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10 Things to Keep in Mind When Working With a Psychiatrist

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People seek out mental health professionals for a variety of reasons, and no two set of circumstances are alike. Finding a psychiatrist to listen and understand your personal problems can be challenging. And developing a therapeutic rapport may not come in one session, either.

However, if you keep the following things in mind you may be more successful in finding a psychiatrist who is a good fit for you and maintaining the doctor-patient relationship.

10 Things to Remember When Working With a Psychiatrist

1) Be certain that they are licensed.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, some doctors are not licensed, or their licenses are not in good standing with the state. You can literally go to your state’s website and look up licensed professionals, and it will list the year their license is valid and if there are any pending complaints.

2) Are you on board?

Ask if the doctor is board certified. Board certification indicates that the individual is recognized by their peers as having demonstrated competence in a particular area — in this case it would be psychiatry.

Remember that a psychiatrist is not a psychologist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that, if licensed, can write prescriptions for medications that are often involved in the treatment of mental health conditions.

A psychologist may have a master’s degree or doctoral degree, but they are not a physician. They can provide neurological testing, and other types of testing, as well as therapy.

3) Time matters.

A psychiatrist’s schedule may often closely reflect that of your primary care physician in that they do not have 45 minutes to discuss your problems. They have perhaps 15 minutes, so it is important to ask ahead of time what the time allotment is for your appointment.

This will help you set reasonable expectations. If you are seeking a longer appointment time to discuss your situation in detail, you may want to seek the assistance of another mental health professional such as a therapist.

4) Ask questions.

Some mental health conditions are more rare and more challenging to treat than others. For example, depression with psychosis in general requires a different type of medical regimen than a generalized anxiety disorder. If you know what your diagnosis is, you can ask if they treat this. Sometimes the conditions they treat are on the doctor’s website .

Ask the doctor what the typical course of treatment is for your diagnosis, and ask what you can expect from the medication, including side effects. People may not feel immediate relief from their symptoms after taking the medication for just one day.

5) Partners with whom?

Sometimes psychiatrists share office space with other mental health professionals and/ or work closely with a particular group. This can be of benefit, especially if you are seeing a licensed psychologist who they work with. Then they can coordinate your care more closely with that of the psychiatrist. They may be able to get you in sooner on a medication review if you having problems, as well.

6) Style matters.

You will most likely be sharing some deeply personal things with your psychiatrist. If you feel more comfortable with them, you will feel free to be more open, and may benefit more from the service.

Psychologist James Windell says, “A critical factor in choosing a psychiatrist is their interpersonal style. This has to do with the overall fit or match between the therapist's values, background, and ways of relating and your own. For psychotherapy to be helpful, a certain amount of comfort and trust must be established from the beginning. Trust in your therapist will allow you to speak freely and honestly about your true feelings, and will result in a better working relationship.”

7) Therapeutic orientation.

Windell says that this factor is important to take into consideration when seeking a psychiatrist. “Therapeutic orientation may or may not be important to you. However, there are many different schools or approaches to psychotherapy. The school to which a therapist belongs will determine to a large extent the way he or she will view the causes of your problems as well as the subsequent treatment.”

8) Be honest.

Your psychiatrist is not going to assume that you have been or currently are suicidal and/or homicidal. You need to clearly tell them this. If you have been hearing voices and/or are seeing things that others do not hear or see, this is also a vital piece of information that needs to be shared with your doctor.

Honesty about your own history and your family’s history is also imperative. Just because you signed a release and had all of your medical records sent to your psychiatrist does not mean that they read through them. Be sure to explain your previous health history, especially if substance abuse is involved.

9) Red in the face.

Your psychiatrist has heard everything, so you will not be embarrassing yourself or them by sharing intimate details of your struggles. Just because you know no one else with your symptoms or problems does not mean that they have not treated people who have your condition.

10) Do not be afraid to bring a list of your symptoms with you to your appointment.

Thinking about this ahead of time, and making notes about your challenges in daily living, can really help your doctor to better understand you. If it is not a good fit, seek out another doctor. Mental illness can be dangerous if left untreated.

Note: The quotes from psychologist James Windell were from an interview that Kristin Meekhof did with him for purposes of this article.

Kristin Meekhof is a licensed master’s level social worker. She obtained her B.A. with a major in psychology from Kalamazoo College and completed the Masters in Social Work Program at the University of Michigan. She is the author of the book, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice For The First 5 Years.”

Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.