Seeing a psychiatrist
How do I arrange to see a psychiatrist?
In a mental health emergency, you should:
- call 000 in Australia
or 111 in New Zealand
- visit the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
If you have a mental health issue, but it’s not an emergency, the best person to start making arrangements with is your general practitioner (GP).
First, make an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns. If they think seeing a psychiatrist would help you, they will write a referral letter to a psychiatrist, asking them to see you.
Arrangements can vary between psychiatrists, but your GP will tell you the best way to make an appointment.
Can I choose which psychiatrist I see?
Usually, your GP will choose a psychiatrist who they think will be a good fit for you. However, if you wish, you can ask for your GP to refer you to a psychiatrist of your choice.
If you live in Australia, you can try the RANZCP's Find a Psychiatrist directory to help find a psychiatrist who will suit your needs. You can use the directory to find psychiatrists near where you live, or ones with particular skills or areas of interest. For example, you might want a female psychiatrist, one that speaks the same language as you, or one that specialises in your condition.
What will happen when I see a psychiatrist?
The first time you meet with a psychiatrist, the appointment will usually last for up to an hour. The psychiatrist will need to do a full assessment. They will be trying to get a picture of the difficulties you are facing, how they affect your life, and what might be the causes and triggers of your problems.
This means they will listen to you talk about your concerns and symptoms, and ask you questions about your health in general and your family history. They might do a physical examination or ask you to fill out a questionnaire. They might also ask your permission to talk to other health professionals you've seen, or members of your family.
After getting all the information they need, they will tell you what they think your diagnosis is, and work out a treatment plan with you.
After the first visit, appointments will focus on checking your progress and adjusting treatments.
If you would like to have a family member or a friend with you in your appointments, you can discuss this with your psychiatrist.
What treatments might my psychiatrist use?
Mental illnesses happen because of a combination of factors. These factors can be biological (the way your brain works), psychological (how you think), or social (your relationships with other people). The different psychiatric treatments available tackle these different factors.
Psychiatrists use a range of treatments, including
- psychotherapy (also called psychological treatment or talking therapy)
- practical advice about your lifestyle or behaviour.
Your psychiatrist will recommend the best treatment or treatments for you. They will recommend the treatments that are right for your mental illness, its severity, and your individual needs. They will only suggest treatments that have been proven to be safe and effective. In some cases, the proposed treatment might be a stay in hospital.
Your psychiatrist should explain the purpose, nature, possible side-effects, risks and costs of any treatment. It's up to you whether you agree to have the treatment – and your psychiatrist must confirm that you want to proceed.
Any treatment recommended by your psychiatrist will be aimed at improving your symptoms. The psychiatrist's goal is to help you improve your quality of life – that means improving your symptoms and helping you to have a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle, with a feeling of optimism for the future. This could include looking at home life, relationships, work, etc.
Your psychiatrist might be part of a team that works together with you to improve your mental health. Other members of the team might include GPs, psychologists, mental health nurses, counsellors, social workers, occupational therapists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, and Maori health workers. Your family and other supports can also play an important role.
How much does it cost to see a psychiatrist?
If you are seeing a psychiatrist at a public hospital or a community health centre, the visit will usually be free. However, if you see a psychiatrist at their private practice, or in a private clinic, they will charge a fee.
Ask how much the fee is when you make your appointment.
In Australia, you can claim some of the amount back from Medicare, or from your insurer if you have private health insurance (if you’re admitted as an inpatient).
How should I get ready for my first appointment?
It may be helpful to prepare for your first appointment by thinking about a few things:
- What symptoms do I have?
- Are there any particular stresses in my life that might be relevant?
- What other medical conditions do I have? (both current and previous)
- What medications, vitamins and supplements am I taking?
- What has helped/not helped in the past?
- What supports do I have in my life? (family, friends, colleagues, groups, etc.)
It might also help to think about questions you'd like the psychiatrist to answer.
What about confidentiality?
Anything you talk about with your psychiatrist is confidential. You should feel that you can tell your psychiatrist anything.
Sometimes your psychiatrist may need to share some of your private information with other health-care professionals so they can assist with your treatment.
Your psychiatrist might suggest involving family members in your assessment, but will discuss this with you first.
Under very rare circumstances, a psychiatrist may be required to share a person’s private information with others. Generally, your psychiatrist will tell you if they need to do this.
What are things my psychiatrist should and shouldn't do?
Psychiatrists must abide by the RANZCP's Code of Ethics, which are strict guidelines about how to engage with you.
You should expect your psychiatrist to be attentive, caring and courteous. They should treat you with respect regardless of your age, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability, or religious beliefs.
Your psychiatrist should fully discuss all treatment options with you, and take account of your preferences – this is called informed consent.
Psychiatrists should avoid social or financial relationships with patients. They should not treat close family members, friends, employees or business associates. They must never have sexual relationships with current or former patients.
What do I do if I have a complaint about a psychiatrist?
If you have concerns about a psychiatrist's behaviour or performance, visit the Complaints about psychiatrists page for information about what to do.
Can I consult with a psychiatrist without having to travel to their practice?
Some psychiatrists offer telepsychiatry services. This means that instead of meeting with the psychiatrist face-to-face, you speak with them via video on a computer.
More about Telepsychiatry