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
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.