If you’re feeling anxious, depressed or dealing with other mental health issues, one of the best steps you can take is to meet with a psychiatrist.
Psychiatrists are health professionals who specialize in diagnosing, preventing and treating mental disorders.
Not only can a psychiatrist provide therapy — they can also prescribe medication to help you manage your symptoms and improve your mental health.
Of course, while seeing a psychiatrist is a positive step toward overcoming your mental health issues, the first visit can sometimes feel daunting or even stressful.
Luckily, preparing for your first session isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Read on to discover what to expect from your first psychiatry session, as well as steps you can take to make sure you’re adequately prepared.
When you begin working with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental healthcare provider, you’ll first take part in something called an intake session.
This is a term that’s used to refer to your first session with a new mental healthcare provider.
During this session, you’ll share certain information with your provider to help them understand you as an individual, as well as the specific mental health issues that you’re dealing with.
You’ll also cover the practical side of psychiatry, from informed consent paperwork to topics like how you’ll pay for treatment.
Intake sessions average about 60 to 90 minutes.
Think of your intake session as a chance to get to know your psychiatrist and learn about the psychiatry process, as well as a chance for them to get to know about you and your needs.
What to Expect During a Psychiatry Intake Session
Some aspects of your first psychiatry session are administrative. Before you start talking to your psychiatrist about the specific mental health issues you’re facing, you’ll usually need to fill in the following forms:
Professional disclosure statement: This document is designed to inform you about the psychiatrist’s background, the treatment process and how your personal information may be stored and used.Your psychiatrist or their staff will present this at the start of your session. You’ll need to read and sign it in order to consent to treatment.
Personal history form: This type of form collects information about you and your major reasons for seeking therapy. Some psychiatrists may provide this form online for you to print and complete before your first session.
Tests and assessments: In certain cases, you may need to complete a diagnostic test or assessment during your intake session. Your psychiatrist may use this information to make decisions about your therapy and medication.
After the above forms and assessments, you’ll have a chance to talk with your psychiatrist. They may ask you questions about yourself, your mental health history and the reasons you’re seeking help.
Your psychiatrist will ask you questions about your general health and may perform a brief physical examination.
This process can help to identify physical health issues that may have an effect on your mental health and wellbeing.
During your appointment, you should feel free to ask your psychiatrist any and all questions you feel are appropriate.
Because your intake session is about learning about you and your needs, it’s quite different from a conventional therapy appointment.
Don’t worry: You won’t need to fill in as many forms or take part in as much information gathering during future sessions.
Your psychiatrist, their practice manager or other staff may contact you before your first session to let you know what to prepare.
Make sure to bring everything that’s required for your first session.
Here are some ways you can prepare for your intake session without feeling nervous or overwhelmed:
During your intake session, your psychiatrist will ask about your medical history, including your history of mental health treatment.
To make things easier, make sure that you have your medical history ready before you start the session. Try to prepare the following:
A list of medications you currently take or have taken in the past, including medications for mental and physical health issues.
A list of supplements and herbal products you take or have tried in the past, such as St. John’s wort and other non-pharmaceutical products.
Information about your current symptoms, as well as any mental health conditions you have been diagnosed with in the past.
A list of any current or past medical conditions as well as any past surgeries.
Records from previous mental health providers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists or therapy providers.
It’s also important to inform your psychiatrist if you have a family history of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other conditions.
This information will help your psychiatrist understand your needs and provide you with effective care and treatment.
During your first session, your psychiatrist will likely ask you questions about yourself and your background.
These questions are usually open-ended, allowing you to provide as much or as little information as you feel comfortable with.
The psychiatrist may ask you what you’re currently experiencing, how you’re feeling or how they, as a mental health professional, can help you.
Being on the receiving end of a personal, open-ended question can be nerve-wracking, especially when it’s your first time talking to a psychiatrist.
Remember that there’s no “wrong” answer to a psychiatrist’s questions.
Try to give an open and honest answer. The more information you can provide, the better equipped your psychiatrist will be to help you learn more about yourself and make progress.
If you’re visiting a psychiatrist because of a specific mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, you may need to complete a test as part of your intake session.
Tests are used to measure the severity of your symptoms. Mental healthcare providers typically use them as part of the diagnostic process.
Tests and assessments are also used to track your progress over time, such as during long-term treatment for depression and other conditions.
Most of the diagnostic tests used in psychiatry feature multiple-choice questions you’ll need to answer.
For example, if you’re feeling depressed, your psychiatrist may ask you to answer a depression test, such as the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) or the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).
Just like with questions asked by your psychiatrist, these tests don’t have any “right” or “wrong” answers. Instead, they’re designed to help your mental healthcare provider learn about the specific issues and symptoms you’re experiencing.
Make sure to provide accurate information about your feelings, symptoms and personal needs so that your psychiatrist can prepare a treatment plan that’s right for you.
As a patient, you should feel free to ask your psychiatrist any questions you’d like them to answer.
These could be about how your treatment will work, what you can do to cope with any mental health issues on your own, or about steps you can take to make progress.
Try to write down the questions that you’d like to ask before your first session. This way, there’s no pressure to remember your questions.
Your psychiatrist will communicate openly and try to address all of your questions and concerns.
Remember that there’s no such thing as a good or bad question to ask; you should always feel free to ask your psychiatrist about any topic that’s relevant to you.
If you have questions you’d like answered before you see a psychiatrist in person, don’t be afraid to call the clinic or hospital to request more information before your session.
While the clinic’s staff may not be able to answer all of your questions, they can help with issues like fees and payment information, policies about bookings, cancellations and rescheduling, and the paperwork you’ll need to complete before or during your session.
If your insurance covers psychiatry, the clinic or hospital’s staff will also be able to help you with questions about paying via your health plan.
Calling ahead of time is a great way to get answers to common questions and lower the number of things you need to ask about during your intake session.
Based on the topics you discuss during your first session along with answers you provide to any tests and questionnaires, your psychiatrist may diagnose you with a mental illness — which can also be something like depression, or an anxiety disorder.
If you’re diagnosed with a specific condition, your psychiatrist may give you a personalized treatment plan. This may include:
A prescription for psychiatric medication such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs.
Recommendations for specific lab tests and/or procedures, perhaps to identify physical health issues that may cause or contribute to your symptoms.
A referral for psychotherapy or attention from another mental healthcare provider such as a psychologist, therapist or counselor.
If you need specialized care, your psychiatrist may also provide information about your personal requirements and make specific recommendations for next steps.
It’s common to use a combination of therapies to treat many forms of mental illness. If you have any questions about your treatment plan, feel free to ask your psychiatrist at any time in your intake session or follow-up appointments.
It’s common and normal to feel nervous before your first appointment with a psychiatrist.
By preparing ahead of time, you’ll be able to talk openly with your psychiatrist about your personal needs and get the most from your intake session.
To see a psychiatrist locally, you’ll need to talk with your primary care provider first and receive a referral.
If you’d prefer to talk from the privacy of your home, you can consult with a licensed psychiatry provider online using this online psychiatry service.
If appropriate, you’ll receive a prescription for medication to help with your symptoms, as well as private, ongoing follow-up appointments and medication management.
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Mary is an accomplished emergency and trauma RN with more than 10 years of healthcare experience.
As a data scientist with a Masters degree in Health Informatics and Data Analytics from Boston University, Mary uses healthcare data to inform individual and public health efforts.