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How to Handle Your First Psychiatric Appointment

Recently, someone wrote me and asked how to best handle a first psychiatric appointment. This is a good question because, essentially, people are walking into the vast unknown. If you’ve never seen a psychiatrist before, how could you possibly know what to expect? And, the kicker of that is, the doctor will be asking you why you’re there. So you’re supposed to know what to say when he says that. So how do you handle your first psychiatric appointment?

Write Down What Concerns You Before Your Psychiatric Appointment

Many people get in front of a psychiatrist a freeze, completely forgetting all the issues that brought them there in the first place. This is extremely common. So, before you head off for your first psychiatric appointment write down all your concerns. Everything that has been odd and everything that you think might be odd should go down on the list, with examples.

For example, “I find I obsessively count things. I can’t leave a room without counting all of the ceiling tiles.”

It doesn’t matter what your concerns are, believe me, the psychiatrist has heard them all before.

Bring a Loved One to Your First Psychiatric Appointment

Your first psychiatric appointment can be scary but you can get through it. Here's how to handle your first psychiatric appointment successfully.It can be really difficult to sit in front of a stranger and pour out your heart and admit to things you’d likely prefer to forget. But you have to, so bring a loved one to your first psychiatric appointment to make it easier. This person will be on your side and be able to fill in any blanks you might forget. Plus, this person can offer a perspective on what symptoms he or she has personally seen and that can be very helpful for a doctor. (Your loved one can also write down concerns before the appointment too. They may freeze under the stress of being there as well.)

Be Open and Honest In All Psychiatric Appointments

Honestly, it’s natural to want to hide stuff, even from a psychiatrist, but he can’t help you if you don’t give him the full picture so it’s critical to be honest with your psychiatrist. If you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction – say so. If you’re raging in out of character ways – say so. If you just bought five, $5,000 handbags that you can’t afford – say so. All of this is important stuff even if you’d prefer it not be.

Also try to answer the psychiatrist’s questions with as much honesty as possible. Don’t try to shape your answers into a diagnosis, just be honest. Really, you’ll be a more accurate diagnosis that way. You don’t’ know what is important so don’t try to do your psychiatrist’s job for him.

Write Down Everything the Doctor Says in Your First Psychiatric Appointment

Chances are there will be a lot of information flying your way in your first psychiatric appointment so write it down for reference later. This can be the job of your loved one.

Ask Questions at Your First Psychiatric Appointment

What matters in any psychiatric appointment is that you understand what is going on and you can’t do that without questions. No questions is a dumb question. Trust me. I’ve heard them all and I’ve probably asked them all and they’re all important. Don’t leave the room without an understanding of what is going on and what is happening next. Again, your loved one may be able to do some of this for you if you’re feeling overwhelmed, which would be natural. Likely you won’t have a complete understanding of your illness at your first appointment but your doctor may be able to recommend resources (like HealthyPlace) where you can learn more.

Your First Psychiatrist Appointment Should End with a Plan

You may or may not leave your first psychiatric appointment with a prescription, but you should leave with a plan for next steps. Will you be seeing someone else? Do you need any tests run? When can a diagnosis be made if not now? That sort of thing.

You Should Understand Any Prescriptions from Your First Psychiatric Appointment

If you do get a prescription, make sure you understand what it is, what it’s for and what the common side effects are. You should also know if there are any special dosing instruction (like, take with food (and how much food)) and if there are any interactions to worry about.

Again, you may want to write down what you want to know about a prescription before you get there so you know that when you walk out, you have all the information you need.

Your First Psychiatric Appointment Is Worth It

I think, in short, it is scary meeting a stranger that has so much power to help you, or not, but it’s worth it because, honestly, most doctors just want to see you get better. Yes, there are bad apples and if you get one, you’ll have to see about changing doctors, but most really do want to help. So try to go in with a positive attitude, with the backup of a loved one and start getting the help you need to get better.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

32 thoughts on “How to Handle Your First Psychiatric Appointment”

  1. I want to meet a psychiatrist, buy i’m scared.. But, at the same time, if possible I want to meet psychiatrist alone, withouy family members, without friends or partner.. I want to keep this thing from everyone..

