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Partnering with Your Psychiatrist

Last Updated: 5 Jun 2020

A frequent frustration I hear is, “I’m not happy with my psychiatrist.” Battling bipolar without having a great doctor on your team is not only discouraging but also unhealthy.


Do you feel that your psychiatrist is just a pill prescriber who gives orders, dwells on your disability, focuses mainly on symptoms, and does little to help you achieve wellness? Or, is your doctor a true partner who listens, accentuates your abilities, celebrates your successes, and does what’s right to help you move forward? When it comes to successfully managing bipolar and attaining peace of mind, the difference is profound.

An Effective Psychiatrist Is Essential

I have facilitated support groups for years. Unfortunately, a frequent frustration I hear is, “I’m not happy with my psychiatrist.” Imagine passengers on a ship lacking confidence in the captain, or players on a football team not respecting their coach. Battling bipolar without having a great doctor on your team is not only discouraging—it’s not healthy.

For 20 years, until he retired, I had one of the most competent, caring psychiatrists possible. Despite an excellent experience with my doctor, I know that many people have questions about theirs: Who does he think I am—just another patient and not a unique person? How long will she keep ignoring my concerns? What goals are we attempting to accomplish? When will my doctor start paying attention to my overall welfare? Where is this relationship going?

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not putting the responsibility or blame solely on the doctor. After all, those of us dealing with bipolar may not always be participating fully and honestly with even the most personable and professional psychiatrist. And, despite a doctor helping us develop a solid treatment plan, we can be reluctant to stick to it. However, if you’re doing all you can and you still feel that your partnership isn’t working, I have just one question: Why not try to find another doctor?

How to Evaluate a Psychiatrist

Whether you are looking for a new doctor or reevaluating one you’re already seeing, you need a strategy. Your first visit (or next visit, if you have concerns about a current doctor) is an opportunity to begin evaluating how well that particular psychiatrist suits you.

At a minimum, it’s important to be valued as a person and not reduced to a diagnosis. Your thoughts and concerns should be genuinely appreciated and not discounted. Your goal is to maximize recovery.

Characteristics of a Healthy Partnership

Personally, I’ve discovered six critical characteristics to consider.

A good doctor:

  1. Compassionately cares for the whole person, both brain and body.
  2. Manages medication judiciously, responding appropriately to any complications.
  3. Focuses on reaching full recovery, not merely managing symptoms.
  4. Works in tandem with the therapist, ensuring a team approach to care.
  5. Confronts crises in an expeditious, compassionate manner.
  6. Emphasizes being proactive to prevent problems versus merely being reactive.

Being Honest and Transparent with Your Psychiatrist

Next, it’s best to be honest and transparent. Holding back information limits the doctor’s insight into your world and your needs. I make an effort to answer questions thoughtfully and completely. I try to be reasonable in my expectations, respectful, and not overly judgmental. There are many excellent doctors out there, but rarely will you find a perfect one. (And I am hardly a perfect patient!)

Respect, Collaboration, Success

Finally, if you feel there’s a good fit, it pays to do your part to make this collaboration work. I try to show up on time for appointments, genuinely take my psychiatrist’s feedback into account, and avoid calling after hours except in a true emergency. I avoid changing any aspect of my agreed-upon treatment plan without checking with my doctor first.

With patience and persistence, I found another dedicated doctor with whom I feel very comfortable—and I hope to keep this one for another two decades!

Partnering with the best psychiatrist possible is pivotal in realizing recovery and improving your overall well-being. Taking the right approach significantly increases your chances of establishing a solid doctor-patient relationship. It’s worth the effort!

Printed as Mind Over Mood: Partnering with Your Psychiatrist, Summer 2015

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