Preparing for a Mental Health Appointment

What can you expect from your first consultation?

Written by Paola Singer

Preparing for a Mental Health Appointment

01 Mental health treatment comes in many different forms. That's why it's so important to do research before setting up a visit.

02 Everyone should understand who they're seeing, what services that clinician provides, and what information they'll need to share prior to an appointment.

03 Being in touch with your own expectations is a key component of successful therapy. Don't hold back. Be candid and ask for what you need.

Going to see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you’re not used to talking openly about distressing thoughts or painful life events. But even if you do feel comfortable sharing your experience, you may not know exactly what to expect or how to make the most of your time with a professional.

Here’s a quick guide to help you prepare for your first appointment:

Know who you're seeing.

Both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to help people deal with mental health issues, but only psychiatrists can prescribe medication. If you’re not sure whether you’ll need medication or not, a psychologist is a good starting point.

Psychiatrists receive training in psychotherapy, yet many focus primarily on pharmacology. Most people who take medication see a psychologist for regular talk therapy, and also a psychiatrist every month or every few months for medication management.

Set expectations.

Think about the information you should share with the provider and what you expect from treatment. Write those things down and bring the list with you to the appointment. If it seems easier, show the list to the therapist or doctor. It’s necessary to be completely honest and forthcoming, but it’s also useful to be concise during the first meeting. Time can go by quickly.

Prepare questions.

The following is a useful set of questions you can ask yourself before the appointment:

  • When and how did you first notice symptoms?
  • To what extent is your daily life affected by them?
  • What have you tried on your own to feel better or what makes you feel worse?
  • Was there an event or series of events that precipitated your symptoms? 

And these are questions you might want to ask your provider:

  • What kind of training do you have?
  • What’s your approach to therapy?
  • What type of condition might I have and is that something you normally treat?
  • Do you think this will be a short-term or long-term therapy?
  • Do you offer a sliding scale? (this is especially relevant if the therapist does not participate in your insurance plan)
  • What is your policy regarding missed appointments?

What Happens During the First Visit with a Psychiatrist

Kati sits down with Dr. Barry Lieberman to talk about what a first psychiatry appointment looks like.

Anticipate physical exams.

During a first meeting with a psychiatrist, expect to answer several questions about your health, even if they seem unrelated to your symptoms, as well as the health of your blood relatives.

In some cases, the doctor may want to run some tests to rule out any physical ailments that may be contributing to your symptoms. If medications are suggested, ask about the side effects (but don't longer on this issue, as side effects vary widely from person to person), how often and at what times you need to take it, and how quickly you can expect the drug to work. Ask how and when you can contact them if you experience any adverse reactions when trying a new medication. Lastly, ask how often you will need to see them. 

Be candid.

Remember why you are there: to feel better and to become healthier. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to be completely honest and not “sugar coat” any of your moods or experiences. You should disclose if you use recreational drugs and alcohol, if you have self harmed, and anything else that might help the psychologist or psychiatrist come up with the most effective treatment for you.

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