Getting the most out of a Psychologist appointment

Going to see a psychologist for the first time can be quite daunting.  It’s very different to seeing a GP or a specialist for a physical ailment.  Hollywood would have us believe that we lay back on a couch and spill our guts.  The Dr then tells us what is wrong and it’s all fine and dandy.  It’s pretty far from the truth really.  Just to be clear, a psychologist deals with talk therapy, however that may be manifested.  They are not able to prescribe medications but are usually well versed in psychiatric medications.relax-1276639_640

I’ve been seeing a mental health professional (some of them not so much of the professional) on and off for the last 11 years.  I’ve picked up a few tips along the way, but I still get overwhelmed at seeing someone for the first time.  I thought that I probably wasn’t the only one so I put together a little list of 5 ways to make the most out of an appointment.

1.  Make a list of things you want to let the psychologist know.

Sometimes there is so much going on that it’s easy to forget things that you want to cover in therapy.  There is no shame in writing them down.  This is not just useful for the first session, but can also be used for subsequent sessions.

2.  Don’t be afraid to shop around.

If you feel that you don’t click with your psychologist, let them know.  You might not find the perfect fit the first time around and that is ok.  It’s so important though that you find someone who you can trust and feel comfortable with.  The whole experience will be a waste of time if you feel that you can’t open up to them.

3.  Go in with an open mind.

There may be things that your psychologist suggests to you that you had never thought about.  There is probably a good chance that it will happen often.  Have an open mind and try the things they suggest, if it doesn’t work then you can move onto a new coping mechanism.

4.  Be gentle with yourself.

Therapy is hard.  Working on things that have been entrenched in your life for a long time is hard.  Be gentle with yourself, you aren’t going to feel better immediately but the pain in the short term is worth the long term gain.  You are not weak for seeking help.  If you have a physical affliction you see a doctor, seeking help for psychological issues is no different.

Seeing a psychologist for the last 12 months has been the absolute best step I have made.  I was frustrated with the lack of support I was getting through the public system.  It wasn’t until I began to see a psychologist that I realised how ineffective the crisis management therapy I had been receiving was.  I am currently doing more structured therapy that will help me to cope in the long term, meaning that hopefully my episodes are shorter and further apart.

Have you ever been to see a psychologist?  What tips do you have for people attending their first session?

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23 thoughts on “Getting the most out of a Psychologist appointment

  1. Me

    I have been to a psychologist and I would say that for me it was about being truthful and open to telling them everything rather than trying to hold some things back so that I didn’t appear just as broken as I actually was.
    I’m glad that you are seeing results from the past 12 months. Keep up the great job that you are doing.
    Have a wonderful day !

  2. Leanne Winter

    Tegan, this is all really good advice for people seeing, I think, any number of health professionals. I especially like your tip of keeping an open mind as it rarely hurts to just try a new idea, you never know it might just help.

    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep, and also it’s a lot easier for someone from the outside to look at a problem objectively so often their ideas are things that I haven’t even thought of.

  3. Alison

    Fantastic advice and once again right on the money. You have to do a Diploma of Counselling or something similar, you would be so good at this! ACAP does it online, you can just do one unit at a time, there are 8 units for a Diploma of Counselling, and you will get FEEHelp so don’t have to worry about the fees, though admittedly the text books can be a bit pricey. Ok will stop nagging now 🙂

    My advice to anyone new to the process would be not to think you have to talk endlessly about your childhood if that is what is worrying you, if that’s your reason not to go. I was only asked a few basic questions to get my psychologist on the right track, he did not delve deep, and it wasn’t until I had already had 7 or 8 sessions that we got deeper into childhood stuff. And even then I didn’t have to if I wasn’t ready. I was really afraid of opening that can of worms, and it held me back for years, needlessly.

    I also thought, quite conceitedly, that they wouldn’t be able to help me much more than I could help myself. I mean, I’m intelligent, I’d read heaps about it, I know my own mind better than anyone, I must be sort of an expert, right? WRONG. Call a plumber for plumbing and a Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist for your mind.

    And finally, you don’t have to be “crazy” or have a serious mental illness to go and get help. I guarantee that if you are struggling with issues in your mind you can get good advice and tips from a Counsellor. I would definitely advise anybody now to see a Counsellor or Psychologist if they are struggling with life issues such as bereavement, problems within a marriage, or any of the other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune life chucks at us – it doesn’t mean you’re crazy because you asked an expert for advice on how to handle things.

    1. Tegan Post author

      Yep my psych didn’t delve into the childhood stuff either. More a quick chat about the dynamics and that was it. I was a bit like you. I knew the logistics of it all so figured there was nothing they could ‘teach’ me. Having them explained though in ways that I could use them has been more helpful than I could have realised. I like the analogy of if you need plumbing done, then you call a plumber. It’s so spot on, call an expert, because well, we are worth it!

  4. Robyn

    I went to see a psych once after I was diagnosed with PND and I just didn’t gel at all. I found the whole experience so awful that I’m not sure I could go again. I’m sure there are nice ones out there though x

    1. Tegan Post author

      Finding someone to gel with can really make all of the difference but it’s a harrowing experience when the first time you reach out it’s negative.

  5. Eva @ The Multitasking Mummy

    I think for me it was about being honest with the psychologist so they could really help me in return. Also, after my first appointment I had to realise that it wasn’t going to be a quick fix, that I would have to do exercises and reading in order to help myself too. I wish they had a magic wand that could fix everything, it’s going to be a long process but definitely going in with an open mind and trusting attitude is important.

    1. Tegan Post author

      I wish there was a magic wand too. It’s hard to be completely open and honest but like you said, it’s about realising that it’s the only way forward.

  6. Emma Fahy Davis

    Brilliant insights, I can relate to all of them. I had a great psychologist help me unravel the mess of PND/PTSD after my twins were born and I found it far more useful than the medications (altho the medication is what helped get me in the right head space to confront things in the first place). I agree wholeheartedly re: shopping around, and also with being open minded…

  7. Michelle

    A very helpful list. I have heard people say that psychotherapy and counselling doesn’t work, but it may well have been because the therapist wasn’t right for you. x

  8. Leigh - Headspace Perspective

    I’m waiting for a psychologist referral to come through, and this is great advice to bear in mind – thanks! #TheList x

  9. You Baby Me Mummy

    Great tips. I was referred for CBT for PND but it is mostly self help from online videos which I really struggle to find the time to do. I do think face to face sessions would be much more beneficial. Thanks for much for linking up to #TheList x


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