What to Expect at your First Visit with a Psychiatrist

If you are contemplating seeing a psychiatrist, or you have an upcoming appointment, chances are you’re a little nervous, or at least apprehensive. Choosing a psychiatrist is a personal and important decision. You’re trying to enhance your life by meeting a complete stranger and explaining your inner most emotions to them. Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, not so much. Most people don’t know how or where to start, or what to expect. It’s no wonder that thinking about it feels awkward and uncomfortable. Here’s the scoop.

Being unbiased and honest is the key to starting off right.

During your first visit, the psychiatrist will perform a psychiatric evaluation. This may sound intimidating and clinical, but it’s really just a way of saying “getting to know a person.” The psychiatrist will ask you about your medical and family history. They’ll also try to get a sense of your main concerns and goals.

It’s important to remember not to overanalyze what the psychiatrist is asking. It’s easy to misinterpret or read into the intent of a question, and that can alter your response. Answers that aren’t completely straightforward make proper diagnosis and treatment harder, as the doctor ends up basing your assessment on false pretenses. It’s best to be as honest as possible. Don’t worry about how your answers sound or could be interpreted. Try not to be shy about your life, even if you’re worried that what you’re saying sounds embarrassing or silly. An open minded and honest approach will set a solid foundation for future visits, and ultimately for success.

Do not compromise on care.

There are certain things that should be expected when you see a psychiatrist, and others that should not be tolerated. If you feel uncomfortable or misunderstood, you may not have found the right psychiatrist for you. You should always be treated with respect. The psychiatrist should be focused on trying to understand you and your struggles. They should be polite, compassionate, and a good listener. If your clinician is not making eye contact and is overly focused on documenting what you’re saying or writing a prescription, it could be a red flag.

Medications will be discussed but should not be the sole focus.

For better or worse, medications are at the core of what psychiatrists do. We’re experts in psychotropic medications, so it’s inevitable that the topic of medications will come up. Still, despite being a major element of psychiatric care, medications should never be the ONLY component of the conversation. People are more than walking chemical imbalances. There are psychological, social, and interpersonal dynamics at play. Focusing exclusively on medications would be oversimplifying what it means to be a human being.

​You should be an active participant in your treatment

By the end of the first visit you should be provided with a diagnosis and given an overall assessment and plan for treatment. All of your questions should be completely answered. Medication risks, benefits, indications, and alternatives should all have been discussed. Most importantly, you should be given the opportunity to express what is helpful (or not helpful) for you. Patients have the right to refuse treatments and express their opinion as it relates to their treatment. Leaving your first session without a clear understanding of your medication or treatment goals makes improvement less likely. Though you may not leave your session completely perfect, you should certainly leave feeling confident in the next steps to achieving happiness.