Anyone who tells you they weren’t a little anxious visiting a psychiatrist for their first time really is crazy. Here you stand at the door of the clinic with your GP’s referral trembling in your hand. As you enter, the bell on the door alerts the receptionist to your arrival. Unfortunately, it also alerts every patient already waiting, all of whom take a surreptitious look at the new kid on the block.
Within a nanosecond they’ve summed me up. I’m here to see a psychiatrist, so clearly I’m barking mad, possibly psychopathic and probably carrying a 12-inch carving knife in my backpack. In the split-second I’ve had to assess them I too have reached a conclusion: barking mad murderous psychopaths every one of them.
Now while my verdict may be harsh, the fact is most mentally ill patients tend to see their fellow sufferers as a little nuttier than themselves. It’s human nature. This leads to a somewhat different ambience within a psychiatrist’s waiting room than you experience at your GP or dentist.
For starters, a psychiatrist’s is deathly quiet. You might exchange a few pleasantries with the receptionist but nobody else, and I do mean nobody. We peer intently at our phones or diaries or six-month old copies of Time or Who Weekly. It’s partly to avoid each other but also, I believe, to give each other some privacy. Given the state of most of our minds, the quietness is much appreciated.
Don’t expect much by the way of interior décor either. The waiting room I do my waiting in is as dull as dishwater. Muted greys and browns on floors and walls. I guess anything too bright might set off one of us psychopaths. Strangely, the only artwork that hangs on the walls of the clinic is a monochromatic photo of an empty tree-lined lane shrouded in fog. To my mind, it’s pretty spooky and looks like a great place to neck one’s self. No doubt there’s method in the madness but I can’t see it.
If you’re an impatient type, take a book because punctuality is not a strong card of psychiatrists. That’s not because they’re trying to be arrogant. It’s more a reflection of the unpredictability of the patients they treat. If someone seems suicidal, their doctor is hardly likely to show them the door because their allotted time has passed.
The knock-on effect might play havoc with your schedule, but how can you complain? I’d do the same for you just as you’d hopefully do for me. That said, if you’re a regular visitor to your psychiatrist get on good terms with the receptionist because if there are delays, the really nice ones will call ahead to warn you.
The first time I met my psychiatrist I was expecting a combination of Sigmund Freud, Stephen Fry and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Instead, I was met by a warm, friendly fellow who immediately had me at ease, just as he has ever since. Rather than asking me to lie on a chaise lounge, we sat in facing chairs and chatted like two middle-aged mates.
Like most psychiatrists, he obviously has an IQ the size of an international telephone number. It’s not surprising given you have to become a GP before you can become a psychiatrist. Consequently, finding one who can baffle you intellectually isn’t difficult. Nor, I imagine, is finding one with the social skills of a frozen pea.
What is a little more difficult however, is finding someone you feel at ease with and trust. So, if you’re not satisfied with the one you are seeing, speak up. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, mention your misgivings to your GP and see what they have to say. They may have other specialists that may be better suited. After all, the road to recovery can be long so travelling it with people you respect and feel a connection with will make a huge difference.
One last point: as we all know, facial gestures, hand movements and body language often say as much, if not more than our words. Don’t be surprised then if your psychiatrist sometimes appears not to be listening all that closely to what you’re saying. Instead, they may seem fascinated in your face or how you’re using your hands or the fact that you’ve developed an interesting tic over your right eye.
It’s a bit unnerving but get used to it because they do it quite a bit. Sometimes I’ve tested mine by simply stopping talking and even then, I think it takes him a moment or two to realise I’m no longer jabbering blithely away. Just remind yourself you are in a shrink’s office having your head examined so go with the flow hey?
Look, if your GP thinks you might benefit from a visit to a psychiatrist and you’re concerned that this is proof that you may be a sandwich short of a picnic, get over it. If you have a problem with your heart you’re more than happy to see a heart specialist. So, if you have a problem with your head….
If you’d like little more detail on your first visit to a psychiatrist try this: