Communicating with your psychiatrist may feel like an impossible task. The overwhelming surge of emotions running through your brain, while having a narrow time restraint for each session can make anyone feel overwhelmed. You might be wondering about how to make this experience less stressful and how to fully take advantage of every minute you spend with your psychiatrist. With the right steps, you will see how easy and attainable this can be!
Steps You Can Take to Maximize Communication Skills Between You and Your Psychiatrist
#1: Understanding Your Psychiatrist
Both psychiatrists and psychologists are similar in the fact that they obtained doctorate degrees in their fields. But, what many people don’t recognize is that psychiatrists are actual medical doctors or doctor of osteopathy meaning they are a physician and psychologists are doctors of psychology. Psychiatrists are trained and licensed to prescribe and manage psychotropic medications (mental health meds) whereas psychologists are trained to perform therapy for example listening skills, fostering a trusting and non-judgmental relationship and suggesting specific interventions designed to reduce mental health symptoms. In the best case scenario, if you are receiving medication and therapy for your diagnosis, your psychiatrist and psychologists should be working together as a multidisciplinary team so that you get the best care possible and each provider knows what the other is working on.\
That being said, because a psychiatrist and psychologist have such different training and areas of expertise, they tend to have different personalities and behaviors in your appointment. Expecting this disparity and understanding that each provider is offering you a different healthcare service is the best way to walk into your appointment with confidence and an accurate understanding of what you are trying to accomplish that day.
FYI….therapists (psychologists are a doctoral level therapist) have a tendency to have better bed side manner which means they say things in a gentler way and are better communicators. Psychiatrists are looking at the appointment through a medical lens and sometimes struggle with communicating with as much compassion or patience. That does not mean they aren’t doing their job. It just means the objective of the appointment is different and the personality behind the person providing the service is also different.
Finding the right psychiatrist that can properly match your needs is imperative. You should look for someone who is present and attentive, while understanding that they may not be as warm and fuzzy as your therapist or psychologist. If you feel like you cannot openly communicate with your psychiatrist or you notice you are being rushed through your appointment, it is fully acceptable to express to them how you are feeling and work together to establish a preferable solution. For example, you can say “lately, I haven’t felt that I am able to relay what I want to in our sessions together. Is there something you can do to make me feel more comfortable?”. This gives the psychiatrist a chance to try and alter what they are doing to make you feel more confident when you are speaking to them. If you still don’t feel assured and don’t want to continue, it is completely normal and okay to seek out a different psychiatrist. In fact, you can even ask your present doctor to refer you to someone else who they think may be a better fit. Once you feel secure in the psychiatrist you choose, it will allow for more effortless dialogue which lends itself to you getting some relief from symptoms.
#2: Come Prepared For Your First Session
Whether you are seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in your life or if you are just switching to a new psychiatrist, it is beneficial to come prepared for your initial session. The first thing you can do is come in with an open mind. Having any preconceived notions can cause unnecessary stress that can unconsciously alter the effectiveness of your session. Allowing yourself to relax and trust the process will ensure that things run more smoothly. For example, your psychiatrist will be asking you a lot of questions because they are trying to assess what your diagnosis might be and what medication is going to work best and if you even need medication at all. Just because you go to see a psychiatrist does not mean you will walk out with a prescription. Medication is not always indicated depending on your age, symptoms and prognosis. As long as your symptoms are not severe, engaging in therapy for 90 days is sometimes a less invasive route to try first.
Another thing that you can do to prepare yourself for your first psychiatry appointment is to formulate open-ended questions to ask your psychiatrist and write them down. Open-ended questions are a good way to direct the conversation to what you are curious about. An open ended question is a question you ask that cannot be answered with one word. It forces the other person in the conversation to “explain” something meaning you can get the most information possible. An example could be, “What are the possible side effects of being on a medication that you have seen in other patients?” or “How do I know medication is the right fit for me personally?”. By coming in with these questions, it will allow you to get answers to everything you want to know without feeling flustered and overwhelmed. The week before your appointment when questions about your mental health and/or medications pop into your head, write them down or make notes in your phone so that your psychiatry appointment is as productive as possible. Often patients complain that once the visit was over, a flood of questions and ideas they wanted to share were lost while the appointment was actually happening.
#3: Be Aware of Your Time Constraint
Time restrictions may seem like a major roadblock when trying to communicate with your psychiatrist. While the initial intake session will be longer (45-60 minutes), your time in each follow up session will substantially diminish. Most follow-up sessions range anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Now I know you may be questioning if it’s possible to get through everything you want in that amount of time, but I am here to tell you that it is. Being aware of your time limitation is the first measure you can take to maximize the time that you do have with your psychiatrist. Instead of trying to remember everything you wanted to discuss in the heat of the moment, remember that writing down any questions, concerns, observations, or even side effects that you experience between sessions will be valuable to your time. You can strategically plan out what your session is going to look like before you walk in. One strategy you can take is breaking up the time into three separate sections; the first 5 minutes, the middle 5 minutes, and the last 5 minutes of your appointment. What you choose to discuss in each 5-minute section is totally up to you to decide. It can change every appointment based on your needs but this will help you shift your focus and ensure that you have time for everything you want to tackle that day.
This may sound obvious, but showing up early for your appointment will ensure you are not late which will make the appointment rushed. It will also give you time to mentally prepare yourself for the appointment before it begins. Another way to make the best use of your intake or follow-up appointments is to be honest with your doctor about what is actually going on and how you feel. Many patients feel pressured to tell the psychiatrist they are feeling better even though they really aren’t. There is no blood test for depression and anxiety which means your treatment is solely based on self-report ( what you tell the doctor you are feeling). Its not your job to make the psychiatrist feel like he is doing good at his job! If you notice new symptoms tell him or her. If you don’t feel any different at all since starting a new medication let them know. Being honest with your psychiatrist isn’t always easy. Being honest with yourself about your progress or setbacks is even harder. Therapy can help you make the most our of your psychiatry visits by preparing you, practicing what to say and being honest with yourself about where your mental health is.
