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7 Things to Know About Your Mental Health Diagnosis

There aren’t any medical procedures or blood tests that can show us exactly what mental health problem we have, so it’s important to take it upon yourself to get the best diagnosis possible.  There are many ways you can help yourself and the psychiatrist or psychologist who is helping you find a solution to your mental health needs.

1. Why You Need a Diagnosis

The National Alliance on Mental Illness  states getting a diagnosis is important because it can help you and your doctor develops a plan of treatment that will help ease any negative symptoms you may be having.  A diagnosis is also needed so you can get financial assistance to pay for your Psychologist and Psychiatrist visits, whether it is ordinary insurance or social security assistance.  Having a diagnosis can also help people feel relieved because they have had someone else verify that there symptoms are real and treatable. The British Journal of Psychiatry provides further information as to why getting a diagnosis is important.  A diagnosis can help a person realize they are not alone in this journey and that there are other people out there suffering from the same symptoms.  It can help people make sense and give order to why their brain is functioning a certain way and possibly causing limitations.

2. Know it is Normal to Feel Nervous about Your First Appointment

Meeting your Psychiatrist or Psychologist for the first time can be overwhelming. The First Step offers significant insight into what to expect in your first appointment. You are already dealing with issues that have yet to be given a name.  Whether it is anxiety, depression, bipolar or something else, you have been trying to figure out your own issues for a while with no success.  You now have the courage to seek professional help but you have no idea what to expect.  The anticipation can add an additional stress to an already stressful situation.  However, there are many things you can do to make the initial visit better and ease worries.  One thing you can do is know exactly what type of doctor you are meeting and what they can do for you. America’s Mental Health Channel provides suggestions on helpful ways to decrease the anxiety surrounding meeting with a Psychiatrist or Psychologist.

3. The Difference between Psychologists vs. Psychiatrist

Psychology Today discusses in detail the differences between Psychiatrists and Psychologists.  Serving the field of mental health seems to be the only commonality between the two.  Psychiatrists are actually medical doctors.  They went to the same type of medical school that your family practitioner or specialty doctor attended.  Once medical school was completed, they went on to specialize in Psychiatry and the field of mental health.  Learn.org describes the path to becoming a Psychiatrist in five steps.  The Psychiatrist is able to prescribe medicines to a patient and will ultimately be the person who will manage your mental health medicines.  The Psychiatrist is also the person that will determine whether or not you have a diagnosable problem and then create a plan of action to help you deal with that problem if one is found.  You can expect to meet with your Psychiatrist for follow up evaluations once every two to three months, six weeks being the minimum amount of time between appointments.

A Psychologist is also a doctor, but not in a medical sense.  According to the American Psychological Association, Psychologists train for many years by attending graduate schools and then completing thousands of supervisory hours.  At that time they get licensed by the State in which they work which allows them to begin their professional career as a Licensed Psychologist.  Duties of a Psychologist include research the human mind and working with patients in counseling sessions.  They can teach the client how to overcome mental health related problems over a longer period of time, usually 10 to 12 sessions over a six month period.  The majority of your time with a Psychologist will involve talk-therapy and cognitive behavioral activities to teach you how to be successful in your daily routine while still dealing with and conquering a mental health disorder.  A variety of psychological exams can be used in addition to these techniques.

Once you know which type of mental health doctor you need to see, you can begin to prepare for the initial session.  The more prepared you are for this first meeting, the more information you can gain which will lead to you having confidence in your treatment process.

4. How to Prepare for the First Meeting

Your initial visit with a Psychiatrist may last for up to an hour.  But do not expect this amount of time to be shared each visit.  In fact, the normal amount of time a Psychiatrist spends in follow-up sessions is less than 30 minutes.  The New York Times reported on a Psychiatrist that went from treating around 50 patients a week to treating over 1200 patients in a week, allowing 15 minutes a session.  Because of this, it is important that if you are seeing a Psychiatrist, you need to see a Psychologist working in the same practice so they can collaborate on your treatment plan.

While meeting with the Psychiatrist, he or she will begin the session with specific tasks that need to get done in order to establish a proper relationship.  There will initially be what seems like a lot of paperwork.  While it is not always fun, completing this paperwork will give the Psychiatrist a deeper look into your situation.  The ideal situation would involve the Psychiatrist completing the paperwork with you in a private session.  But with so many patients to see these days and with mental health issues on the rise, Psychiatrists are limited on time and relying on the patient to tell his or her story through this paperwork.

