There are a lot of misconceptions about psychiatrists and the way we practice, mainly because our sphere of medicine is so vastly different from that of any other medical specialty (and yes, I have an MD!) Here are a few thoughts I hope will help you understand us and our field a little better.
1. Yes, we all have clocks in our offices. We watch the time to pace ourselves, not because we want the session to be over. Many times I am checking the clock to make sure I have enough time left to cover all the things we need to before the session ends.
2. We are only slightly weirder than you are. The main thing that sets us apart from “normal people” is our ability to tolerate long pauses in conversation. It can feel awkward, but it’s also what makes us good at our job.
3. Most of us are not pill pushers, and we do not get any sort of kickback or perks for prescribing meds. Trust us, we don’t want anyone taking medications if they don’t need to. That being said, there’s usually a reason people come to see us, and we do have treatments that are effective.
4. Psychiatrists’ schedules are very different from other medical specialties, and there is a reason we like you to show up on time (and why we try very hard not to run late). We have longer and more frequent appointments because developing a trusting relationship takes time, and being punctual maximizes the time we can spend working together. We also use time management as a way to model appropriate boundaries, as well as demonstrate for patients how to successfully learn to contain their own emotions in an adaptive way.
5. We feel awful that the wait to get in to see us is so long. If we had it our way, we could see everyone as soon as they called for an appointment. Unfortunately, there is a vast shortage of psychiatrists in this country, and an increasing need for us as our society becomes more aware of mental illness. Furthermore, we see less patients than other medical specialties because of our longer appointment times and frequent follow-up (see #4, above).
6. Unless you are seeing a psychoanalyst, we won’t ask you to lay down on the couch. Ever.
7. We put a lot of thought into our office décor. If you’re interested, please feel free to ask about the significance of anything that catches your eye.
8. We don’t analyze anyone outside of the office. We are more than thrilled to hang up our work hats at the end of a long day, and again, I promise we are more normal than you think (see #2, above).
9. Most of us think benzodiazepines are overprescribed. We don’t want you to taper off of them because we are mean, but rather due to the many harmful side effects and it’s “Band-aid” effect.
10. We aren’t miracle workers. Your problems didn’t develop over one day, so we won’t be able to “fix” you in one session. Sometimes it can take awhile to get back on track, but your psychiatrist should be there to help you along the way.
11. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to us, then we encourage you to find someone else. Patients have the best outcomes when they feel a strong connection with their therapist. Our main goal is for you to feel better, so if we aren’t the right one, please tell us so we can help you find a better fit.
Most importantly, psychiatrists are very passionate about helping those with mental illness, and work hard to improve the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health conditions.
Kristen Compton is a psychiatrist who blogs at Some Thoughts Are Better Left Unsaid.
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