- Natasha J. Thomas, MD
3 Important Topics to Discuss at Your Psychiatry Visits
Updated: May 12, 2021
If you are someone who has taken the plunge and started working with a psychiatrist, congratulations! Many people who face mental health concerns struggle with the idea of seeing a provider in the mental health field - especially a psychiatrist. Stigma and misconceptions about what it means if you "have to see a psychiatrist" are the biggest obstacles to seeking care. So, going in for a psychiatric consultation takes a bit of courage. Good job!
The Intake Appointment
At your first appointment, you can expect to spend up to an hour discussing how you've been feeling - and what made you decide to come in and seek assistance. You will be asked about your:
Medical history (allergies, current medications, chronic illnesses, surgeries, etc.)
Psychiatric history (psychiatric hospitalizations, medications you may have tried, history of counseling, history of suicide attempts or other forms of self-harm)
Other medical providers
Use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs
Family history of mental illness
Upbringing and current social situation (work, relationships, children, support network, religious beliefs, etc.)
By the end of your first appointment, your psychiatrist should have gathered enough information about you to start to devise a plan for getting you feeling better! They may recommend further testing, counseling, self-help workbooks, dietary or other lifestyle changes, medications, or a combination of these things. And they should include you in deciding on the plan.
When it is time for your follow-up appointment, you may not know exactly what to expect or what information your psychiatrist needs to continue to help you. And that's very common. New patients getting acclimated to psychiatric care often ask:
"What am I supposed to be feeling?"
"I don't know what these meds are supposed to be doing. How long will I need them?"
"How will we know when I'm better?"
Today's blogpost gives 3 quick topics that you want to make sure you discuss at your psychiatry follow-ups. They will help make sure the session time is well-spent and you are on course to mental wellness.
Topic #1: Progress on "Target Symptoms"
During your first appointment with the psychiatrist, it's important to make sure you are able to list your "target symptoms." These are symptoms that you're experiencing that you'd like to see go away. Common target symptoms are:
Thoughts of dying or self-harm
The main reason you decided to go to the psychiatrist is usually your main "target symptom."
Prior to going to follow-up appointments, make a list of your "target symptoms" and make a note if they have improved, worsened, or stayed the same. Being clear on where your symptoms are will greatly assist your psychiatrist in tweaking your plan. Be sure to include whether you've been consistent with following your recommended treatment plan (i.e., taking medications, going to counseling, etc.).
Topic #2: Any Changes in Medical Care
If you have had ANY changes in your medical care between appointments, make sure to inform your psychiatrist. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that all areas of your medical care can have an impact on your mental health.
Also, let them know if you have:
Started a new medication or supplement
Had any surgeries
Have gotten a physical examination or lab work, and share your results.
Topic #3: Have You Been Under New Stress?
Your exposure to stress (even good stress) can drastically alter your experience of your "target symptoms." Examples of good stress are exciting things like going to college, getting a new job, buying a home, or having a new baby. Of course the usual "bad" stressors we hear of are things like relationship difficulty, job loss, financial problems, or recent health issues or accidents.
If you have had a life change, new problem, or even have exciting news, be sure to share it with your doctor. It will help your psychiatrist determine if the change in your symptoms is due to situations in your life and should be monitored, or if a change in your treatment plan is indicated.
Advocating for yourself and getting the best out of your psychiatric care is your right! Once you've made the step to pursue your mental wellness, the next step is knowing how to create a rapport and therapeutic relationship with your doctor that helps you feel empowered and free to discuss those things that really matter in your progress.
If you have any questions about other topics you should discuss with your psychiatrist, please feel free to mention them in our "comments" section.