Resolving Issues with Your Doctor - Tips for a Productive Discussion
Coming to terms with a mental health struggle takes considerable contemplation, and some people take years to accept that they may benefit from professional help. Congratulations! You have taken the most critical step towards better understanding your experience and creating a plan to overcome obstacles.
It is beneficial for you to help your clinician help you to ease the process and ensure you both are on the same page. This article aims to best prepare you for that initial visit, making it as productive and smooth as possible.
Before the Visit
Before making an appointment, oftentimes people experience a period of overwhelming distress that prompts them to seek help. You may experience confusion and disorientation about the symptoms you are experiencing and may even feel like “this is not normal.”
These thoughts and emotions are common and are actually a positive indicator that you are truly ready to commit to trying something different than what you may have already tried. Since you are the expert on your reality, it is important to pay close attention to what it is you are experiencing that is causing you distress.
For example, if you struggle with anxiety, notice situations that elicit an anxiety response, and take note of what the physiological sensations are like along with your emotional responses. Your thoughts and perceptions are directly related to your emotional responses and noticing recurring thoughts will help your clinician to better build a framework to work from.
The top three indicators for positive treatment outcomes include the:
- willingness to change
- motivation to change
- commitment to attending sessions (resilience) especially when things seem difficult.
It is also important to find a clinician that you feel you connect with. Clients that have a stronger alliance or connection to their therapist have also been found to progress faster and have longer-lasting effects of treatment.
The Initial Session
You have made it to the first session, and your emotions are running high. For those struggling with anxiety, seeking help in itself can be anxiety-provoking. It is normal to feel a sense of overwhelm, fear of judgment, and doubt in yourself and the process.
Preparation and having a picture of what the session may look like could ease some of that anxiety. One important thing to remember is that your clinician wants to help you just as much as you want to help yourself.
What to Expect?
The initial session is aimed at gathering information. Your clinician will complete an intake packet which is designed to gain information about your demographics, background, family background, and substance and medical history.
You will be asked about what your presenting problem is. This means ‘what are you here for?’ Having prepared information to produce eases the process of you not having to think on the spot and pull from specific examples of what it is you struggle with.
Your clinician will also provide you with paperwork on their end, including consent forms. This is to obtain your consent to provide treatment, limits of confidentiality, and consent to share medical information based on necessity.
Finally, you will have a chance to talk more in-depth about your experiences so far and discuss expectations for the course of treatment.
What Should I Discuss?
An important aspect of successful treatment is setting realistic and attainable goals. Treatment goals are often created collaboratively by the therapist and client and are paths to work towards. For example, a goal for anxiety could be, “I want to lower my level of experienced anxiety from a 10 to a 2” (given that you and your clinician define what ‘10’ and ‘2’ mean to you).
Discussing expectations of what sessions would look like and what you respond to is a great way to build a therapeutic relationship. The stronger your relationship, the more likely you would be to progress in treatment. Expectations could include the clinician's treatment modality, and your likes and dislikes (e.g. talk therapy, homework, paper resources, etc.)
Asking questions is imperative. After all, the therapeutic process is molded to fit your unique experience. The followin are some questions you can ask your provider:
- What are some resources I could use?
- What techniques could I practice in distress tolerance in between sessions?
- Could we explore self-care strategies?
- What other avenues could I look into?
- Do I need medication? If so, what does that look like?
- Is there anything I could do differently about my lifestyle?
Clarify any information you do not understand and make sure you are on the same page as your clinician. Always remember, you have to help them help you!
What is my Role?
Whenever people enter a therapeutic relationship they tend to place trust and hope that the professional could help them attain a sense of relief from experienced distress. It is important to remember that throughout the therapeutic process, you have an active and (believe it or not) the majority role.
An analogy used among therapists is to imagine your presenting problem as a block of wood in front of you. A therapist or clinician can be viewed as a guide or teacher that provides you with tools to add to your toolbox. They will instruct you on how and when to use them, techniques to get the best outcome, and what the finished product could look like.
Your role would be to actually put the tools to use. The finished product ultimately depends on what you choose to do. A lot of the work happens outside of a session and it is highly encouraged to ask for feedback and guidance along the way.
In resolving issues with your doctor, always be completely honest. This includes your past experiences, present struggles, and future motives. Transparency is a pillar of successful treatment.
1. Joyce, A. S., & Piper, W. E. (1998). Expectancy, the therapeutic alliance, and treatment outcome in short-term individual psychotherapy. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 7(3).
2. McCoy Lynch, M. (2012). Factors Influencing Successful Psy ors Influencing Successful Psychother chotherapy Outcomes. St. Catherine University. https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=msw_papers