Finding the Right Clinician

Author: IAFF Staff

April 9, 2018

If you’re coping with post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety or addiction, finding the right individual mental health clinician is an essential component of recovery.

For fire fighters and paramedics who are brave enough to seek help, finding a local provider that is culturally and clinically competent in the unique needs of IAFF members may be a challenge. Getting the right help at the right time can be the difference between prolonged suffering or gaining practical skills to manage symptoms and restore your quality of life.

If you are looking for an individual clinician for yourself or as a resource for your department, consider the questions below to guide your search:

Fire fighter struggling with a mental health disorder talking to a mental health clinician
  1. Do you have experience working with fire fighters or other emergency responders, including EMS, police or military populations? Tell me about it. Previous experience working with first responders helps a clinician understand the culture and daily operations of the fire service. However, while such experience is ideal, it is not absolutely necessary, nor always available. If a clinician answers yes to this question, ask if they are willing to provide references.
  2. What evidence-based practices do you use to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and co-occurring substance abuse? Do you assign homework? While traditional psychodynamic approaches to therapy are appropriate for some clinical populations, research has demonstrated the efficacy of standardized time-limited interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) in treating trauma and other acute mental health problems. Further, a clinician that assigns homework or tasks between sessions is not only maximizing in-session time, but encouraging the client to assume an active vs. passive role in their recovery. Lastly, be wary of a clinician who describes themselves as generalist, eclectic or claims to treat everything.
  3. How many sessions does it typically take for you to complete your initial assessment? If a provider takes more than two sessions to conduct an initial diagnostic assessment and construct a treatment plan, this may reflect a non-directive, open-ended approach to therapy that is generally not suited for someone in crisis, acutely symptomatic or functionally impaired. After one or two visits, the therapy process should begin.
  4. Do you offer appointments within 24 hours or access to an on-call clinician? If you or a friend is in crisis, you cannot wait days or weeks to be seen. While the emergency room is always an option for immediate intervention, talking with a mental health provider first may defer the need for a hospital visit or overnight stay, which can be costly, inefficient and offer limited anonymity in smaller communities.
  5. If an individual has a psychiatric emergency and needs inpatient care, what facility or hospital do you refer to? While mental health providers do not technically need hospital privileges to refer a patient for inpatient care, it is helpful to have a clinician that has an established relationship with an accredited inpatient or residential program, should this level of care be needed.
  6. Do you work closely with a prescriber for individuals that need medication? Finding the right prescriber (usually a psychiatrist, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner) can be as challenging as finding the right therapist. For individuals who take medication to treat a mental health problem, it is critical that the therapist and prescriber are coordinating care with one another. This is more likely to happen if they have an established working relationship. Additionally, prescribers who have prior experience working with first responders will be more knowledgeable about medication classes that can impact clearance to work.
  7. Would you be willing to participate in experiential training to gain a better understanding of the daily experiences of the fire service professional? You can tell your clinician what it’s like to be a fire fighter or paramedic, but until they have literally walked in your shoes, words are words. Experiences including ride-alongs or FIRE OPS 101 can give clinicians an invaluable understanding and window into your world.

Having a clinician who’s the right fit matters. For this reason, all staff at the IAFF Center of Excellence have completed the IAFF FIRE OPS 101 training to better understand your daily experience. If you think you would benefit from a treatment experience where both staff and patients intimately understand your experience, reach out to one of our representatives today. The IAFF Center of Excellence is a 64-bed comprehensive treatment center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with PTSD, addiction and other co-occurring mental health problems. Call today for a no-obligation free and confidential screening.

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