    1. Hi Dkey,

      I understand the desire to want to keep this from everyone but I don’t recommend this. This is a hard road and it’s even harder if you walk it alone. Certainly, you don’t have to tell anyone, but if you trust at least one person, that support can be invaluable.

      – Natasha Tracy

  2. We cannot trust Psychiatrists, they are paid huge bonuses to push drugs. Read books or watch video’s by by Peter Breggin and Joanna Moncrieff.; and especially read ‘cracked -Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good’ by James Davies.

  3. I have my first appointment tomorrow morning with a thearpist. I am scared about it. I am going because i havent been able to eat whole food in three months due to being scared i will choke on it. I just had my throat stretched and a test done to test the strength of the muscles in my throat. The tests show i am good to go. But i still have a fear due to almost choking on a bone. I just hope they are able to help me.:(

  4. Do I really need a psychiatrist? I don’t seem to have any special concerns about my life that I want to share with anyone, but I’m sure if I saw a psychiatrist, he or she would likely be able to pull a lot of repressed memories out of me. I also don’t have a doctor’s recommendation to go see a psychiatrist; this is something I have been thinking of doing for quite some time, just to see if I’m really sane. What should I expect to pay for my first hour? How long does the first session last? Is it just an evaluation session or will he or she prescribe future visits in the hundreds of dollars per visit? Thank you for reading.

  5. I wish I would’ve read your article before my first psych appointment. It was horrible! The doctor was very rude and sarcastic. At the beginning of the appointment, he asked me if I had ever seen a therapist or psychiatrist before. I answered that I’ve seen a therapist before but it was not for me, we ended up talking more about her family and it really didn’t help me. I explained that was not looking for drugs but just needed to know what was wrong with me. Maybe a diagnosis. Immediately, he did a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and kept repeating, “I am not a therapist, I am a psychiatrist.” I sat there in shock because he kept escalating his voice. I wanted to run out the office. I thought maybe I was imagining this reaction until he called his nurse, put her on speaker and started blasting her in front of me. It was very uncomfortable and unprofessional. Needless to say, I’m not going back. I left there with no resolve and medication which I am afraid to take.

  6. I’m 26 and have been dealing with often crippling mental issues by myself with no diagnosis or treatment for thirteen years, always too poor or too terrified to seek help, but I finally reached out to a psychiatrist today. I hope to get a diagnosis of what’s wrong with me just to validate to myself that there’s a reason and a name for why I’ve suffered so much.

  7. I have my first appointment with a psychiatrist tomorrow. When I spoke to my doctor about my symptoms he seemed very concerned. He referred me straight away and they got back to me very quickly. He thinks I have bipolar disorder or a personality disorder but of course has to send me to the psychiatrist. I was scared about what to expect. This post has helped

  8. Hi everyone! I had a visit to a more public affordable place that deals with mental illness when i didn’t have health insurance. I was told to fill out a long packet and was asked so many questions. I was diagnosed by a nurse practitioner and was told i was bipolar. She prescribed me something that was awful and made me hallucinate so then she prescribed me something else which i wasn’t comfortable taking either. I don’t take anything currently as I am skeptical that I even have bipolar disorder. She wasn’t the least bit detailed about my specific case. Like, she never said if I was bipolar I or II…so i have an upcoming visit at a better psychiatrist office (hopefully). I hope they will be able to tell me exactly what is going on. Im looking forward to finally getting things sorted out but still a little nervous

  9. Hi everyone,

    I’m so happy I found this site to read about everyone’s advice and experiences with their first visit cause I’m scared as hell right now. I’ve been living like this for 15-20 years and finally getting up the courage to get the help I’m really needing. I’ve never been diagnosed but I’ve all the symptoms as being bipolar. My head races so much that I can’t think straight then get so much anxiety because of it and can’t get it too stop and much less I worry about people hurting me all day and night. It’s crazy and maybe I’m crazy but it’s time. Can anyone give me some helpful advice to keep calm or to try and help me before my first visit. I had to leave my last job because it became too much to handle and always thought my workers under me were going to hurt me in some kind of way and I can’t live like this anymore

    Thanks for any help and great website and pray you all will keep updating it to help myself and others that may be going through same thing


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