If you have a mental illness, you are most likely seeing a psychiatrist (pdoc). This post is designed to help the person that hasn’t been to a pdoc yet as well as those people that have been going for years.
A pdoc is a medical doctor that specializes in mental illness and can prescribe medication for treatment.
When you go see a pdoc, it’s just like going to your physical doctor’s office. You check in at the desk and, if you’re a new patient, you’ll need to fill out some paperwork. Be sure to take a list of the medications you’re taking. Bring your medical insurance card. Finally, write down any symptoms you’ve been having. Once you’re done with the paperwork, you return it to the front desk. Then you wait for your name to be called.
When it is your turn to see the pdoc, you will likely have an appointment that lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. (First time appointments usually take an hour).
You will go into the pdoc’s office and have a seat where you are comfortable. The doctor will ask you how you’ve been feeling and if you’ve had any symptoms. (The pdoc will likely ask, “How are you?” This isn’t a general question. They want to know how you are mentally.) If you are symptomatic, the pdoc will determine the best course of action to treat you. They will likely prescribe one or more medications. They will also go over potential side effects and tell you if and when you should call the office about side effects. Typically, when you’re starting a new medication, your pdoc will want to see you again within 1-3 months.
Be an active participant in your treatment. Ask questions, take notes.
The pdoc will let you know when the appointment is over and guide you back to the front desk to make a follow-up appointment. If payment wasn’t taken when you checked in, it will be collected at this stage.
If you don’t feel like you and the pdoc are on the same page, try another doctor. It is important that you have a good rapport with your pdoc. Being able to honestly communicate is essential. But I also know that it’s sometimes difficult to find a good match. Sometimes you have to settle for competence. At one time, I had trouble finding a good pdoc so I drove seven hours round trip every month to see a doctor that I trusted. (This lasted for about a year).
I have hour long, monthly appointments with my current pdoc. I’ve been seeing her for 12 years. I am very fortunate. She is a compassionate, hilarious, ally in my fight against mental illness. Upon arriving at her office, I check in with her administrative assistant, pay my fee (my insurance doesn’t cover my pdoc), grab a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and sit in the same seat I’ve waited in for years. For me, paying out of pocket is, literally, the cost of having a good pdoc.
My pdoc opens the door to her office suite and calls me back. I walk back to her office and sit on the same couch spot that I’ve occupied for years. We talk about how much I’ve been getting out, whether I’ve been irritable or depressed and whether I’ve been exercising and getting outside. Depending on my symptoms, if any, we negotiate medication changes. I always bring a list of the medications I need refills for so she can write new prescriptions.
I keep track of the time by the clock on her wall. When she gets out her prescription pad, I know the end of the appointment is near. She writes out any instructions she has regarding medication and daily activities. Then she writes out any prescriptions I need. She walks me back to the door to the reception area. If her administrative assistant isn’t there, she makes my next appointment. Then I’m on my way.
Even though I’ve been seeing pdocs for over 25 years, I still get nervous about appointments. It’s not easy to talk about your emotions and irrational thoughts. I take a lot of deep breaths and always write notes about what I want to address. There have been times I’ve had to take a Klonopin (anti-anxiety medication) before an appointment due to being nervous.
If your pdoc starts you on a new medication or new dosage of an existing medication, be sure to record your mood and any changes. By keeping track of your moods you will be able to tell if a medication/new dosage is working. And you’ll be preparing for your next pdoc appointment.
What questions do you have about seeing a pdoc? How long have you been seeing your current pdoc? What advice do you have for those that are new to psychiatry?
Click on the link below for a sheet you can take with you to the psychiatrist’s office.