Making the decision to get help

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By Kathryn Rea Smith, PH.D.


When my younger son asked me how I figured out that I wanted to be a psychologist, I told him about a formative experience from my adolescent years. “I was having some problems and saw a psychologist who really helped me.” It was partly based upon this positive experience of being in therapy as a teenager that I decided to become a psychologist myself. Since that first time I decided to get help, I have seen other therapists over the years and am grateful to each one of them for the assistance provided. When I recommend to someone that they decide to seek therapy for themselves or their child, I do so as both a psychologist and as someone who has firsthand knowledge of the benefits of being a patient.

One of the first messages I like to offer people considering mental health help is that the decision to seek help reflects strength and courage rather than weakness or personal deficiency. People seek mental health treatment for psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but also for problems of living such as grief/loss, relationship issues, school/work difficulties, health problems, or life transitions. Even though the stigma associated with having mental health problems has thankfully diminished, it is still lurking in certain quarters; as such, people can feel shame or embarrassment when they or their children need mental health treatment. When someone confides they are struggling with a personal problem, I tell them “You are dealing with something difficult and you deserve to have as much help and support as you can get at this time.” I tell them there is no shame in deciding to get help and commend them for having the courage to admit they are having a hard time and for wanting to do something about it.

Once the decision is made to get help, there are practical concerns about where to find help. Some people have health insurance that covers mental health treatment. I suggest they begin by requesting a list of in-network providers from their insurance company and then call people on the list to see who is accepting new patients. For those without mental health coverage but who have the means to pay out of pocket, I suggest asking trusted individuals such as friends, physicians, or members of the clergy for recommendations.


“When someone confides they are struggling with a personal problem, I tell them ‘You are dealing with something difficult and you deserve to have as much help and support as you can get at this time.’”


There are many individuals and families for whom the cost of private practice mental health treatment is prohibitive. Fortunately, there are excellent options in our community that provide access to mental health care even for those of limited resources. The University of Tennessee Psychology Clinic (865-974-2161) ( offers therapy for children, adults, couples, and families, and also provides different types of psychological assessment; services are provided on a sliding scale fee basis contingent upon ability to pay. I have received very positive feedback from those I have referred to the Psychology Clinic.

I also make many referrals to the community mental health agencies serving East Tennessee including Cherokee Health Systems (865-544-0406) and Helen Ross McNabb Center (637-9711), both of which offer comprehensive mental health services such as psychotherapy, case management, and medication management for children and adults. For those families of very limited means who cannot afford a co-pay, ask for the “Safety Net” program when calling to schedule an initial appointment at Cherokee or Helen Ross McNabb.

Veterans may have the option of obtaining mental health services through the Veterans’ Administration which has clinics in Knoxville and a medical center in Johnson City. The Veterans’ Administration provides general care along with specialized treatments for problems unique to Veterans such as service-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The decision to ask for help is not always easy. This year, let us make a New Year’s resolution to support and encourage each other to seek the help we need and deserve for our difficulties.



Kathryn Rea Smith, Ph.D. is a private practice psychologist specializing in assessment. She is the married mother of two school-aged boys.

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