Can my primary care physician refer me to a good psychologist?

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

Many patients often wonder if their primarycare doctors are capable of rendering the different types of care and treatment that they need. The answer to this varies widely, of course, based on what kind of treatment is required. In addition, some PCP doctors are readily available for alternative types of care while others prefer to stick to general practice and not delve too deep into any one specialty.

Speaking of Specialties

What is a specialty exactly? Doctors who practice in a set area of medicine are known for that specialty. They train specifically for that field after completing their general medicine degree. Psychology is one such specialty that is a booming field in the world of medicine and healthcare. In 2014 alone, 43.6 million people were suffering from at least one form of mental illness in the United States. This creates a large demand for doctors who can treat these patients.

Psychologists

Since many primarycare physicians would rather stay in their own lane when it comes to medicine, they will often refer patients to another doctor that can better treat their individual needs. For example, a PCP is not specifically trained to administer antidepressant medications. Even if their patient has been on a drug like fluoxetine or sertraline for a long time, they often will not be inclined to administer refills of these medications or change dosages.

One reason for this is because they most often are not the original prescriber of the medication; a psychiatrist normally is. In addition, they are not informed well enough on the side effects of these drugs or their interference with other medications to freely prescribe them. Furthermore, a PCP would have little working knowledge of a patient’s case history. They wouldn’t be skilled at determining whether a patient truly needs to remain on a psychotropic medication, or if they need adjustments made to their drug regimen. These issues are best left to psychology-trained professionals. So, that is often where a PCP will point you next.

Referrals

Sometimes, it’s not merely a matter of medication. Often, it’s just a need to talk to a professional who understands the mechanisms of the mind and can help individuals to overcome problems in their personal lives. This may require interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy. Often, it’s couples who need to sort out their differences or learn how to go their separate ways. In other cases, it may be a matter of grieving over a divorce or the death of someone close to us.

Patients of all kinds find their way to the offices of psychologists every day. They face troubles that are organic and sometimes problems that are entirely fixated in the mind. A good psychologist can be hard to come by, though. For patients who trust their primarycare doctor’s judgement, their referral may be the best way to find the new psychologist that they need in their life. Asking for a referral will certainly never hurt.

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