Recognizing the Good Mental Health Professional

Between all my medical and especially mental health problems, I can agree with the author of Handpicked Miracle that I’ve met more health providers than I have had friends (or family, as I have never had that many friends). In her most recent post, she lists a number of qualities of the good doctor.

It isn’t always easy to recognize whether your doctor or health provider has these qualities. When you rarely have to see them, it doesn’t really matter, unless they’re truly bad doctors who don’t listen and for that reason may end up making an incorrect diagnosis or initiating the wrong treatment. With doctors or professionals you’ll see more often or over a longer time period, especially mental health professionals, it’s a different story.

I was once told, by a psychiatrist who seemed really good on the surface, that I’d know whether a mental health provider was a good fit at the first meeting. She proved herself wrong when she reacted with snarky comments to any doubts I had about her approach, then ended up terminating our contact before it’d properly started. The reason she couldn’t proceed with my treatment wasn’t her fault, but the way she handled it – by not responding to my E-mails for over a month then bluntly telling me that she couldn’t take on my case after all -, certainly was.

The opposite can also be true, which is why I keep giving mental health professionals second and third and fourth and fifth chances. Then agian, I probably give them too many chances, because generally, if I still can’t get along with a provider after several sessions, we’re unlikely to ever truly click.

The most important qualities in a mental health professional are usually the same as those listed for dcotrs. Here, I’ll give a few examples of good and bad behavior from therapists and other mental health providers in each of these areas.

Collaborative. Of course, mental health patients are not always the most cooperative patients, and their behavior can be tough to handle. The good doctor still allows the patient to have as much control over their lives and the mental health aspects of it as is safe. For example, when the umpteenth benzodiazepine had stopped working as a PRN tranquilizer, my psychiatrist asked me if I’d ever tried any other medication that did work. I had tried promethazine in 2007 and it worked wonders. This is what she ended up prescribing and, though it doesn’t work as well as it did back then, it does have some effect. On the other hand, a former doctor I had ended up prescribing medication without my even having been informed of it and the nurses ended up pushing it on me. This same doctor enforced a seclusion policy on me then ended up saying I’d given consent (which is a legal requirement because I’m an informal patient).

Trustworthy. See above on the psychiatrist who couldn’t take on my case for an example of how mental health professionals shouldn’t act. As a positive example, my current therapist is leaving in a month, and she notified me as soon as possible. She also gave me a say in who would be my new treatment provider.

Intelligent. I generally click best with mental health providers who are knowledgeable, yet don’t act like they’re the absolute authority on mental health or on my mental health in particular. If I know more about my condition than my mental health provider, they’re not a good fit because I’ll be acting like a smartass in their face. For example, the authoritarian doctor who pretended I’d given consent for seclusion, on a different occasion, said that I didn’t have any axis I diagnoses and that all my problems were due to Asperger’s. I told her, in front of her supervisor and a few treatment team people, that Asperger’s is on axis I in DSM-IV.

Humble. While it’s not great if I know more about my conditon than my therapist or psychiatrist, it is good that we can shahre our knowledge.

Personable. It is important that a mental health professionals is interested in the whole patient, because mental health is such an integral part of their being. Sometimes, however, it gets a little on my nerves when doctors ask too many unrelated questions, because I tend to feel it’s a waste of treatment time.

Good listener: a good mental health professional reads between the lines when talking to their patients, yet does get the big picture. I remember when I went for my first psychiatric consultation in late 2006, I wasn’t ablee to say much. When I came back the next time, i’d brought a referral from my GP which basically said what the doctor already knew: that I shut down and wouldn’t talk. The doctor shredded the referral and asked some relatively direct questions. That is how we got talking about the reason I’d almost been kicked out of my place of residence and this is how she got to understanding my social and behavioral issues, which after a few more consultations led to my autism diagnosis. Opposite of this was the doctor who was told by the nurses that I might be depressed (for a reason I still don’t understand). He asked me a couple of standard screening questions yet hardy listened to my elaborate answers. He only said that I had some symptoms but not others. Well, as if I didn’t know that.

Confidence-building: this sums it up pretty much. If a doctor or mental health professional makes you feel like a piece of crap after a visit, that’s not good. It’s understandable that you’ll experience many emotions after discussing certain topics. However, this is not the same as having your confidence shredded. You need to be accepted in order to change. If a provider makes you feel like as a person you’re not acceptable, well, then they’re unlikely to be able to treat your mental health problem.

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