How to be your own health advocate

Although I practice in the mental health field, I have countless experiences of my patients recounting stories to me of failed or disappointed experiences with their doctors, both in the mental health and physical health realms.

How can I be my own health advocate is a common question posed by many of my patients. Here are some tips and questions to think about:

  1. Do you know your diagnoses? Have you asked what they mean?
  2. Do you think that if you ask too many questions you are a burden to your healthcare provider? P.S. It’s not a burden, although there is always balance. Asking 20 questions a week may be overboard, but most of the time we fall on the other end of the spectrum and don’t ask enough
  3. Do you know all the options for treatment?  Do you know what your treatment will entail? yes, I am a firm believer in evidence-based treatments and I do believe they should be the first-line defense. However, I am not opposed to alternative treatments (as long as they pose no harm) and encourage patients to complement their treatments frequently. In this regard, I like to suggest centering, mindfulness activities, like yoga, to help my patients reaffirm their strategies to exist in the here-and-now.
  4. Have you gotten a second opinion on your diagnoses and suggested form of treatment?
  5. If you are getting medication, have you gotten a proper evaluation in order to receive that medication? (All too frequently I hear stories of “i told my PCP that I was sad for a few days and they prescribed me Zoloft.”)
  6. Have you educated yourself? Great resources are http://www.pubmed.com and http://www.clinicaltrials.gov
  7. Do you have your medical records organized and copied for your current provider? (it’s very very very helpful when a patient brings in copies of lab data and/or previous psychological or neuropsychological reports; it helps to give clinicians a more accurate picture of what is currently going on).
  8. Be honest (not just with a clinician, but with yourself).
  9. Your clinician is not there to judge you, they are there to help. Be open with them.
  10. Ask questions. If you do not understand something your clinician wants to know. Treatment does not work if you do not know why it is/not working.
  11. Realize that your clinician is a human too and will definitely make mistakes. It’s a collaborative and honest process on both ends, be willing to work hard and great things can be accomplished.
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How therapists want you to talk to them: An inside look

Communication is key in any therapeutic relationship. Many patients believe effective communication means they must verbally convey to the therapist the symptoms they are experiencing and the goals they have for treatment. Yes, those are very essential pieces to successful treatment, however, there needs to be more.

Below I will list out several bullet points that make for an effective therapeutic relationship between therapist and patient and therapist and a patient’s family.

  • As a patient, ask the style of your therapist and their theoretical orientation (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, integrative, psychodynamic, etc.).
  • As a patient, ask how the therapist thinks you are doing in treatment. A therapist should be honest if they believe the patient is no longer benefitting from treatment, or if a different treatment approach should be recommended.
  • If a patient feels that treatment is stagnant, bring this up with the therapist.
  • Get your family, friends, spouse and/or partner involved in treatment. Treatment is much more effective when your support system is in place and knows how to support you using your therapeutic skills outside the treatment setting.
  • Do your research as a patient. A good resource for new, top of the line, evidence-based treatments is pubmed.com. You can also look at PSYCHinfo. Bring new studies into your clinician if you are interested and discuss potential implications for your treatment. We WANT you to be involved!
  • Be your own advocate! So many times I see patients hesitant to question a recommendation by myself or other professional doctors. We are here to answer your questions and make sure you understand your treatment and progress. This is a collaborative process. Asking questions and being involved IS NOT being burdensome. We want you to ask away!
  • Be honest. This is a hard one because sometimes it may be difficult to even be honest with ourselves. If a major stressor in a family is not discussed (e.g., a parent is very sick and a child is being treated), this will directly impact the treatment goals and progress in therapy. Be as honest as you can about your ENTIRE situation.
  • If you feel like you cannot pinpoint it, but you do not get along with your therapist it is important to tell them. Most of the time, potential personality clashes are miscommunications. However, sometimes they are not and therapists can refer you to other clinicians who would be a better fit. As psychologists, we believe this to be a very important piece to treatment and do not take offense if there is not a good “personality fit.”
  • Make sure your therapist is listening to your concerns. How does one know this? You can ask them to summarize your concerns and include them in the treatment plan. Over the years many of my patients have brought concerns to the table that would be deemed non-clinical, but to them, they were ranked higher in terms of importance than the clinical concerns. It is important to convey this to your clinician.
  • Overall, be willing to work with your clinician and give the process the time it needs and deserves. Sometimes treatment takes 1-3 months, other times, it may take 2-3 years.

 

Wishing you well on your therapeutic journeys!