Based on everything we just learned, I want you to read the scenario below and determine whether or not you think Jade used good communication skills in her psychiatry appointment.
Jade is going to her first appointment with a new psychiatrist. She has previously been to 3 other psychiatrists in the past but cannot find one that she likes. This leaves her feeling hopeless and inadequate. She thinks that she will never find someone that she can talk to and she often worries that she will never get better. She comes in to her first new appointment already feeling defeated. The psychiatrist begins to ask her questions about what she is coming in for. She starts rambling about how nothing has worked for her in the past and that she has tried 5 other medications each one for a few weeks but none of them seemed to help. The psychiatrist asks what medications she has tried and how long she has been on them. She starts feeling overwhelmed because she cannot remember the names of all the medications and doesn’t know how long she was on each of them. The psychiatrists tries to pull as much information he can from Jade while also putting her at east but by the time they finally get somewhere, there is no time left in her session. Sherry gets very upset and thinks that it is the psychiatrists fault that they couldn’t accomplish everything she wanted to so she decides it’s best if she tries to find a new doctor.
If you believe Jade did not use good communication skills, you are correct!
Let’s take a look at what Jade did wrong and what she could have done that would make her communication skills more effective. First, it seems that Sherry has a tendency of jumping from psychiatrist to psychiatrist and medication to medication without giving any of them (the doctor nor the medication) to do its job. Medications usually take between 3-6 weeks to even begin to notice the beginning stages of help and often psychiatrist will work with a new patient for upwards of 12 months to find the right dosage or combination for that patient. The reality is that psychiatrists do a lot of “tinkering” and process of elimination to get to the right treatment.
It doesn’t seem that she gives her doctor or the medication a chance before moving on to the next one. You should always give the psychiatrist the benefit of the doubt and try to openly discuss how you feel before trying another doctor. Jade also comes in to her first appointment with preconceived notions, unprepared and with a defeatist attitude. This forces her to put her guard up, even if she doesn’t notice it. Instead she should try to leave the past in the past because each experience is a new experience. She has never tried this psychiatrist before so it is a great opportunity to start of fresh! Another mistake Jade made was not writing down any problems she experienced in the past, medications she had previously been on, or anything she wanted to discuss. She expected the psychiatrist to do all the work which caused her to feel agitated and disappointed. This ultimately made her run out of the time she had in her session. In the future, Jade should make sure she writes down what she wants to accomplish so she feels she didn’t waste her time, energy, and money!
Recommendations for Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Psychiatry Appointment
Start Getting Therapy!
If you are seeing a psychiatrist you should also consider talk-therapy. Research has shown that combined treatment of the two will yield the best results. Think about it… remember when we were discussing the time limitation that you have with your psychiatrist? If you decided to start going to therapy this would be the perfect time to discuss things that you may not have gotten to in your psychiatry session. In therapy, you have a safe and secure space to just talk and let out how your feeling. There is no judgment from the therapist, they are just an unbiased person to work through your problems with. Fortunately, since you start to share so much of yourself with your therapist, they may see something that your psychiatrist didn’t. You could request that both your therapist and psychiatrist communicate and consult on your case together. This will allow them to share important information that could be beneficial to your progress.
Don’t be Intimidated
Since psychiatrists are medical doctors it may be intimidating to talk to them. Please try and remember that psychiatrists are human beings and have short comings and deficits just like everyone else. They are experienced and well trained in working with patients who want to try medication but they are not a therapist and do not perform therapy. To expect them to do so is like expecting your primary care doctor to fill a cavity.
Mental Health Office Behavior
If you haven’t been to a psychiatry session before, here is some important things you should do when going in for an appointment; provide your pharmacy’s information, your ID card and insurance card, if needed. Also, please make sure to have good office demeanor when you go in for a session or when talking to the staff on the phone. The staff is doing everything they can to help you and to try to make the process as smooth as possible. Please be patient with them and treat them with the respect that you would want to be treated with. When you mistreat the office staff it leaves a bad taste in the providers’ mouth. Psychiatrist and psychologists hear about patient behavior in the front office before you even get into your appointment. Remember that and try to practice courteous and considerate behavior for example, calling if you are running late, canceling at least 24 hours before your appointment and not arguing about “No Show” fees which are customary in All medical office if you do not show up or call to cancel your appointment. Keep in mind that when you cancel last minute or “No Show” the psychiatrists or psychologist cannot put another patient in that spot and time and money is lost.
How to use this Information to your Benefit
Its now time to put everything we just learned into practice. Remember find a psychiatrist that you can connect with and feel comfortable. It will benefit you in the long run. Make sure to go in with an open mind. Write down all your questions, concerns, and observations that you have for your psychiatrist prior to your appointment to maximize your time. Consider adding a therapist on to your team to build up your support and get you the help you need. And always behave with dignity and kindness when interacting with front office staff. These tips are all designed to help you get the most our of your psychiatry visit, whether it is your first or you already know the ropes. If you would like more information or to schedule a psychiatry or talk therapy appointment at MorMindful Therapy & Psychiatry please give us a call at 561-460-1885 or visit us at www.MorMindful.com.
Written By: Brianna Domaceti, B.S. in Psychology
Editing Psychologist Blair Mor, Psy.D.