What to Expect During Your First Psychiatrist Appointment

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What to Expect During Your First Psychiatrist Appointment

Psychiatric drugs can be a significant part of mental health care. But if you’ve never met with a psychiatrist before, it can feel intimidating. Here’s what to expect during your first psychiatrist appointment when you meet to talk about starting mental health medication.

Psychiatrist appointments generally last for 40-60 minutes. You’ll spend that time explaining your personal history, mental health concerns, and treatment plan.

Questions They’re Likely to Ask You

Your psychiatrist is likely to start the session with a general question like “What brings you in today?” Such an open-ended question can fluster some people, so it’s a good idea to come with notes or to set aside some time beforehand to gather your thoughts before your appointment so the topics you want to discuss and have treated are fresh in your mind.

Take this time to explain what the psychiatrist needs to know in order to help you. This can include things like:

  • Your personal medical and psychiatric history
  • Your family medical and psychiatric history
  • Any and all psychiatric medications you’ve tried in the past, including how long you took them and how well they worked for you
  • Your medical concerns and any diagnoses (physical or mental)
  • Whether you’ve seen a psychiatrist in the past (if so, it’s a good idea to send your records from your previous psychiatrist’s office)
  • Whether you’re seeing a therapist (and if so, provide their name and contact information in case the psychiatrist wants to collaborate with your therapist when developing your treatment plan)

Some of the questions the psychiatrist asks you might bring up sensitive issues like history of trauma or abuse. If they ask you anything you don’t feel comfortable explaining in detail, it’s okay to tell them that. They can often still treat your concerns without a detailed play-by-play.

Don’t be surprised or embarrassed if you get emotional during the appointment. It’s totally normal – and even common. Sharing your mental health struggles can be vulnerable and emotionally exhausting. Any standard psychiatrist’s office will have a box of tissues available. Don’t be shy about using them; they’re there for a reason! Psychiatrists are very used to patients getting flustered or emotional in their office, so they should be supportive and allow you to take your time.

Approach your appointment with the mindset that you’re meeting with the psychiatrist to see if they’re the right fit for you. The quality of the relationship you have with your provider (which includes your medication prescriber) is a key factor in how effective your treatment will end up being.

Questions You May Want to Ask Them

It’s a good idea to come with questions – after all, you’re talking about your life and your mental health. Here are some good questions to come prepared to ask:

  • How do you usually treat patients like me?
  • When can I expect to feel better?
  • What side effects can I expect from this medication?
  • If I experience significant side effects, what should I do? Can I contact you before my next appointment to troubleshoot?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes you’d recommend I make alongside this medication?
  • Does this medication interact with alcohol?
  • What’s the best way to reach you?
  • Are you available for me to reach you between appointments, such as for emergencies, refills, or time-sensitive medication concerns?

You Might Leave Your Appointment With:

  • An explanation of your treatment options, including medications
  • A prescription for medication(s)
  • Referrals for psychotherapy, if needed
  • Any recommended labs, bloodwork, or other tests your psychiatrist wants you to have done before starting your medication (to rule out any possible medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms)
  • If more intensive care is needed to adequately address your symptoms and situation, your psychiatrist will talk you through your options

What to Do After Your Appointment

Your psychiatrist will most likely want to see you again to follow up; they should provide a timeline on when they want to see you again. It’s a good idea to schedule your next appointment before you leave the office to make sure you don’t get stuck waiting a long time for your next appointment.

Take Notes: After you leave, you might remember things that you meant to mention during your appointment. Jot these down as they come to you so you can refer back to them during your next appointment. 

De-Stress: If you left your appointment feeling upset, triggered, or emotional, give yourself time to decompress before going on with your day. After clearing your head, ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable. Was it talking about your mental health struggles? Did the psychiatrist do something you found insensitive? Do you feel comfortable talking to them? Do you feel like they cared about what was important to you? Did you feel heard? This can help you decide whether to find a different psychiatrist or simply let the treatment plan run its course with the same psychiatrist. 

It might take more than one session for you to feel comfortable with your psychiatrist – they’re a stranger, after all. But if they make you feel uncomfortable, you don’t feel heard, don’t feel like you’re seeing progress, or find yourself feeling dissatisfied with the therapeutic relationship or their recommended treatment plan, you can always get a second opinion from a different prescriber.

It's normal to feel apprehensive about pursuing medication to help treat mental illness. But with the right prescriber on your team, you’ll likely feel much more confident and optimistic about your mental health outlook.

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