On Your Health

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How to Prepare for Your First Mental Health Visit

19 October 2020

People seek out help with a mental health specialist for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, however, the first step in finding healing is oftentimes the most challenging - finding the right mental health professional for you.

It's important to find someone whom you feel comfortable working with, and once you do, it's also essential to be prepared for your visit and know what to expect.

Mental health specialists come in different specialties, but all are there to help you achieve your recovery or mental health goals. Often, they work in hospitals and psychiatric facilities, inpatient centers, outpatient offices and in public facilities like schools, private practices and health clinics.

No matter what your reasons are for visiting a mental health specialist, knowing what to expect and how to get the most of your time together can make a big difference in your success.

The first visit

In many ways, your first visit with a mental health specialist is like a first date. You are both getting to know each other and figuring out if you feel comfortable enough to see each other again.

While you may be seeking advice or help during your first visit, you're also getting a feel for your doctor or therapist. It's okay to ask questions and tell your therapist that you are looking for someone you can click with on a long-term basis.

When meeting your doctor for the first time, focus on whether or not you feel comfortable with the person and see what kind of vibe you feel from him or her. While therapists can ask uncomfortable questions sometimes, you shouldn't feel uncomfortable with that person.

Some other general questions to ask can include:

  • Has the therapist worked with people who have similar problems or goals as yourself?
  • How will you and your therapist work together to confront your issue and set goals? 
  • How much education and professional experience do you have?
  • How often will the two of you meet?
  • What kind of process does the professional use and what kind of improvements can you expect?
  • Does your therapist take your insurance or offer a sliding scale for payments? Be sure to bring up any concerns you may have about your ability to pay for treatment.

If you don't feel like one particular person is the right fit, don't hesitate to ask for a referral to someone who may be better suited for you.

Building a relationship

Once you've found a mental health professional who can help you with your long-term treatment goals, it's time to get down to business.

Taking that first step and meeting with your mental health therapist can be stressful but knowing what to expect ahead of time can help reduce anxiety. You should come to the meeting with your full psychiatric and medical history so your doctor can be brought up to speed quickly.

Knowing that you could experience uncomfortable emotions during the first visit can help you prepare and knowing that being emotional is okay can also reduce stress.

One of the first questions your mental health specialist may ask is why you are coming to see him or her. They may ask open-ended questions like "What brings you in today?" or "How are you doing?"

You may not know where to start or feel emotionally overwhelmed by the question, but a good mental health specialist will guide you through the answers - and there are no wrong answers. However, it may be helpful to come prepared to talk about the issues you've been going through and what goals you want to achieve from treatment.

You may also experience intense emotions. Your specialist could bring up traumatic or disturbing memories during your session, so know that it is reasonable and okay to get emotional. Don't be afraid of looking weak or get embarrassed and use those tissues as much as you want.

A good mental health specialist will be able to help you work through your emotions, but if you don't feel comfortable sharing at that moment, tell your specialist that too. 

At the end of your first session, your therapist or specialist may put forth a treatment plan, which could include:

  • Referrals for additional treatment or counseling
  • Medication 
  • Recommendations for lab tests or baseline tests to rule out medication possible medical conditions
  • A possible therapeutic or treatment plan and schedule. 

If you have any questions or concerns about the initial meeting or treatment plan, be sure to tell your specialist at the end of the session.

After the visit

Many times, you'll leave your first visit and remember issues or things you forgot to ask or talk about. That's okay. Just jot them down so you can remember to talk about it the next time.

Also, you may feel unbalanced or down after your first visit. Therapy takes time, so it could take a few visits before you begin to see improvement. However, if you feel absolutely horrible and uncomfortable, you might need to find another specialist that suits you better.

The bottom line is that it is normal and okay to feel anxious about seeing a mental health specialist so you shouldn't let that stress keep you from getting the help and treatment you deserve.

Finding care

Studies estimate that 22 percent of Oklahomans suffer some form of mental illness, which is the third-highest rate in the U.S. This percentage is proof that you are not alone and so many people understand exactly what you are going through. 

INTEGRIS has services to help in all kinds of areas of your life. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, or any kind of health issue, let us help you find the right care.


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