The Mighty Logo

6 Tips for Seeing a Psychiatrist for the First Time

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

One of the most difficult things about having a mental illness is actually getting help. I remember when I was very sick and my wife told me I needed help, it really hit me hard. And when I went to my counselor and he said I needed more help in the form of a psychiatrist, I was reeling. It was really hard to hear I was that sick. I did not know what to expect or even what to do. I was lost.

In light of this, I want to offer a few tips for someone who has not yet gone to see a psychiatrist and may be questioning whether they should or not. I’m going to try and give you some insider information for how to approach the entire process.

Here’s my list:

1. It’s a doctor’s office, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I like to sit in my psychiatrist’s office and watch people come in the door. I can always tell someone who is new or has not been there very much. They have a sheepish look and do not look comfortable. It is like they are ashamed. And I know this look because I had this look too. The look of being totally unsure and not wanting anyone to judge me. It was like I was ashamed I had to be there.

However, it’s important to remember this is just another doctor’s office and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I had two herniated discs in my back, I went to a specialist and was never ashamed or even thought twice about it. I simply wanted to get better and was doing what I had to in order to accomplish that goal. This is the same thing that occurs with a psychiatrist. You want to get better and you are going to a doctor. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Own the fact you are actually trying to get better and be proud of it.

2. Make sure you get along with your psychiatrist. 

One essential thing to keep in mind is you should get along with your psychiatrist. I like to establish a good rapport with my psychiatrist. It does not mean we are best friends or we are a perfect match, because we’re not. But the best psychiatrists are ones who build a relationship and have a vested interest in you. You have to have some mutuality to the relationship.

I have had the unfortunate experience of having three different psychiatrists due to issues with my insurance. Of those three, the one I had the hardest time with and really had no relationship with was the one who made my recovery most difficult.

3. Make sure your psychiatrist listens to you.

One of the important things about developing a rapport with your psychiatrist is making sure they are listening to you. You are a patient and need to make your concerns and issues heard. You also need to detail how you feel and make sure your psychiatrist understands what you mean. They are there to offer diagnoses and then prescribe medicine. The best way a psychiatrist can do this is to listen to and hear what a patient says. So when you are voicing your concerns, make sure your psychiatrist is hearing you.

One of the ways this really comes into play is when you discuss medication. Oftentimes a psychiatrist will prescribe a medication they believe will help you. But it may not. You may be having a rough time with the side effects of the medication and it can be easy to think it’s not worth taking at all. Voice this to your doctor. Similarly, make sure your doctor hears you when something is working. Make sure you feel able to tell your psychiatrist what needs to be said.

4. Listen to your psychiatrist.

In a different vein, it is important you listen to your psychiatrist and actually try what they say. Be patient and listen to what you are being told. It is important you hear why you are taking certain medications or doing certain things. Psychiatrists generally know what they are doing. It is imperative to have trust in them and listen to what treatment plan they have you on. You should follow their directions.

5. Don’t expect to get all the answers right away.

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a mental illness is there are no “answers” right away. Things take time. It takes time to get a diagnosis. It takes time for many medications, especially antidepressants, to work. It takes time for talk therapy to begin taking effect. You cannot go into your psychiatrist’s office expecting to walk out with the perfect resolution to your mental illness. This just is not the reality. Rather, you walk into the psychiatrist’s office deciding to listen and then walk out with the beginning of a plan.

Let me share a brief example. My first appointment with my first psychiatrist was simply a chance to get to know one another and begin outlining what a treatment plan would look like. She decided the antidepressant I was on was not helping and we began to wean me off it and onto another one. That was it. There was no diagnosis and not really a lot we were planning to fix. We were simply going to take one step at a time and work a process to recovery. Eventually, I got a diagnosis (bipolar disorder II and anxiety) and a good set of meds to help control my illness. But it took a lot of time. And you have to be patient and realize it takes time.

6. Be committed to your treatment. 

Oftentimes, people go into a psychiatrist with an attitude that says, “I don’t think this will help” or “I’m not sure about this.” They also walk into the office with the attitude they are ashamed or embarrassed to be there. This causes people to not really commit to their treatment. Instead, you have to be actively committed to the treatment and if it does not work out, change things with the help of your doctor. This means more than simply taking your meds. Rather, it means making the necessary lifestyle changes to ensure your recovery. Other people cannot recover for you, you have to perform the recovery yourself. And at times, it sucks. But being committed to your treatment with a psychiatrist from your first day is an absolutely imperative starting point.

There are a number of other things I could say. Honestly, there’s probably a book to be written. These are just some good tips to get you into the door and through your first session with a psychiatrist. It requires a lot of work on your part, which is really hard when in the throes of a mental illness, but it will be worth it in the long run. Good luck on your journey!

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: February 14, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home