Meeting with a Psychologist for the first time will be quite different.  The Psychologist will meet with you for at least an hour and will discuss in detail everything that has led up to the initial session regarding your mental health issues.

It is important to be honest with both the Psychiatrist and Psychologist in order to get the most specific diagnosis and care possible.

In Beginning Therapy, there are four stages listed that normally happen within the first session with a Psychiatrist or Psychologist:

  1. Inception- where the basics are met including the greeting, getting privacy papers signed, explaining the treatment process.
  2. Reconnaissance- where an overview of what made you want to meet with the doctor, what basic symptoms are present.
  3. Detailed Inquiry- where the descriptions and questions go to a deeper level to get a better understanding of everything affecting you such as family or environmental stressors.
  4. Termination- when the session time is up the doctor will summarize the session and wrap up the session in a positive manner and invite you to the next session, explaining to you what will take place the next time you meet. The doctor may also give you activities to work on at home before returning to the next meeting.

5. Know Your Rights

Any good Psychiatrist or Psychologist will make sure you know and completely understand your rights as a client.  These include your right to have a right to access your file and records at any time; the right to end treatment at any time; the right to be treated ethically and not be discriminated against; the right to confidentiality; and you can request a new therapist at any time without repercussions.

How to Choose a Competent Counselor stresses the importance of privacy in not only the first session, but every session.  Privacy should be apparent from the moment you walk in the office.  No one should call you by your whole name, revealing who you are to others in the waiting room.  The walls should be soundproof and there should be barriers between offices and rooms so that you cannot see others receiving help and they cannot see you.

6. Know Which Questions to Ask the Doctor

Yes, it is important for you to do an interview of your own.  The more comfortable you feel with a doctor, the better you will feel opening up during sessions.  Not all doctors and patients meet for the first time and automatically form a bond.  Sometimes you may want to meet with several different doctors until you find the one that makes you feel like you are a priority and that your well-being is important to them.  Often we feel we are stuck with the first doctor we meet.  This is not true at all.  You do not have to pay someone to help you if they are not actually helping you.

Some may feel intimidated by the Psychiatrist or Psychologist.  But you have to remember that you are in control of the decision to see the right doctor.  It is your money, you need to choose the right person to do the job, as if you were choosing someone to hire in your business.

Six Questions Every Person Should Ask Their Therapist is an article in Everyday Health Magazine that offers specific questions you can use to interview your therapist.  Ask them what process they use to treat the symptoms you are having; whether they prefer dealing with the current symptoms to come up with a solution or do they require going back into the past to develop solutions, or both; Ask them if they are more of the leader or if you are expected to lead the sessions; Ask the doctor what role your relationship will play.  Will it be one where they tell you about tools and techniques to use or will they physically show you how to implement tools and techniques; just like in any other interview, ask them for a list of their strengths; and finally, ask the doctor if they have ever been in therapy or if they have ever experienced the symptoms you are having.

The Mental Health Consumer offers many great examples of questions to ask a Psychiatrist or Psychologist during the first session and a few are as follows:

  • What are your expectations of me as a patient?
  • Have you ever treated anyone in the past with the same symptoms I have?
  • Do you think I can be helped?
  • Can I include my family members in some of my sessions?
  • Will you recommend other outside resources for me to try during this process?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  A good Psychologist or Psychiatrist will welcome questions such as these and be appreciative that you are invested in your treatment.

7. Know that Honesty is Key

While it is natural to want to avoid telling someone your entire life history the first time you meet them, it is also very important that you are honest in what you do share with the Psychologist or Psychiatrist.  Reachout.com reports honesty in your first session can set the tone for the entire doctor/patient relationship, setting you up for success or failure finding a solution to your issues.

Don’t Stop After the First Appointment

Follow-up and follow-through is very important.

If you find you do not connect with the doctor you met in the first appointment, don’t give up.  Switch to a different Psychologist or get a second opinion from a new Psychiatrist.  Todd Molfenter wrote an article on the importance of following up and following through with treatment.  He basically claims that if you don’t show up, you can’t get the help you need.  There seems to be a high rate of no-shows among mental health clients, and even more so in the addiction field.  Patients give up when they don’t see immediate results or when they feel the relationship with their doctor is no longer beneficial.  However, by simply switching to a different program or expressing your concerns with your doctor, you could be moving even closer to that breakthrough you deserve.  And as this article claims, everyone, even happy people, can benefit from therapy.