Did you know you can interview your doctors?
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but there was a time, at the beginning of my mental health struggles, when I had NO idea I could interview psychiatrists and therapists in my search to find a good one. I always just assumed that whomever I landed on would know what he or she was doing because of that medical degree on the wall.
What I didn’t realize is that not all doctors are created equal. And not every doctor is right for ME, whether good or not.
I was living in Los Angeles in my 20s and began to regularly see a psychiatrist. He was exceedingly *busy* or so it appeared due to large mounds of patient files stacked all over his desk. I was shuffled in, he haphazardly sorted through a pile of files to find mine, and quickly reviewed it at each appointment to remember who I was and what I was taking.
It was strictly med management, which I know is very common. BUT my allotted 15-minute appointments billed to insurance were actually only five. It seemed as though it could have been our first meeting every single time. He knew so little about me that even simple recognition didn’t seem to cross his face.
I saw this man for about five years and each visit was the same. What can I say, I was young and naive. I tried quite a few medications before it just was not working and I hit a very rough hurt-myself-pretty-much-suicidal patch.
It was then I *visited* my parents for a few months to get straightened out and met a lovely and caring psychiatrist who asked me more than just “are your meds working?” in my allotted 15 minutes, including about my sleep patterns and lifestyle. It hadn’t occurred to me at the ripe old age of 25 that my mental health might be affected by sleep.
But she was one of the good ones.
I also saw a therapist who I liked a lot–who challenged me–and in my allotted hour delved into things like my family history and patterns of behavior. We worked on letting go of my guilt from a date rape in college through hypnotherapy.
I never knew two mental health professionals could do so much for me in such a short time.
I returned home and eventually found a good psychiatrist (after looking around) who actually allotted a full hour (a rarity I know!) and he was also a good one for me. At the time my mental health was also affecting my physical health. My immune system was suppressed and I was getting sick all of the time, from colds to fevers (even scarlet fever at one point) to massive migraines and stiffness (which led to a meningitis scare). This guy actually specialized in depression and depression-related physical illness. So he treated the whole me hoping to improve my mental and physical health at the same time.
Then John and I married and shortly thereafter moved to Washington State … and so the hunt for good doctors began again. I found one and she helped me through my infertility and pregnancy with Ronin, but then she retired right before his birth. Ack! Another doctor search at a very tumultuous time.
So I picked a doctor off a list and scheduled my first appointment. She was nice enough, but after a few meetings, it was clear we had divergent parenting philosophies. I was a new mom following my heart and instinct. I wanted to co-sleep and she did not agree, and apparently she could agree to disagree. That was a deal breaker.
So I interviewed another doctor, this time from my perspective as a new “attachment-style” parent with mental illness. I found one who was also an attachment parent, and who looked at the whole of me: sleep, lifestyle, nutrition. She did blood work for thyroid and vitamin deficiencies and continues to do those things to this day 7 years later.
Of course it hasn’t been absolutely perfect. I’ve still had my struggles and med changes. But overall I feel listened to, understood and cared for. My allotted 15 minutes is full, and when my mood shifts and things are not on course, she shifts with me.
It’s not just about a medical degree on the wall, or how many minutes you’re in the room. It’s about much more when finding the best doctor(s) for you.
- Do you feel heard? Listened to?
- Do they connect with you? Do they want to understand your struggle?
- Do they challenge you to get well? To find the right therapies for you, together?
- Do they look at the whole picture? Or at least a good portion of the picture?
If you answered yes to all, I’m thrilled for you. A good doctor … the right doctor, can go a long way toward a healthier life.
- If you answered no to any of the above, I’d like for you to think about these questions:
- Do you feel dismissed?
- Do you feel pressured into therapies that don’t sync up with your core beliefs as a person … as a parent?
- Do you feel like you’re not being helped? Are things feeling stagnant?
- Do you feel like your doctor never goes a step or two beyond? Do they never suggest new therapies? Do they never delve deeper to make your life and mental health that much better?
I am by no means a medical professional. I’m just a mom with mental illness. But I’m also an advocate for better mental health treatment for myself and others. And I believe if you feel dismissed and not helped, you DESERVE a better doctor who will guide you and advocate for you toward lasting mental wellness.
If it means getting out a pen and paper and interviewing doctors just like you’d interview for your most valuable employee, then do it. If you’re a parent, I bet you’ve interviewed pediatricians. Why not interview and advocate for YOUR health too? You have the right to better care. You deserve the best doctor for YOU.