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Preparing for Your Visit

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How should I prepare for my first appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist?

Ask the receptionist at the provider’s office what they require and recommend. Find out upfront whether they accept your insurance/Medicare/Medicaid, and if so, make sure you have your insurance card and a driver’s license or other government-issued identification with you. Otherwise, ask what other forms of payment are accepted.

Particularly if seeing a psychiatrist, you may need to bring or provide access to your records from prior treatment. If the physician is performing an evaluation, and you have had a psychiatric hospitalization, expect them to ask for the records.

You should also bring a list of medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements you take, including dosages.

Is it ok to bring a family member with me to the appointment?

Check first with the mental health professional’s office on what they allow or recommend.

What should I plan to ask or discuss during my first appointment?

The initial visit is largely a "getting to know you" session to help your mental health provider understand your concerns and goals, and get an idea of how to proceed with your treatment. You might take psychological tests for assessment or complete some screening tests to identify symptoms of disorders. During this visit, plan to explain why you made the appointment and describe the feelings and problems that have led you to seek help.

Here are some good questions to ask when starting to work with a mental health professional:

  • How would you describe the way you would work with me?
  • May I include family members in my treatment? Can they come to appointments with me?
  • What kind of therapy or treatment program do you recommend?
  • How effective is it for dealing with conditions and problems like mine?
  • What benefits and side effects should be expected?
  • How much therapy/treatment do you recommend?
  • How often and for how long would you anticipate seeing me?
  • How long do you expect it to take before I begin feeling better?
  • Will you coordinate my care with other treatment providers, and if so, how?
  • If I have questions or concerns between sessions, how can I get in touch with you?
  • Do you assign “homework” or reading to do between sessions? 

It’s always a good idea to ask your provider questions. If you don’t understand a diagnosis or why a particular type of treatment is recommended, ask.

Be honest and forthright in discussing your concerns, symptoms and what you hope to gain from treatment. Although the role of a psychiatrist/therapist is not to be a friend, rapport is a critical element of successful therapy.

After your initial visit, take some time to explore how you felt about the individual. You will be sharing your most personal thoughts with this person, and that requires establishing a relationship built on two-way trust.

What else should I expect working with a therapist or psychiatrist?

Therapy should address your needs, goals, concerns and desires. Therefore, your provider should tailor treatment to your specific needs and situation. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Different psychotherapies and medications are applied case-by-case. 

Depending on your situation, therapy can be fairly short or longer-term. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes.

If you are under the care of a psychiatrist for medication management but not for psychotherapy, expect to come in periodically to discuss how you’re feeling on your medication. He or she may need to make changes accordingly and continue monitoring your progress. Similar to patients who suffer from migraines, your doctor may ask you to keep a chart or log of certain symptoms to better understand when they occur or what makes them better or worse. 

You should expect discussions with your therapist or doctor to be confidential. If you're concerned, ask. It’s typically understood that a therapist respects your privacy, as do members of your group, if you are participating in group therapy.

Will my mental health professionals coordinate with each other and with my other doctors?

Good communication between your mental health providers is important and most helpful. If your psychiatrist does not offer psychotherapy and you are working with another professional for counseling, they should periodically touch base on your progress and responses to treatment. They may also coordinate with your other physicians. Similarly, if a therapist refers you to a psychiatrist for treatment with medication, it is beneficial for them to coordinate and have the perspective to make changes in your treatment plan if needed.

The information on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. We do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, mental health providers, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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