Apprehension about talking to a psychiatrist for the first time is absolutely normal. It’s even expected — and not necessarily discouraged — by mental health professionals. You should be commended for the willingness and strength it takes to approach this often-avoided, important part of your life. You’re ready to focus on self-care and exploration.
Research shows that 1 out of 5 Americans will experience a mental health condition each year. Additionally, 1 out of 25 live with a serious mental health condition that can benefit from medication. For example, major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia all need to be managed through effective use of medication and therapy (or a combination of the two). Many people find that it was actually the prescribing and managing of medication that their psychiatrist offered that was most integral to their healing. In fact, some even believe it’s what helped them truly rediscover the joy of life.
Here, we’re preparing you for talking to a psychiatrist for the first time. We’ll share everything you need to know about how to talk to a psychiatrist, how you should prepare for your initial consultation and visit with your online psychiatrist, and what you should do to make the entire process as beneficial as possible. Let’s jump in.
Tip 1: Coping with the Pre-appointment Jitters
Don’t allow first appointment anxiety to cause you to cancel or not show for your consultation appointment. You’ve made the decision to seek mental health treatment because some part of you understands you need help. Remind yourself: seeking psychiatric help is not a weakness. Being nervous about taking this first step is actually a strength.
Countless people spend decade after decade knowing deep down that they just need some help from someone who can understand them without judgment. Knowing when to see a psychiatrist is important in taking action towards healing. Psychiatrists are trained and skilled in providing clinical diagnoses and offering medication management to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
Anxiety about your first appointment with a psychiatrist is completely normal. Most people will tell you that they had at least a little bit of nerves before their first visit, too. So try to relax and remember your psychiatrist is there to help you.
Tip 2: Prepare for the Appointment
You want to make your first appointment with your new psychiatrist as productive as possible. To achieve this, reflect on the reasons why you’re getting mental health support. Be specific. Make sure you clearly know and understand what you want from your upcoming journey.
Some possible notes that can help your new online psychiatrist understand you better include:
- “I am lonely all the time, even when I’m around others.”
- “I hate my husband’s voice.”
- “I cannot tolerate the sound of my baby crying.”
- “I have unexpressed sexual desires that frighten me.”
- “I get so angry sometimes that I go into a mad rage!”
- “I cry at every type of social gathering, even if it’s a happy one.”
- “I can’t let go of my [anger/grief/resentment] over [specific experience].”
- “I hate myself.”
The possibilities are endless, and there’s no right or wrong reason to seek psychiatric help. The more you can share with your psychiatrist, the more equipped they’ll be to diagnose and treat you.
Here are some best practices if you’re trying to figure out how to talk to a psychiatrist for the first time:
- Be prepared for the doctor to ask you pressing questions
- Don’t fear the psychiatrist — their job is to help without bias
- It’s normal and fine to cry, get angry, or experience other emotions
- Focus on clear communication, just the way you practice in your mind
- It’s common to sometimes feel awkward the first time you’re talking to a psychiatrist
Many people who seek help from a psychiatrist are trying to manage mental health conditions like schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), major depressive disorder (MDD), or anxiety disorder.
Your psychiatrist will also look to your physical health and how that may affect your mental health. Bring information about your family history of mental health, any other medications you may be taking, and general health questions. Your psychiatrist may also have you get a blood test to rule out any other factors that could be influencing your mental health.
Remember, chances are, you’re talking to a psychiatrist about something they’ve heard before. They’re trained to offer professional advice about improving your situation through medication and to recommend therapy techniques that may be best suited to treat your condition.
Make a list of what you want to cover
Knowing how to talk to a psychiatrist means being crystal clear about what you want to focus on. Write down any feelings, thoughts, or questions you have for your psychiatrist. It’s common to arrive at your first psychiatry appointment and promptly forget what you intended to address. It happens all the time.
“Talk freely and be honest, that’s the best you can do to get better fast.”
To get the most out of it, take a few minutes to create a list of topics or symptoms you want to address at that first appointment. You can even just jot down your thoughts on a notepad. Getting organized will help ensure you remember to cover everything you want the psychiatrist to know about how you’re feeling or what you’re experiencing.
Much of the first visit will be the doctor getting to know you, your goals, and your history. Coming in prepared is key to getting things off on the right foot. You can even bring in two copies of your notes — one for the doctor and one for yourself. This way, you can both be sure to focus and stay productive when you’re there.
Tip 3: Avoid Self-Diagnosis
It doesn’t matter if you researched and think you’ve determined the name of the condition that’s affecting you. Even though it may be tempting, this can be a dangerous practice. You’re free to take a mental health test to better understand your symptoms but be cautious of declaring yourself as someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder unless you have a real diagnosis.
“Don’t judge yourself — we all have our share of struggles and issues at certain points of our life.”
In order to get the most from your appointment, it’s important to let the psychiatrist lead the process. They’re trying to assess your condition so they can create the best treatment plan possible for you. For now, give the psychiatrist the opportunity to diagnose you, as they were trained to make these assessments.
Maybe you’ll continue therapy beyond your first psychiatric appointment, and if so, you might bring up the conditions you’ve self-diagnosed then. For now, slow down and try to be patient. Talking to a psychiatrist is the best way you can get the medication and treatment you need.
Tip 4: Don’t Expect Miracles
Healing takes time. Your psychiatrist may not get the perfect treatment plan in place the first time you see them. Together, however, you can find a plan that works.
Be open to the idea that you’ll need to be patient while the process works. You may need to change medications or begin talk therapy sessions with a psychologist or therapist before you start seeing a difference in how you think, feel, and act. It’s not always easy, and psychiatrists aren’t miracle workers, but together, you can find a plan that’s as effective as possible in treating your condition.
One important caveat: If the first appointment with your new psychiatrist doesn’t resonate with you, then you may want to consider finding someone else.
Find a doctor who you can be yourself around and feel comfortable with. It’s true you may not see results on day 1, but you should feel like you’re talking to a psychiatrist you can relate to and trust. If that’s not there, and you don’t see yourself getting there, then you might need to think about finding someone else. You want someone who’ll listen to you, especially when you get to the point that you’re discussing how your medication is working in the future.
Tip 5: Trust the Process
Your psychiatrist is going to become a trusted confidant to your innermost secrets, feelings, and emotions. They need to be someone you can trust and open up to completely without reservation.
When you work with the right person, you’ll find that (albeit sometimes slowly), you’ll make progress. Trust the process, and trust in your doctor’s ability. You’re doing difficult work — honor that dedication by being patient with yourself and knowing that your efforts, and your treatment plan, will pay off.
“It’s not easy, it’s not fast, but you will get better and overcome the struggles.”
Learning how to talk to a psychiatrist is important if you’re getting ready to start on your journey towards healing. You’re brave, confident, and have already taken the first huge step — making the appointment. Now, you’re ready to get there. You’ve got this.
1. About Mental Health. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm. Published 2021. Accessed December 11, 2021.2. Kessler R, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas K, Walters E. Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.
2. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):593. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15939837/. Accessed December 11, 2021.