Preparing to See a New Psychiatrist

A Tip to Make Your First Psychiatry Visit Go Smoothly

Man talking with therapist in therapy
What should you know before your first visit with a psychiatrist or therapist?. Getty Images/Tom M Johnson

When you go to your first appointment with a new psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional, you may be nervous. You're probably not sure what to expect, which can lead to making you feel out of control. Here's a great tip to help you prepare for that first visit.

Expectations vs. Reality - Coping with Appointment Anxiety

Your anxiety over this first appointment may be causing you to assume the worst or think treatment will be tougher than it actually is.

For instance, you may be thinking you have too many problems to tackle. However, the reality is that your therapist will likely focus on just one or two issues to begin with and move on from there. Being prepared for your first appointment can help you manage your anxiety and nervousness.

A Helpful Tip to Prepare for the First Appointment

Take time to sit down a day or two before your appointment and make a list of everything you are feeling, with details about triggers and how your life is affected by each item. For example:

  • I have to walk to the other end of Wal-Mart when babies are crying because I can't take the noise.
  • I don't always believe people are who they say they are.
  • I can get very angry, to the point of rage. (If there are patterns to things that trigger your anger, include them.) Several friends are angry at me because I have become inappropriately angry.
  • I feel very lonely and have an extreme need for support. As a result, I spend a lot of time crying.
  • I can only get a few hours of sleep a night, or I am sleeping 18 hours a day. Whatever your sleep habits are right now, ┬áinclude this information in your list.
  • Sometimes my thoughts race and I can't seem to focus.

If you're feeling paranoid, you need to list not just the feeling, but what you feel paranoid about and how it affects your life.

Watch the Labels

DO NOT put labels on your feelings or triggers. Let the doctor do that. Therapists could inadvertently be influenced by your labels, which could affect your diagnosis. Again, you just want to list exactly what you are feeling and experiencing and how your life is affected.

Taking this approach not only lessens the chance that your assessment of your feelings will misguide the therapist, but can make the whole process much easier for you as well. Once you start writing down or thinking about these exact feelings and experiences you have had, you'll likely find that this is much simpler and easier than trying to give them names and label them yourself. If you find yourself feeling anxious while making your list, take a break and make sure you are simply writing feelings and not trying to find explanations, patterns, or a diagnosis.

Why a List is Good for That First Appointment

When you break down your feelings and how they are affecting your daily life, you paint a very clear picture for the doctor. It's very difficult to do that on the spot in a short visit when your brain is spinning and you aren't prepared, so make the list ahead of time.

At the same time, don't worry too much if you haven't listed absolutely everything you are feeling or experiencing.

Therapy usually takes place over many visits, and this first visit is laying a foundation that can be filled in later on. You may even wish to rank some of your feelings, or add notes, so that you can share your feelings that are most bothersome right away.

Make three copies of your list, two for you and one for the doctor. Leave one copy at home, in case something happens to the copy you take for yourself and take the other two along with you. When you see the doctor, give him or her the list and go over it together. This way, you won't have to remember everything you wanted to tell him or her on the spot and you won't go away beating yourself up because you forgot to say something.

After Your First Appointment

When you arrive home after your first appointment, you may wish to add notes to your list. While the visit is fresh in your mind, make notes for things you wish to talk about in more depth in the future or feelings which you did not have time to address during the visit.

Take a moment as well to ask yourself if you want to keep seeing this person, or if instead, you would rather see a different mental health care provider. An important part of coping with any mental health condition is to develop a solid relationship with a psychiatrist or therapist you can trust. Mental health professionals, as all people, have a wide range of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and it's important to find the one who is right for you as an individual.

Bottom Line on Planning Ahead for Your Mental Health Appointment

Creating a detailed list can make your first appointment with a mental health professional go much more smoothly. Your doctor will appreciate your preparation, too. Remember to keep you list simple and limit it to feelings and experiences, taking care not to fill in diagnoses which could mislead both you and your therapist.

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