As the new year approaches, also comes new years resolutions and psychological treatment may be a part of that! If so, our very own Dr. Rachel LaFleur has some tips and tricks about how to navigate your first mental health appointment.
If you’re like me, you may feel nervous when you attend your first visit with a new provider. When I feel caught off guard, I may leave the appointment with regrets about the questions I forgot to ask and the things I didn’t advocate for.
Here’s what to expect (or ask for) in your first visit with a mental health clinician who will be providing treatment.
- Paperwork to complete in advance.
- Oftentimes, there is very specific and detailed information that your clinician needs to gather in the first visit. If you fill out the paperwork ahead of time, we can use our face-to-face time to dialogue about why you decided to visit us and discuss what treatment will be like. I would muchrather be spending our time together listening to you tell your story and describe what would make treatment meaningful than ask you to list off information, such as whether the client has asthma or allergies.
- I bet you’re wondering why paperwork sometimes ask about things that don’t seem to have anything to do with why you’re coming in. Because so many aspects of life can relate to behavior, we like to cast a wide net at this first appointment to be sure there we aren’t missing a piece of the puzzle. Don’t worry – once we get past this first appointment, clinicians tend to narrow their focus.
- It is a good idea to bring:
- Documentation of potentially relevant medical conditions.
- If the client is a child or adolescent:
- His/her latest report card, information regarding accommodations or specialized instruction (e.g., 504 plan, Individualized Education Plan, behavior intervention plans, and behavior charts).
- Custody documents if a legal guardian is not a parent or his/her parents are separated/divorced and there is a court order or formal agreement.
- Written permission from a legal guardian if the person bringing the client is not a legal guardian. This should be discussed in advance as the clinician may have particular paperwork that need to be completed.
- If your clinician does not provide paperwork in advance:
- Be prepared to answer questions related to medical history, developmental milestones, academic history, and previous treatment received to address developmental, behavioral, psychological, or related concerns.
- Here’s something really important: it’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. If the client is a child and I ask his/her parent about birthweight, weeks gestation at delivery, and developmental milestones, some of the very best and most caring parents don’t know, especially when put on the spot.
- Support and understanding in uncomfortable situations. Depending on the person and situation, aspects of the first appointment can be uncomfortable.
- If there are others with you, let your clinician know if you would rather discuss certain topics privately.
- It’s okay to tell your clinician that you are uncomfortable, especially if you need to pause or take a break. Do you need water, a trip to the bathroom, or a snack? It’s okay to let your clinician know!
- Inappropriate behavior between family members or from children and adolescents happens. In fact, it may be why you scheduled the appointment in the first place. You’re in the right place. This is what we do. Depending on the goals and format of the first appointment, your clinician may not address the inappropriate behavior. But don’t worry – that doesn’t mean your clinician won’t address it soon.
- Assistance in understanding challenging concepts and terminology.
- In mental health, a first visit is often called an “initial evaluation,” “intake interview,” or “diagnostic interview.”
- Your clinician will do his/her best to help you learn the lingo. Please let us know if there is a term or concept we can explain. The smartest and most confident people I know ask questions and it is good feedback for your clinician, who may have formed a habit of speaking over people’s heads and doesn’t know.
- Discussion of expectations.
- On our side, in the first appointment we often discuss:
- Limits to confidentiality
- Expectations for attendance
- Commitment to treatment
- How to get in touch between sessions
- What to expect from treatment
- It comes in handy for you to have thought about the things you expect from your clinician. For example, you might answer the following questions:
- What type of treatment were you hoping to receive?
- What type of clinician do you want to work with?
- What are your expectations for scheduling?
- In what ways can you clinician present information to you given the way that you learn?
- What does your clinician need to know about you to be able to adapt to who you are as a person?
- While a clinician may not be able to accommodate all of your preferences, it is nonetheless important to have the conversation as this meeting plays an important role in establishing your relationship with your clinician. Because this is your treatment, it is essential that you to have clear information about what you are signing up for and to leave knowing that your requests were heard, and when possible, accommodated.
Have a very happy holiday season and a great start to the new year!
Dr. Rachel La Fleur and all the staff at WACCH