What to Expect at Your First Psychiatrist Appointment

Man talking with therapist in therapy
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It's normal to be a little nervous when you go to your first appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional. You're probably not sure what to expect, which can lead to making you feel out of control.

While it can be nerve-wracking, there is nothing to fear. Your psychiatrist is there to help you learn more about the process and help you decide which steps to take next. It might take some time to find the right psychiatrist for you, but your mental health is worth the investment of time and energy.

This article discusses what you can expect during your first psychiatrist appointment. It covers how to prepare for your appointment, what to bring, and what you should do during and after your visit.

Prepare for the First Appointment

It's normal to feel a bit apprehensive before your first psychiatrist appointment. After all, discussing sensitive personal information with a stranger can be daunting for anyone. Your psychiatrist is a highly trained professional who is there to help, and there are steps you can take to make your first appointment a success.

Paperwork and Payment

Before your first psychiatrist appointment, you'll need to provide some basic information about yourself, such as your contact information, medical history, and insurance information. It may be possible to do this online before your appointment, but you can also often do this at the office when you arrive.

You should also sort out your payment details before your first appointment. Check with your insurer beforehand to see if your visit will be covered. Your insurance provider can also tell you if you need to get a referral from your primary care provider before your appointment.

Schedule your first appointment at a time when you can have a relaxed conversation with your psychiatrist. Avoid scheduling appointments when you're likely to be tired or stressed.

Medical History

Write down important information about your medical history. This should include:

  • Any mental health diagnoses
  • Medications you're taking
  • Any psychiatric hospitalizations
  • Any past therapy or treatment for a mental health condition

If you have any medical conditions that might affect your mental health, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, or heart disease, be sure to mention them to your psychiatrist.

Family medical history can also be relevant, so be sure to note if there is a history of psychiatric issues in your family.

Doctor's Questions

Your psychiatrist will want to know why you are seeing them, so they will ask questions such as:

  • "Can you tell me what brings you here today?"
  • "How are you feeling?"
  • "What do you need help with?
  • "What can I do to help you?"

The purpose of asking these questions is to get a better idea of your symptoms and their effects on your life. To prepare for your appointment, you might find it helpful to write down some of your symptoms to feel better able to answer these types of questions.

Pre-Appointment Anxiety

Your anxiety over this first appointment may be causing you to assume the worst or think treatment will be tougher than it actually is. For instance, you may think you have too many problems to tackle.

However, the reality is that your therapist will likely focus on just one or two issues, to begin with and move on from there. Being prepared for your first appointment can help you manage your anxiety and nervousness.

Recap

You can prepare for your first appointment by filling out paperwork, taking care of payment details, writing down your medical history, and thinking about questions your psychiatrist might ask. Remember that some nervousness is perfectly normal, and your therapist is there to help.

Make a List of Concerns

Prior to your appointment, make a list of everything you are feeling and any questions you have for your doctor or healthcare professional. You will also want to write down any details about triggers, as well as how your life is affected by each item.

For example, if you're feeling paranoid, you need to list not just the feeling but what you feel paranoid about and how it affects your life. List exactly what you are feeling and experiencing and how your life is affected.

When you break down your feelings and how they are affecting your daily life, you paint a very clear picture for the doctor. It's very difficult to do that on the spot in a short visit when your brain is spinning and you aren't prepared, so make the list ahead of time.

Try to avoid putting labels on your feelings or triggers as you talk to your therapist. Let the doctor do that. Therapists could inadvertently be influenced by your labels, affecting their diagnosis or treatment recommendations.

During the Appointment

There are a number of things you can do during your appointment to make the process easier and ensure that you are getting the most out of the experience. 

Be Open and Honest

It's important to be candid with your psychiatrist. In order to provide the best possible care, you need to be as honest and open as you can. 

This often means talking about sensitive information of a highly personal nature. You might discuss topics such as your sexual history, family relationships, and drug use. While this may be difficult to share, it is important to remember that your psychiatrist can provide appropriate treatment unless they fully understand your situation.

Ask Questions

If you need more information or don't understand something your psychiatrist has said, ask for clarification. You might ask questions in the moment, or you might write them down so you can discuss them later.

Bring a Supportive Person

If you're feeling anxious about your first appointment, you may want to bring a supportive friend or family member with you. This person can provide emotional support and can help you remember what the psychiatrist says after the appointment.

Take Notes

It's normal to feel overwhelmed by all the information you might be taking in during that first appointment. You may find it helpful to take notes throughout your session. This can help you remember what you discussed, but it can also be a great way to reflect back on each session to think about what to talk about during your next appointment.

Recap

During your appointment, be honest with your psychiatrist, and don't be afraid to ask questions. You might opt to bring a trusted friend or take notes during your session so you can remember important details about your appointment.

After Your First Appointment

When you arrive home after your first appointment, you may wish to add notes to your list. While the visit is fresh in your mind, make notes for things you wish to talk about in more depth in the future or feelings which you did not have time to address during the visit.

Take a moment as well to ask yourself if you want to keep seeing this person or if, instead, you would rather see a different mental health care provider. An important part of coping with any mental health condition is to develop a solid relationship with a psychiatrist or therapist you can trust.

Research suggests that the therapeutic alliance, or the rapport and relationship between you and your therapist, plays an essential role in treatment outcomes.

Mental health professionals, like all people, have a wide range of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and it's important to find the one who is right for you as an individual.

A Word From Verywell

Creating a detailed list can make your first appointment with a mental health professional go much more smoothly. Your doctor will appreciate your preparation, too. Remember to keep your list simple and limit it to feelings and experiences, taking care not to fill in diagnoses that could mislead both you and your therapist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long is a first psychiatrist appointment?

    The length of your first appointment may vary depending on the individual therapist and your specific situation. In some cases, it might be the length of a regular session, which often lasts somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes. In other cases, your intake session will be the longest appointment, lasting between one and two hours.

  • What should I bring to my first psychiatrist appointment?

    Be sure to bring your insurance information to your first appointment. Also, take a list of all the medications you are currently taking. Note any psychiatric medications you may have taken in the past. 

    Copies of medical records can be helpful, but you can also bring handwritten information about your medical history. If you've been tracking information about your symptoms, moods, triggers, and self-care practices, be sure to bring those notes as well.

  • What if I don’t like my psychiatrist?

    If you don't like your psychiatrist, then it is probably best to look for a different mental health provider. It is perfectly normal to not feel comfortable with every therapist you meet, so don't be afraid to keep looking. You might simply say that you don't feel like it's a good match and ask if they or your primary care physician can refer you to a different professional. 

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5 Sources
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