Has a friend or physician ever mentioned that you might benefit from seeing a mental health professional?
Does the thought of doing so scare the socks off of you?
For a lot of people, the answer is yes.
Mental health professionals are often portrayed in a very specific, and not always great, manner.
I’m here to help you prepare for your first time at the psychiatrist or therapist, and to give you a better sense of what to expect.
The First Appointment
You will show up to the office to fill out the standard insurance paperwork.
Certain offices may have you fill out extra paperwork to better help your provider focus in on how best to help you. It usually will come in the way of a survey, asking questions like:
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night?
How much does it bother you on a scale from 1-10?
Sometimes the questions are more open-ended, such as:
What are some of the things you would like to work on in therapy?
How much do these things bother you on a scale from 1-10?
When ready, you will be brought back to your provider (hopefully on time).
First Time at the Psychiatrist: The Office
A standard office will have a few chairs, a desk, and a computer. Here are a list of things you are unlikely to see:
- a standard medical examination table
- a couch you are expected to lay down on
- a cold room with padded walls
Whereas most physician’s offices are cold and clinical, a lot of mental health professional’s offices are meant to be warm and inviting. If you are going to be talking about difficult topics, you may as well be comfortable.
First Time at the Psychiatrist: The Initial Interview
Your initial appointment may last anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour. The goal of your first appointment should be to figure out what you feel you need help with and how best to do so. Questions like, “what brought you in today,” help to focus on what’s important.
You will be asked a lot of questions. What things are going right in your life? What things might not be? Expect to do a lot of the talking the first appointment.
You may be asked some questions that seem irrelevant. These types of questions give the provider a more complete picture of who you are. You may get asked about:
- Your past medical history
- Your past mental health history
- If you experience symptoms of specific psychiatric questions
- Your family history
- Your education and job
Our intention is to not only address your concerns, but to also notice patterns that you may not.
So What’s the Plan?
Towards the end of the interview, you and the provider will work together to create a plan moving forward.
If you are meeting with a psychiatrist, he/she may bring up whether a medication may be helpful. They should explain their reasoning, side effects, and any interaction it may have with your seizure medications.
If you are meeting with a psychologist or therapist, he/she will likely discuss what the goals of therapy could be moving forward.
It’s like using GPS: You plug in the desired location, and your mental health provider will help you get there.
A lot of time, people will see both a psychiatrist and a psychologist/therapist. Research has shown that the combination of medication and therapy results in greater improvement then either one individually.
How Does Epilepsy Play a Role?
In several ways! Starting a new medication while already taking an anti-epileptic medication can cause a lot of anxiety.
- Can a medication increase the chance of having a seizure?
- Do certain medications carry a higher risk?
- What type of side effects might I expect?
Our seizure medications are known for having several side effects, so it will be important to know if a new medication may have an additive effect.
Depending on the research you look at, 26-62% of people with epilepsy will also have a mental health diagnosis like generalized anxiety, major depression, or social anxiety disorder.
These numbers are way higher than the general population. Not only that, even though people with epilepsy see more physicians than the general population, we are treated less often for mental health disorders.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health; your mental health could be impacting your physical health.
I tell all of my patients that no one is going to force you to go back for a second appointment if it’s not for you. Sometimes the first provider you meet may not be the right fit. It is okay to be choosy.
The benefit of going to see a specialist may just outweigh the initial anxiety you feel about making that appointment.