacement therapy or lab work to rule out problems with their sex hormones or thyroid. In these cases, a psychologist would not generally order these labs, but your PCP can.

Working in unity with a PCP and a psychologist may be the best approach to treatment for some individuals, but people with mental health problems need to seek appropriate care through a specially trained doctor that can treat their individual needs. It is rare that a PCP would be able to do such.

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