Talk Therapy: Meeting with a Psychiatrist

When it came to speaking with a mental health professional, I didn’t know where to start. I felt exposed and uncomfortable sitting in a room with someone I didn’t know, having to share my most private thoughts.

Over the last few years, I’ve met with two family doctors, two resident psychiatrists, a counsellor at a suicide prevention centre and my current psychiatrist. I started seeing my psychiatrist weekly in the fall of 2013 and we now meet every 3-4 weeks.

Quick Note:

  • Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors that have then specialized in psychiatry (can prescribe medication).
  • Psychologists have doctoral degrees in counselling or clinical psychology (can’t provide prescriptions in most areas).
  • Counsellors often have masters degrees in counselling psychology or degrees in social work.

What is talk therapy?

Talk therapy is scheduled time with a good listener, who knows mental illness.

I work with my psychiatrist to discuss both positive and negative experiences, emotions and thoughts. We work on sources of stress and sadness, exploring what’s troubling me and where these thoughts come from.

Talk Therapy in Action:

For example, when I was looking for employment, it was easy to get dejected and disheartened. With depression, I lost confidence in myself and my skills more readily than I normally would. I used the skills I’ve learned in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness to prevent these persistent negative thoughts from overwhelming me. In circumstances like this, having someone to talk with helped me to pull myself away from these depressed thoughts.

My psychiatrist reminded me of what I’ve accomplish and reinforced that it’s okay to not know exactly what type of work I want to do. I tried to reframe my thinking and view my job search as more of a journey of career exploration. If I found a position and later realized it wasn’t a good fit for me, I’d still learn about what I want to do. As long as I kept moving forward, networking and following my interests, I’d eventually find what I was searching for.

My psychiatrist also pointed out that some people work simply as a way to earn income, exploring their main passions outside of work (family, friends, travel, hobbies, etc.). In this way, talk therapy can offer another perspective that I may be too bogged down to think of, especially if my thoughts have become anxious and panicky.

Overcome the stigma of therapy

I used to be wary of the stigma attached to speaking with a counsellor or therapist. I thought I didn’t need another person’s help and that it was only another step in admitting I was unable to cope on my own. I thought I should have been able to figure things out myself, but mental illness isn’t something you can ‘figure out’. It’s this disconnect from rational thought and increases in anxiety and sadness that depression causes.

Some people are wary of stigma and think they can get all of the same benefits of talk therapy from meeting with family or friends. But even talking to friends and family may not be enough. If they don’t have an extensive knowledge of mental illness to draw upon, they could miss important warning signs and symptoms.

A friend might listen to my troubles with finding work, lack of confidence and undervaluing of skills and offer to help me look for different work. This doesn’t take into consideration that I have a mental illness and that my self-questioning may be unwarranted and out of proportion. We could easily get caught up with worries that stem out of my depression and distorted thinking, rather than focusing on the underlining illness itself.

Make the most of every meeting

Talk therapy relies on a strong personal relationship between patient and professional. Sometimes this trust and understanding comes naturally and other times it requires more work. In the past, when I was very depressed and anxious, I would try to describe something that I was worried about only to have it interpreted another way and receive feedback on a different topic.

Some people I’ve done talk therapy have been great at seeing what I am really asking while others haven’t been as helpful. Because of this lack of trust and connection, I use to avoid talking about the things that were really on my mind. I didn’t mention how lonely I felt because I was embarrassed and ashamed about the being so. Before my attempt, I also used to avoid discussing suicidal thoughts because I didn’t think anyone could help.

My keys to talk therapy

  • Be honest about all thoughts and feelings.
  • Be open to discuss what’s really bothering me.
  • Bring notes (to remember what to ask during sessions in case I get anxious).
  • Find and build trust with my psychiatrist.
  • Give talk therapy time and my psychiatrist a chance to help.
  • Have reasonable expectations.
    • Long wait lists can make us think that when we eventually see a psychiatrist they will be able to solve all our problems with mental illness. Even though it can take a long time to see a psychiatrist (wait lists can often be several months), talk therapy is only one aspect of a much larger recovery plan and not a cure on its own.

As I’ve gained more experience talking with mental health professionals, I’ve felt more relaxed and better able to open up about the issues that are troubling me most. Today, I see my psychiatrist  much more like a mentor, someone I can bounce ideas off and work through my problems with.

I still find it difficult to talk about my painful emotions, but I know that I need someone to work through the pains in my mind just like I needed the help of a physiotherapist, a few years ago, for rehabilitation from back injuries.

More from writing on exploring my recovery from depression.