Counselors advocate for clients, help them access resources and support their wellness. Collaboration with psychiatrists and other medication providers is one of our roles. Establishing a positive working relationship with a psychiatric medication provider can feel like striking gold. There just aren’t enough providers and many are very busy. Counselors are familiar with barriers to good collaboration with other providers. It can be a challenge getting to know a provider nearby, let alone one who aligns with your values about care.
When client, counselor and medication provider work together as a team, progress improves. For the medication provider, understanding the therapy relationship and goals can clarify treatment choices. For the counselor, a second opinion about diagnosis and someone to consult with about risk feels assuring. Clients often report feeling more supported and safe with a team of clinicians involved.
Many counselors have an established system to ensure the exchange of needed documentation and collaboration. The teamwork often begins when the counselor and client first discuss a referral for medication. Other times, a client is dissatisfied with their current medication, or has a long history of being prescribed medications. The client may be meeting with a medication provider for the first time, or the counselor and medication provider are new to collaborate. Consents to exchange information are signed, and the team begins to form. What usually happens next varies. My goal is always to speak directly with the provider and give them a review of the client and our treatment. I also hope the client feels prepared and empowered to meet with the provider. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. Clients sometimes feel intimidated or anxious about meeting with a new provider. Others may report previous experiences with providers that proved unhelpful. Counselors can give psychoeducation and encouragement to help clients prepare and to be a member of the treatment team. When clients are active in treatment decisions and advocate for their needs, care is more effective.
The sentiment below is not a quote from any specific client. It’s more like a mix of different experiences clients have described about psychiatric evaluations:
“It was awkward at first and sometimes difficult. I felt exhausted at the end. Some of the questions they asked seemed cold. I was prepared to tell my story but it was difficult to tell my story over and over again to different people. Some questions they asked made sense, some did not. Some questions they asked made me feel like the doctor didn’t get it. The reality is this whole process is important and it’s a life changing decision for me.”
The following tips have been developed for clients to feel more prepared for their first visit with a new medication provider. Feel free to use these tips to give to clients. Do you have a trusted way to improve collaboration with medication providers? Comment below!
Tips for Clients Meeting with a New Medication Provider:
Know about the time commitment and what you will do during the meeting. Meeting with a medication provider for the first time may take about one hour. During your first visit, you will work with a medical doctor who has additional training in psychiatry, or a psychiatric nurse, who will ask you questions about your history and your life. They will ask a lot of questions about the problem you have been up against. They will also want to know about any medical problems you have, or any other medications you currently take or have taken in the past.
Organize your thoughts and concerns. Know important points and thoughts you will want to share with the psychiatrist. Are there questions and topics you will want to discuss? Are there topics you do not want to discuss? The provider may already know some information about you from communication with your counselor.
Be specific. The more specific we can be about our concerns, the more control we can exercise during a meeting with a provider. For example, if a psychiatrist begins a meeting by asking, "How is that new medication working?" a vague answer would be "Oh, it's helping a little I think." We can let the provider know what is working exactly: for example, “I’ve been sleeping more hours than before” or “I’ve been feeling like eating more lately”.
Bring a note pad and pen to the meeting. Bringing your own note pad and pen, and taking your own notes is a good way be engaged in the meeting. It gives you something to concrete and active to do while in the meeting. Writing notes can also help you remember important points.
Write your questions down. It may help to write your questions down before seeing your provider. Bring the questions with you to the meeting. Some examples of questions you could ask at the end of this paper.
Things you will want to know about the medication:
generic name __________________
product name __________________
dosage level _____________
Examples of questions you might ask your provider:
How will I know if this medication is working for me?
If I should experience unwanted side effects, what should I do about it?
How can I contact you if, during this medication trial, I have questions of concerns I want to check out with you?
Are there any dietary or lifestyle suggestions or restrictions when using this medication?
What symptoms indicate that the dosage should be changed or the medication stopped?
Where can I get more information about this medication?
Ask the physician and/or pharmacist if they have any printed information on this medication you can have to study.
________________________________________________________________________Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC is a counselor in Rochester, NY working with teens and adults at a local university counseling center and in her own private practice, Clarity Mental Health Counseling. Amy adores group counseling, youth development, and strengths based approaches to therapy.
Read more about Amy at http://claritymentalhealth.org/about.php