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Selecting a Psychiatrist
DBSA NCA Family Support Group
February 20, 2004

There are many different types of mental illness professionals (e.g., psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers). Psychiatrists have MD degrees and are knowledgeable about medications and also alternative forms of treatment. Most psychiatrists do not provide therapy; psychiatrists rely on psychologists and therapists for their expertise in providing therapy. It is important to understand the distinction between different professions when choosing a psychiatrist.

Some general things to consider when choosing a psychiatrist:

Knowledge and experience. Does the psychiatrist keep up to date with changes in the profession? How does (s)he keep updated – conferences, journal reading, research? Does the psychiatrist participate with colleagues in discussions and learning opportunities?

Side effects. Does the psychiatrist pay ample attention to the side effects of the medications and how the patient is able to handle them? Does the psychiatrist work to minimize the side effects that the patient finds most difficult to deal with?

Respect. Does the patient respect the psychiatrist? Do the patient caregivers respect the psychiatrist? Does the psychiatrist show respect to the patient and caregivers?

Interpersonal Skills. Does the psychiatrist listen well to what is being said? Does (s)he ask pertinent questions? Does the psychiatrist interact with the caregivers as well as the patient?

Communicating and education. Does the psychiatrist explain what medications are doing, how long it will take them to take effect, and the possible side effects? Does the psychiatrist encourage patients to read and participate in educational events?

Encouraging. Is the psychiatrist uplifting? Is the psychiatrist encouraging about improvements that can be made? Does the psychiatrist say that there are many approaches to take if the current protocols do not work well?

Relationships with other professionals. Does the psychiatrist encourage therapy? Does (s)he recommend therapists? Does the psychiatrist listen to the therapist’s opinions?

Costs. Are the costs made clear? Does the psychiatrist participate in insurance programs?

Paperwork. Will the office provide support required for outside needs (e.g., Social Security)?

Comfort level. Does the patient and caregivers feel comfortable with the psychiatrist?

Availability. Does the practice have enough time available for treatment? How are backup situations handled (e.g., psychiatrist is out of town)? How are after hours issues handled? Is the psychiatrist located conveniently?

There are specific issues that depend on particular mental illness situations.

Hospital privileges. Not all psychiatrists are connected with hospitals. If this were the case, how would hospitalization be handled?

Home visits. Will the psychiatrist visit the patient at home if needed?

Language. Does the psychiatrist speak the primary language of the patient?



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