As a psychiatrist, I often hear from my patients during their initial visit about how long they’ve been putting off seeing a psychiatrist out of fear. They also talk about how nervous they were leading up to the appointment.
First, if you’ve taken that major step to set an appointment, I commend you because I know it’s not an easy thing to do. Second, if the thought of attending your first psychiatry appointment has you stressing, one way to help tackle this is knowing what to expect ahead of time.
This can be anything from coming prepared with your full medical and psychiatric history to being open to the fact that your first session may evoke certain emotions — and knowing that this is totally OK.
So, if you’ve made your first appointment with a psychiatrist, read below to find out what you can expect from your first visit, in addition to tips to help you prep and feel more at ease.
Come prepared with your medical history
You’ll be asked about your medical and psychiatric history — personal and family — so be prepared by bringing the following:
- a complete list of medications, in addition to psychiatric medications
- a list of any and all psychiatric medications you might have tried in the past, including how long you took them for
- your medical concerns and any diagnoses
- family history of psychiatric issues, if there are any
Also, if you’ve seen a psychiatrist in the past, it’s very helpful to bring a copy of those records, or have your records sent from the previous office to the new psychiatrist you’ll be seeing.
Be prepared for the psychiatrist to ask you questions
Once you’re in your session, you can expect that the psychiatrist will ask you the reason you’re coming in to see them. They might ask in a variety of different ways, including:
- “So, what brings you in today?”
- “Tell me what you’re here for.”
- “How’re you doing?”
- “How can I help you?”
Being asked an open-ended question might make you nervous, especially if you don’t know where to begin or how to start. Take heed in knowing that there’s truly no wrong way to answer and a good psychiatrist will guide you through the interview.
If, however, you want to come prepared, be sure to communicate what you’ve been experiencing and also, if you feel comfortable, share the goals you’d like to achieve from being in treatment.
It’s OK to experience different emotions
You may cry, feel awkward, or experience various kinds of emotions while discussing your concerns, but know that it’s completely normal and fine.
Being open and sharing your story takes a lot of strength and courage, which can feel emotionally exhausting, especially if you’ve suppressed your emotions for quite a long time. Any standard psychiatry office will have a box of tissues, so don’t hesitate to use them. After all, that’s what they’re there for.
Some of the questions asked about your history may bring up sensitive issues, such as history of trauma or abuse. If you don’t feel comfortable or ready to share, please know that it’s OK to let the psychiatrist know that it’s a sensitive topic and that you’re not ready to discuss the issue in further detail.
You’ll work towards creating a plan for the future
Since most psychiatrists generally provide medication management, options for treatment will be discussed at the end of your session. A treatment plan may consist of:
- medication options
- referrals for psychotherapy
- level of care needed, for example, if more intensive care is needed to appropriately address your symptoms, options to find an appropriate treatment program will be discussed
- any recommended labs or procedures such as baseline tests prior to starting medications or tests to rule out any possible medical conditions that may contribute to symptoms
If you have any questions about your diagnosis, treatment, or wish to share any concerns you have, be sure to communicate them at this point before the end of the session.
Your first psychiatrist might not be the one for you
Even though the psychiatrist leads the session, go in with the mentality that you’re meeting your psychiatrist to see if they’re the right fit for you as well. Keep in mind that the best predictor of successful treatment depends on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
So, if the connection doesn’t evolve over time and you don’t feel your issues are being addressed, at that point you can search for another psychiatrist and get a second opinion.
What to do after your first session
- Often after the first visit, things will pop up in your mind that you wished you had asked. Take note of these things and be sure to write them down so you won’t forget to mention them next visit.
- If you left your first visit feeling badly, know that building the therapeutic relationship may take more than one visit. So, unless your appointment turned out horrible and unredeemable, see how things go during the next few visits.
The bottom line
Feeling anxious about seeing a psychiatrist is a common feeling, but don’t let those fears interfere with you getting the help and treatment that you deserve and need. Having a general understanding of what kinds of questions will be asked and topics that will be discussed can definitely alleviate some of your concerns and make you feel more comfortable at your first appointment.
And remember, sometimes the first psychiatrist you see may not necessarily turn out to be the best fit for you. After all, this is your care and treatment — you deserve a psychiatrist who you feel comfortable with, who’s willing to answer your questions, and who will collaborate with you to achieve your treatment goals.
Dr. Vania Manipod, DO, is a board-certified psychiatrist, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Western University of Health Sciences, and currently in private practice in Ventura, California. She believes in a holistic approach to psychiatry that incorporates psychotherapeutic techniques, diet, and lifestyle, in addition to medication management when indicated. Dr. Manipod has built an international following on social media based on her work to reduce the stigma of mental health, particularly through her Instagram and blog, Freud & Fashion. Moreover, she has spoken nationwide on topics such as burnout, traumatic brain injury, and social media.