As a follow-up to my last post about the therapy process in which I wrote about how to obtain a referral for a psychologist, this time I am tackling the issue of what to do once you have found one (or two or three) that you are interested in meeting with.
The first conversation
Should I email? Should I call on the phone? Text message? Tweet? MySpace? There are so many ways to make contact with people nowadays, sometimes it can be confusing to know which avenue is most appropriate. A telephone call might be a good, comfortable way to start for many people, but often psychologists are in with clients and rarely answer their phones. That means potential clients have to leave a message. If you decide to do that, just your name, phone number, and a very brief description of your situation is appropriate. For example:
“Hi Dr. Jones, my name is Stephanie Smith, and I was referred to you by my primary care physician. Could you please call me back at 555-0000 at your earliest convenience?”
Email is a great option because of the ease with which both you and the psychologist can respond to one another. I would recommend emailing to a traditional email account only (and not messaging through MySpace, Twitter, or another social networking site) in order to maintain confidentiality.
Regardless of how you contact the psychologist, expect a phone call or email back within 24-48 hours (during the week).
What questions to ask
Before you get too excited about this awesome psychologist that you have found, it is a good idea to ask a few questions before you book an appointment or start sharing all your woes.
- Are you taking new patients?
- Do you work with ______ (men, women, children, teens, couples)?
- Do you accept insurance/what are your session fees?
The answers to these questions will determine whether you can or should proceed with the psychologist.
Making the first appointment
It can be tempting to take the very first opening available when making your first appointment. There are some things to consider, however, in terms of the best time during the day and week to see your psychologist. Some things to consider:
- Will I have childcare available? It is generally not a good idea to bring children to your first therapy appointment (unless they are part of the treatment). Clients often ask me if they can bring their infants or toddlers to their sessions. I usually request that they be child-free for the first session (because there is so much to go over), and then I go on a case-by-case basis after that.
- Will I have to take off time from work? I have found that many of my clients can use sick time to help cover the work time they miss when coming to therapy. It is worth asking your human resources department about their policies.
- Will I have to go back to work? Many of my clients tell me that they do not like having to go back to work after a therapy session as they are frequently tired, emotional, puffy-eyed or caught up in the topics of the session. If you have a particularly upsetting topic to talk about with your psychologist, you may want to keep this in mind when setting up the first session.
- Will I be rushing out to go somewhere else? I once knew a man who was so worried about getting back to work on time, that he could hardly concentrate during the last 15 minutes of his sessions. I wondered if he would have made better use of his sessions if he would not have had to rush out?
- When am I at my best? Are you a morning person? A night owl? Know when you are at your best (or worst) and schedule your appointment accordingly. If it is hard for you to get out of bed and it takes four cups of coffee to wake up, an 8 a.m. appointment might not be the best for you.
Once you have settled on a time that works for you and the psychologist, you should ask if there is anything you can do to prepare. Some things a psychologist might ask you to do beforehand:
- Obtain an authorization from your insurance company and confirm your outpatient mental health benefits.
- Fill out new client paperwork
- Obtain records from other therapists and health care providers
- Jot down the most important topics you want to make sure you cover – that first session can go really fast!
Know where you are going.
I can’t tell you how many people have gotten lost coming to my office because they forgot to get directions off MapQuest, Google, or my website – or their GPS malfunctioned. Going to your first session is stressful enough, so give yourself a break and print off directions well ahead of time.