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Do I need a referral to see a psychiatrist?  

Do I need a referral to see a psychiatrist?  

Some insurance policies require a referral from your primary care physician—but not all. Review your insurance policy online or by calling the number on your insurance card.

Reviewed by:
Austin Lin, MD
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February 20, 2024
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Key takeaways

It’s no secret that mental health is crucial to your overall well-being. When your mental health is in a great place, it’s easier to enjoy your favorite activities, be present in daily life, and feel more like yourself. However, the reality is that seeking mental health care for the first time may feel intimidating, and in some cases, require multiple doctor’s appointments.  

If you’ve considered seeing a mental health professional, you might be wondering whether you need a referral to see a psychiatrist. In most cases, the short answer is no, you don’t need one—but it depends on your specific circumstances and insurance policy. Here, we’ll answer common questions about accessing psychiatric care with your health insurance, including when you don’t need a referral.

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Can you see a psychiatrist without a referral?  

In doctor's appointments, a referral is when your family doctor or general practitioner recommends you to see a specialist. Being referred to a specialist doesn't mean anything about your potential diagnosis.  

The same way your primary care doctor might refer you to a podiatrist for an issue with your foot, they'll often send you to a psychiatrist for your mental health. It's just a way your doctor can ensure you're getting the best possible care, since psychiatrists have specialized training and expertise. It’s also mandatory for insurers to cover mental and physical health services at the same rate.  

You can see a psychiatrist without a referral in two main scenarios.The first is if your medical insurance doesn’t require one. Some insurance policies do require a referral from your primary care physician—but not all. Review your insurance policy online or by calling the number on your medical insurance card. Ask if you need a referral from your primary care provider to see a psychiatrist. While you’re talking to them, it’s a great idea to also ask about your mental health care coverage so you know how much you’ll owe at your psychiatry appointments. They’ll also be able to tell you whether you can submit paperwork for reimbursement if you see someone that doesn’t accept your insurance.

Another way you may be able to see a psychiatrist without a referral is if you don’t plan to use insurance. Since you’re paying on your own (self-pay), you don’t need to show an insurance company your referral. The same applies if your insurance company doesn’t cover mental health care. If you choose to go this route, make sure to call the psychiatrist’s office before your appointment to make sure they don’t require a referral. It can also be helpful to find out how much how much you’ll pay out of pocket (self-pay costs) if the psychiatrist is out of network or doesn’t take your insurance, as it it’s typically much more expensive than seeing an in-network doctor.

How do I know if I need to see a psychiatrist?  

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you may be wondering whether it’s the right time to see a psychiatrist. The truth is that only you can decide when it’s time to seek treatment for your mental health. However, a good rule of thumb is that if your mental health is disrupting your life, seeking help is a good idea.  

Here are some signs that you should look into speaking with a psychiatrist:

If you’re still not sure about whether it’s time to talk to a professional, check out: When to see a psychiatrist.

How to get a referral for a psychiatrist  

Getting a referral for a psychiatrist is a relatively straightforward process. If you’ve ever been referred to another specialist—like a neurologist, dermatologist, or ENT specialist—you know what this process is like.

Here’s what you can expect:

1 Find a primary care physician

If you don’t currently see a primary care physician—a main doctor for general care—it’s a great idea to start. Look for primary care providers in your area that accept your insurance. You can typically find a list of providers on your health insurance company’s website, or you can call a primary care provider’s office and ask if they accept your insurance policy.  

Primary care physicians are responsible for helping you with your overall wellness. That means analyzing annual blood work, discussing long-term health plans, and providing specialist referrals.

2. Make an appointment with your primary care physician

Once you’ve established a primary care physician, make an appointment. You can request a psychiatry referral in your annual primary care appointment or in a one-off appointment. Feel free to let your primary care doctor’s office know that you want to discuss your mental health when you make the appointment.

If it’s your first time seeing this primary care physician, they’ll likely ask about your medical history, have you complete paperwork, and may request bloodwork.  

