Do you want extra help with your dental fears or phobia? In that case, enlisting the support of a qualified psychologist or therapist can be a great idea. This can be especially useful if you have other mental health issues that are impacting on your phobia.
How can I get help in the UK on the NHS?
Here’s how to navigate your way through the UK mental health services:
Your general practitioner (GP) acts as the hub in the network of your care. They should know what mental health services are available for you in your local area.
This system works well when you trust your GP and get on well with them. Unfortunately, not all GPs have a huge interest in helping people with mental health problems. Or there may be a personality clash. In that case, you have every right to change your GP. To do this, write to the GP practice and explain that you want to change your GP. There’s no need to give any reasons.
In England, you can also skip the GP route altogether and self-refer to many psychological therapies (IAPT) services: go to the NHS choices Psychological therapies location search page to find a service near you that accepts self-referrals.
There’s a lot you can do to improve the chances that you will get what you want from your GP:
- If you have a complex problem (as mental health problems often are) you may want to try to book a double appointment so the GP is less rushed.
- You may find it helpful to write a list of your problems. In the rush of an appointment, it can be difficult to remember things you wanted to say.
- You may like to bring a friend or relative who knows you well. They can help you ensure that the story you want to tell gets told.
After talking to you, your GP may feel they need to get some advice from a specialist service about how best to proceed. In this case, they will write to the appropriate service and ask them to get in touch with you.
Services in England
In England, there are two main types of specialist mental health services which GPs can refer patients to:
- the “Improving Access to Psychological Therapies” (IAPT) services and
- community mental health teams (CMHT).
IAPT services are aimed towards people with “common mental health disorders” such as depression, anxiety, phobias and stress.
CMHTs tend to work with people with more serious problems, such as psychosis or mental health issues which may result in a risk to themselves or to others.
If you are seeking help for dental phobia, you would be referred to IAPT services.
Psychological Therapies (IAPT)
IAPT is a central government initiative which aims to make psychological therapies much more widely available than before. It was launched in 2008.
IAPT services offer many psychological interventions. Some are one-to-one, some in groups. Generally, people start with simpler interventions. Typically, people receive 6-8 sessions of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). They only proceed to more complex ones, such as longer-term therapy, if necessary.
You can see what’s available in your area by using the NHS Choices IAPT services search page.
If you feel that the person or the type of therapy you’ve been referred to isn’t working out for you, let your GP know asap. That way, they can find an alternative.
Services in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the process is similar. You go to your GP to get a referral. In Scotland, the equivalent to IAPT is called “Psychological Interventions and Therapies for Adult Mental Health” (PITAMH). There’s no online search page for service users, though.
In the United States
Seeing a therapist privately
If you don’t mind paying for treatment privately, you don’t need a referral.
Beware – in many countries, working as a therapist or counsellor is unregulated. This means that anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a therapist or counsellor. Your safest bet may be to see a qualified psychologist.
Which brand of psychologist?
Psychologists come in two basic flavours:
- Clinical psychologists help with mental health problems. Common examples include anxiety, panic and agoraphobia, OCD, specific phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, and depression.
- Counselling psychologists focus on helping you resolve relationship, family or work issues, deal with someone’s death, or can help with self-esteem issues. In other words, they help with “everyday” problems.
If you are looking for help with a mental health condition – including anxiety, panic disorder, emetophobia (fear of vomiting), or post-traumatic stress disorder – then a clinical psychologist may be best.
The British Psychological Society has a Directory of Chartered Psychologists which you can search online.
What other mental health professionals are there?
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in mental health. Generally speaking, they use medication as their treatment method.
- Other therapists and counsellors: It can be quite difficult to figure out if a therapist is well-qualified. Sometimes, an impressive-sounding string of letters behind their name may mean nothing more than participation in a weekend course. Choose someone who is registered with a reputable body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). In order to qualify for registration with the BACP, a therapist has to have completed a recognised training course and have on-going supervision. The BACP also operates a code of ethics and a complaints procedure, so there is some protection for clients.
Don’t hesitate to change therapists if you don’t like them or you feel you’re not making any progress.
Online therapy has become hugely popular. One advantage of online therapy is that you don’t even need to do a video session or voice call if you feel more comfortable just writing. So it’s a great thing for people who feel too intimidated by face-to-face therapy or those with a social phobia.
However, there are some downsides to it. With online therapy, you really need to be prepared to switch a few times until you find the right fit. And you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.
At present, the two main providers of online therapy are BetterHelp and Talkspace. They are both based in the U.S., but many of their therapists operate internationally. In the UK, Inquire Talk offers a similar service.
All of the therapists on these websites are licensed. But you should research their qualifications and check what they mean.
Your conversations with mental health professionals on these websites are confidential, and you can choose to remain anonymous.
How do I know if a therapist is right for me?
Having a good relationship with your therapist is a key factor for success. Maybe you just don’t click with your therapist, or perhaps you feel you’re no longer making any progress. Either way, don’t hesitate to see someone else instead.
If you are paying for therapy yourself, it’s generally a good idea to interview more than one psychologist or therapist before hiring them. Think about the kind of questions you may want to ask. For example, you may want to know what experience they have with the type of problems you are dealing with. Or you may want to find out more about their approach to tackling the issues you want help with.
Many thanks to Dr Andy Montgomery, MbBChir, PhD, MRCP, MRCPsych (General Medical Council registration number: 3616932 / Royal College of Psychiatrists: 13163) and to the Mental Health Forum for allowing us to use some of the information on this page.
Visit our forum for mutual support and advice around dental phobia, anxiety and fear!