One Size Does Not Fit All: Problems With Psychiatrists

December 22, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

This topic is close to my heart...or, rather, high on my level of irritation. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of twelve, I have seen my share of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers---I am missing a few people, er, professionals. The list is extensive. Some of us are blessed to be working with a wonderful mental health team right of the bat.

Diagnosed with a mental illness? This is your new psychiatrist, he or she will make you well, provided you put the work in! My experience has been quite the opposite--a bit more complicated.

Contradictions in Diagnosis

depression-quotes-cartoon-3My first psychiatrist told my parents that they were not parenting me correctly. I had ADHD. That explained why I did not sleep for days and could not go to school. I walked out with a prescription for Ritalin. Ritalin often makes those with bipolar disorder manic. And I soon was. The first time I stayed in a psychiatric hospital I was twelve--almost thirteen.

My new psychiatrist, a lovely woman, confirmed that I had juvenile bipolar disorder. Throughout the next ten years, despite an accurate diagnosis, I veered between mania and depression, addiction and alcoholism.

It's hard to wrap up sixteen years in few words, but let me try: throughout my addiction I was taken on by four or five psychiatrists. Once one had had enough of me I was passed to the next. Admittedly, I was a difficult patient. Those with a dual-diagnosis usually are. Once sober, I was taken on by another psychiatrist. So, you might ask, what exactly is the problem here, how does this relate to my experience?

Feeling Like You Don't Have a 'Voice'

images3At some point all of us have sat in the chair across from our psychiatrist. We have stared at the notes he or she is writing and wondered what they are. We probably do not ask, or if we do, we are not really given an answer. Being a patient often feels like we do not have control over our treatment--particularly when we do not feel well.

The last time I saw my psychiatrist, last week, I knew something was wrong. I explained how I felt. My symptoms indicated relapse and having lived with this illness for so long, I knew that I needed help. I told her this and was met with some general comments about how I was fine, my feelings were normal, my behaviour not unusual. I told her that being unable to sleep or eat was not normal; days in bed are not normal.

We have had problems in the past--I have been told that I did Not Have Bipolar Disorder. Her reasoning? "Natalie, I have never seen you have a manic episode." I was stunned. Hurt. Confused. I replied: "That's because I take lithium and a secondary mood stabilizer." It took a frightening mixed episode for her to tell me, "Yes, you have bipolar disorder." No, Kidding! Thanks, Doc! I asked her to refer me to another psychiatrist and she told me: "Natalie, nobody will take you." I recognized that that was unethical and unprofessional. I wanted to feel like I was more than a patient--that I had a voice.

Take the Power into Your Own Hands

Many of us have a great working relationship with our mental health team, but if we do not, we need to voice our opinion. Just because we are patients does not mean we cannot make decisions. We need to feel comfortable and trust our psychiatrist in order to become well.

This time around I realized she was not right for me. And I was not right for her. It's like a pair of shoes: you need to walk in them for a while before you know they fit. And I knew she did not, for lack of a better term, fit.

Being Assertive

images4Our recovery is directly tied to our relationship with our psychiatrist. If something feels wrong, first express how you feel, often you can work together to make the relationship more effective. If not, it is your right, as a patient, to ask for a referral. Remember that you are an expert on your illness--you need a psychiatrist who listens to you and respects your opinion.

Sometimes, it takes a while to find the right fit. But once you do, recovery is easier. And you deserve someone who will listen to you.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, December 22). One Size Does Not Fit All: Problems With Psychiatrists, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

December, 23 2011 at 2:34 pm

I hope things are better for you. Just curious, where you seeing a psychologist in conjunction with the psychiatrists?

Dr Musli Ferati
December, 24 2011 at 6:15 am

Patient psychiatrist relationship indicates both difficult and provocative social situation when one side of therapeutic milieu try to find helping which is capable to offer the other side of the same interpersonal relation. In few words, this kind of communication is complementary as well as double sided inter-personal relation. Moreover, in the this specific mutual relation, two parties are interested to achieve the treatment as well as possible collaborating in same level of importance. Otherwise, the process of psychiatric treatment would be an extorted solution, without any probabilities to have a successful overcome. Your ineffective and prolongation treatment experience with different psychiatrist give evidence that in therapeutic applying is necessary a mutual respect between psychiatrist and patient with mentally illness. In order ti accomplish this condition it should to have an empathy by psychiatrist, because every psychiatrist patient have got a compromise self-confidence that impedes the process of healing. Therefore, psychiatrist should to bear the responsibility for the result of treatment, even patient should to accept the treatment.

Pamela Gold
February, 2 2012 at 7:35 am

Wow. Just wow. This is completely on target. I'm on psychiatrist number five. My bipolar was triggered by postpartum depression three years ago and I was diagnosed Bipolar II as of August 2011. So yeah, psychiatrist number five. And I can't even tell you how many medications I've been on, started a new one last night in fact.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 3 2012 at 6:09 am

Hi, Pamela!
Glad you can relate. Well, not glad--it's difficult to go through psychiatrists. I am bipolar II as well and the depression lingers. I also cannot count the must be nearing 100's, or more. But I've found a combination that seems to work well, and you will too! Hang in there you are i large company!
Thanks for the comment,

February, 18 2013 at 7:50 am

"My first psychiatrist told my parents that they were not parenting me correctly."
Psychiatrists are not even qualified to comment on parenting skills. Trust me, this is fact. So if your psychiatrist did all those years ago, he/she made a professional mistake. Big one.

May, 3 2013 at 5:28 am

I am having a bad time with a new psych doctor. He questioned my last three doctors' diagnosis. He believes because I am not obviously cycling that certain meds should be stopped. Needless to say I begin cycling that very day. The audacity of this doctor to assume I may not be bipolar or ocd because he can't see it on out first appointment. But it is clear in my records. He doesn't believe people with bipolar should be on disability. You need to take control of your life and not let it define you or cripple you. Those are his words.Well it sort of defines me and has crippled me, so i ask myself what kind of doctor experiments like that. The first time in my life I had found a excellent psych doctor and had to move away.She found med combinations that were working, and this new guy doesn't agree with her methods. So I have to assert myself and that is a problem. Reading this opens my eyes, I am not alone in the quest for a good psych doctor. We don't have to settle.Thank you for reminding me that.

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