Dr. David Henderson

Seeing a mental health professional can be a scary thing to do, but with some preparation ahead of time, you can be confident that you are taking the right steps toward securing your own or a family member’s mental health. Here are just a few recommendations:

  1. Do your research ahead of time. Reading online reviews of a doctor can be helpful, but more often than not, getting a recommendation from a friend, a primary care physician, or another therapist who has had a positive experience with the doctor is the best way to feel comfortable that you have made a good choice.
  2. Consider the style of the professional. Is the doctor’s method of evaluation conducive to your needs? Ask questions of the staff before making an appointment: How long is the initial evaluation? Do I see the doctor the whole time or are their other individuals, assessments, and time commitments involved? It would even be appropriate to ask about the personality style of the doctor. Many people want to know if a doctor is sensitive to their spiritual and religious beliefs. These are all valid inquiries to help you make an informed decision. If staff seem inpatient and unwilling to respond, you might take that as a warning sign for future experiences. (Realize, however, that most doctors’ offices are extremely busy, so it would be helpful to think out your questions ahead of time, write them down, and take notes while you talk in order to get as much information in as short amount of time as possible.)
  3. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. No physician should get upset by a client’s decision to obtain a second opinion. It is always helpful to have another set of eyes on the situation to help determine the appropriateness of the diagnosis and the effectiveness of the treatment. If opinions differ, however, it will ultimately be your choice to decide on whose advice you act. Just realize that most doctors will require that you make a decision and see one or the other professional. Doctors do get concerned when a client shifts from doctor to doctor because it interrupts what we call “continuity of care.” Continuity of care allows us to follow an individual over time, make sure that treatments are effective and safe, and intervene quickly if a problem arises.
  4. If you’re hesitant to start medication, consider seeing a psychologist first. Most psychologists are trained in assessing personality styles and symptoms related to mental illness. If you are really wanting to keep medication as a last resort and fearful that a psychiatrist will automatically prescribe (It happens sometimes!), you might start here and allow the psychologist to recommend psychiatric treatment if they are concerned. Just realize that this adds an addition step onto the process and may lengthen the time it takes to find relief from your symptoms.
  5. Trust your instincts. After you’ve done your research and talked to friends and family, move forward with the treatment recommendations that have been agreed upon. Most doctors today are collaborative in their approach. They don’t “force” you to do things unless they have an immediate concern for your safety or the safety of others. In these instances, they will likely involve friends and family who love and understand you. Each step of the way, ask questions. Talk openly about your concerns. That’s why the doctor is there. Perhaps you are unsure of your decision-making abilities. You have a right to an advocate who could join you, at least for the initial evaluation. And remember, if it doesn’t work out between you and the doctor for some reason, it doesn’t mean that you or the doctor has failed. It may simply mean that there is a better person suited to care for your needs.

Questions: Why do you think it is so scary to see a psychiatrist or other mental health professional? Is it possible that some of your fears can be assuaged by following the steps above? What other helpful tools have you developed to find the right professional for yourself, your family, or your friends?