Key Takeaways

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose mental health conditions, provide talk therapy, and prescribe psychotropic medications.
  • Before your first psychiatry appointment, it’s helpful to review your health history, prepare a list of questions for your psychiatrist, and consider your treatment goals.
  • If you think you’d benefit from mental health support, working with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional can help put you on the path to recovery. 

Data show that mental health concerns are common in the U.S., with one in five adults experiencing some form of mental health condition. The good news is that more adults are now seeking help for their mental health concerns, thanks to increased mental health awareness and access to services. If you’re one of the millions of Americans living with mental health symptoms, consider seeing a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, for treatment and support. 

Psychiatrists are a great option for people who have severe mental health symptoms that interfere with daily functioning, are interested in behavioral medications as part of their treatment, or aren’t seeing improvements with talk therapy alone. 

What does a psychiatrist do?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral health conditions. Some psychiatrists have specializations, like working with children and adolescents, working with older adults, or focusing on medicine for substance use disorders. 

Psychiatrists are qualified to assess the mental and physical aspects of a wide range of conditions, including:

Signs you should see a psychiatrist

Deciding to see a psychiatrist isn’t always an easy decision. It often requires an honest conversation with yourself or the people in your life. However, recognizing that you need help is the first sign that you might benefit from meeting with a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Still not sure if a psychiatrist is the right fit for your symptoms or circumstances? Here are common reasons why people choose to see a psychiatrist.

  • Severe mental health symptoms that affect daily functioning like excessive anxiety or persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm 
  • Thoughts of hurting other people
  • Changes in weight, appetite, or sleep patterns
  • Delusions 
  • Violence, agitation, or emotional outbursts
  • Poor concentration or attention
  • Considering medication as part of your mental health treatment
  • Not seeing improvements with behavioral medications prescribed by a primary care provider
  • Not seeing improvements with talk therapy alone 
  • Being diagnosed with a condition known to be responsive to medication as a part of treatment (like depression or anxiety)

Can I do psychiatry and therapy at the same time?

The short answer is yes! Many people benefit from working with a psychiatrist and a therapist at the same time for a more collaborative, patient-centered approach to care. Treatment depends on your specific symptoms and diagnosis, but combining medication management and talk therapy can help some people better manage their symptoms.

What’s the difference between psychiatry and therapy?

Psychiatrists and therapists are both highly-trained mental health professionals who are experienced in diagnosing and treating a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions. One of the main differences between the two professionals is how they help patients reduce symptoms and improve quality of life: Psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe psychiatric medication, while therapists primarily use talk therapy.

How to prepare for your first appointment 

Knowing what to expect the first time you meet with a psychiatrist can make the process easier. During an initial assessment, your psychiatrist will review information like your mental health history, substance use history, and any traumatic experiences. Whether it’s your first-ever experience with a mental health provider or your first time with a new provider, planning ahead can help you feel more comfortable and better prepared to make the most of your appointment. 

1. Review your health history

Before meeting with your psychiatrist, it’s helpful to gather any information relevant to your health and well-being. This includes: 

  • All current medications (including dosage and frequency)
  • Any past or current medical conditions
  • Previous experiences with therapy or mental health treatment 
  • Family health history
  • Current symptoms or concerns

2. Think about your goals

Not everyone seeks treatment with a clear goal in mind. Your psychiatrist will work with you to set specific goals during your first few sessions, but it can be helpful to think about what you’d like to achieve during your time together. 

For example, are you looking for medication to manage an existing mental health condition? Or are you struggling to end a cycle of toxic behaviors? 

Here are a few suggestions when thinking about what outcomes you’d like to achieve with therapy.

  • Be honest about how you’re currently doing and where you’d like to go
  • Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound)
  • Remember that goals can change over time, so they don’t need to be set in stone

3. Prepare a list of questions

Having a list of questions to ask during an initial appointment can help you feel more empowered in your care experience. Below are examples of questions that can be used to guide your conversation and ensure that you have a clear understanding of your treatment plan.

  • What is your approach to treatment? (Medication-based, therapeutic, or both?)
  • If medication is recommended, what are the potential benefits and side effects?
  • How will we monitor and adjust medication if needed?
  • Are you available outside appointments to address concerns like medication refills?
  • What should I do in case of a mental health crisis or emergency?

4. Consider the referral process

Another important question to ask your psychiatrist is how they typically work with other mental health professionals. If your psychiatrist doesn’t provide therapy or counseling in addition to medication management, it’s important to understand how to access that resource if it’s something you’re interested in. 

Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Can the psychiatrist refer you to a therapist to complement their care?
  • Will the psychiatrist coordinate with other healthcare professionals, like your therapist or primary care physician?

Find psychiatric care with Rula

Rula’s mission is to make mental healthcare work for everyone. We know that it can be tough to find a psychiatric practitioner or therapist, especially one that is in-network and accepting new patients. So we handle that part for you.

Rula’s diverse network includes over 8,000 licensed mental health professionals who are experienced in treating anxiety, depression, and other clinical specialties. Plus, Rula’s platform is designed to make it easy to attend sessions virtually from the comfort of your home.

Our psychiatric practitioners and therapists are here to listen to your story, evaluate your needs, and build a personalized mental health care plan.

Find therapists near you

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