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What to Know Before Seeing a New Psychiatrist

Whether you’re seeing a psychiatrist for the first time or switching to a new provider, it’s normal to feel a little nervous before your first appointment. But a little prep can go a long way, and merely knowing what to expect can help you get more out of the experience. Here’s what five different psychiatrists want every patient to do, and keep in mind, before taking a seat on a new fainting couch. 


“Write down your top concerns.”

Heather Fretwell
Interim chief medical officer at the Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center
Indianapolis 

To make sure you get all your questions answered, and help your doctor understand how to help you, try to arrive at your appointment as prepared as possible. Fretwell suggests writing a list of your top mental-health concerns beforehand. “While a psychiatric interview is pretty thorough, and generally most of your areas of concerns will be automatically asked about,” she says, “we want you to have the confidence that you were able to bring up all items of importance in that first appointment.” 

It might feel uncomfortable to meet a new person and immediately put it all out there. But this is the right place to overshare. When you’re talking to a psychiatrist, there’s no such thing as TMI. It’s your doctor’s job to figure out what you need to take care of yourself and your mental wellbeing. That might involve new or different medication, various forms of therapy or some combination of both.


“Be prepared for a potentially intense experience.”

Cliff Hamilton
Psychiatrist at Summit Medical Group’s Behavioral Health and Cognitive Therapy Center
New Providence, New Jersey

The first appointment with a new psychiatrist is typically a mental health evaluation, which basically means you’ll need to tell a stranger the Story of You. And that’s not always easy. 

“Psychiatric treatment is a pretty emotional self-reflection process,” says Hamilton, “which can cause some distress for people.” 

But remember: You don’t need to be your most composed, unflappably cool self. This is your psych appointment and you can cry if you want to. So emote freely. If you get too worked up to keep going, your psychiatrist can help you come up with ways to calm yourself down. You can also take a break. Discussing personal stuff can be draining, and it’s OK to hit pause.

Hamilton says that feeling overwhelmed is common and can actually be beneficial to treatment: “When you bring your car to the mechanic, you want it to be making that noise so the person can appropriately diagnose the problem, and this is no different. When people only internalize how they feel, it makes it difficult for us to identify how we can help.”


“Bring a list of your current and past psychiatric medications.” 

Ryan Kimmel
Interim chief of service for psychiatry at the University of Washington Medical Center
Seattle

Unlike therapists and psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe medicine — so they’ll want to know about any medications you’re taking or have taken. Kimmel suggests bringing a list of all your current meds, both psychiatric and non-psychiatric, as well as the psychiatric meds you’ve tried in the past. Include the name and dosage for each one. If you don’t remember the dosage of an antidepressant you took 15 years ago, or whether you got the brand-name or generic version of the drug, don’t worry. Just provide whatever info you have. Kimmel says it’s also helpful to bring any bottles of any supplements you take. Many supplements are blends of multiple herbs, vitamins, etc. Your doctor may want to scan the ingredient list to make sure nothing interferes with a prescription drug you’re taking.


“Be as honest as possible about your mental health history.”

Gary Gronstedt
Psychiatrist with Rogers Behavioral Health
St. Paul, Minnesota

It can be nerve-wracking to see any new doctor; an appointment that requires opening up about your mental health might make you feel especially vulnerable. Gronstedt encourages patients to remember that psychiatrists are there to help you, not judge you. During your appointment, go through your mental health history as transparently and thoroughly as you can. “That way,” Gronstedt says, “your doctor can truly understand your needs and will be best poised to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that’s right for you.


“Think of your first appointment like a date, not a marriage.”

Keith Humphreys
Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Health Care
Stanford, California 

If you meet a new psychiatrist and do the whole “this is who I am” thing, and you’re not feeling the chemistry, it’s OK to say thank you, next. 

You should walk into your first appointment as you would a first date: With an open mind. Don’t decide how you feel about a psychiatrist until you’ve had a chance to chat; don’t write them off because they’re not what you were expecting. If the last psychiatrist you saw and liked was exactly your age, and this one is two generations older (or younger), get over it and take a seat.

But if you don’t click during the appointment, Humphreys says, don’t be shy about moving on to another clinician. Even if you go ahead and book a follow-up visit, you’re not locked in. Ultimately, your goal is to obtain effective treatment. Your relationship with the MD taking notes on you is part of the equation. Don’t keep seeing them if there’s just no spark. 

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