3. Explain your symptoms and request a referral

At your appointment, your physician will ask if you have any concerns. Let them know how you’ve been feeling—physically, emotionally—and that you’d like a referral to see a psychiatrist. Describe any specific symptoms you have been experiencing, like changes in mood, difficulty concentrating, or persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety. Some medical doctors feel comfortable treating mental health conditions and prescribing medication like antidepressants themselves. But when something falls outside of their expertise they usually will refer patients to a psychiatrist.

Be as detailed as possible to help your doctor understand your situation. They may have follow-up questions to make sure they refer you to the correct specialist.  

If you already have a psychiatrist in mind that you want to see, let them know. If not, they’ll refer you to someone in the area or even in the same medical center or hospital.

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4. Make sure the psychiatrist accepts your insurance

It’s important to make sure the psychiatrist is in your health insurance network. Ask your physician or the administrators at the doctor’s office to check whether the psychiatrist accepts your insurance. You can also check once you get home. If the psychiatrist is not in network, ask for a referral to a different doctor or make sure you understand whether you’ll need to submit receipts to your insurance company for reimbursement.  

Talkiatry is are a virtual psychiatry practice of over 300+ psychiatrists. All our psychiatrists take insurance, and we are in-network with 60+ major insurance plans. You can also check whether or not we accept yours using our insurance eligibility checker.  

How do psychiatrists treat patients?  

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who go to medical school and can diagnose conditions and prescribe medicine.

When you meet with a psychiatrist, they will diagnose any mental health conditions you may have and develop a treatment plan—which is a long-term plan to treat your condition(s). Treatment plans look different for everyone and may involve multiple treatment options.

There are many different ways psychiatrists can treat your mental health condition. However, the most common treatment options include:


Also called talk therapy, psychotherapy is a form of treatment in which you talk about your emotions, life experiences, and struggles in an effort to understand the root of your mental health concerns and form healthy coping mechanisms. Psychologists, therapists, and social workers can also provide psychotherapy.  

Learn about the differences between psychiatrists and therapists.


Since psychiatrists can prescribe medication, they may recommend a medication to help with your condition. If they do, make sure to ask about any potential side effects and be sure to follow their directions and follow up once you’ve been taking the medication for a few weeks. It’s typically important to take mental health medication at the same time each day and not to stop taking it abruptly.  

Learn more about common medicines psychiatrists prescribe.

Can you see a psychiatrist online?

In today’s digital world, many psychiatrists see patients online. Seeing a mental health care provider online makes treatment easy and convenient because you can do it from your home.  

However, it’s important to consider whether you’d prefer seeing a psychiatrist in person. Although online psychiatry is flexible, in-person treatment allows you to get out of the house and into a new space. Some people, especially people who live with others or have roommates, may prefer treatment at a psychiatry office.

If you’re interested in online psychiatric care, Talkiatry might be right for you. We’re a national psychiatry practice with over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners to help bring you in-network virtual care. To get started, fill out a short online assessment.  We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more.

What types of conditions do psychiatrists treat?

Psychiatrists treat a wide variety of mental health conditions, including:

Seeking mental health care is an important step toward living a fulfilling and meaningful life. You’ve already taken a big first step by researching whether you need a referral to see a psychiatrist. The short answer is no, you don’t always need a referral, but in many cases you do. Check your insurance policy to be sure.  

Once you know whether you need a referral, you can schedule your appointment—with a primary care physician or a psychiatrist directly—and get started on the mental health treatment options that are right for you.  

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right now.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

  • Aetna
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • Cigna
  • Humana
  • Medicare
  • Oscar
  • United Healthcare
  • Optum
  • Compsych

Even if your insurer isn't on the list, we might still accept it. Use the insurance eligibility checker in our online assessment to learn more.

Can I get an estimate of my visit cost?

The best way to get a detailed estimate of your cost is to contact your insurance company directly, since your cost will depend on the details of your insurance.  

For some, it’s just a co-pay. If you have an unmet deductible it could be more.  

Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Austin Lin, MD

Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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