When Mental Health Professionals Offer Conflicting Advice
When it comes to mental health challenges, there is often more than one way to address them. It's not as simple as treating things like strep throat or a sinus infection. The road to recovery isn't a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. And many people find themselves working with a team of professionals as opposed to just a single person. For example, this team might be made up of your regular healthcare provider, therapist, and psychiatrist. So what happens when you start getting conflicting advice?
Why do I need to work with more than one mental health professional?
Before we dive into what to do when you receive conflicting advice, I want to touch on why you would meet with multiple people, because I know this might seem like an odd concept to some of you. Different professionals are able to do different things and are specifically trained in certain areas. For example, your regular healthcare provider can write you a prescription for antidepressants. But they aren't trained in talk therapy.
Physician - A general practitioner is trained in "general" health. That's not a bad thing, it just means they probably aren't going to be able to help you down the road to mental health recovery on their own. However, they should be part of your team because mental health is closely tied with your physical health.
Psychologist - This is someone who has received a doctorate in psychology. They can diagnose and help create a treatment plan, and they are trained in methods such as talk therapy. However, they are unable to write prescriptions.
Psychiatrist - A psychiatrist has a medical degree. They are able to write prescriptions, but many aren't trained in the same treatment methods as a psychologist. So they often work along with psychologists on treatment plans for patients.
There are a number of other professionals that fall under the "therapist" title. This includes social workers, psychoanalysts, life coaches, and marriage counselors. The trick is finding the right ones to add to your team.
What to do when you get conflicting advice from mental health professionals
The first thing you need to know is that conflicting advice doesn't necessarily mean that either professional is "wrong." There are many different forms of treatment, and like everyone else, mental health professionals have their own preferences. But this doesn't make it any easier when you just want to feel better and know that you're on the right path and your doctors can't agree.
Address it head-on. The first thing you need to do is be honest with the people on your team. Let them know that you're also working with someone else and share the advice that you are receiving. This is important because everyone on your team needs to know the treatment plan. Think of your recovery process as a puzzle. You need the pieces to fit together. If a member of your team doesn't know what the plan is, they might add a piece that goes to the wrong puzzle. Each professional needs to know what the other is doing. Simply doing this could clear up the disagreement.
Ask Questions. You should be asking questions of those you are working with. If you have team members with conflicting opinions, then share what the other person said and ask why they are giving that advice. This allows you to grow your understanding of where they are coming from. Information is power and the more you know about each person's reasoning, the easier it will be for you to decide what you agree with, as well.
Get more information. There's nothing wrong with doing a little research of your own. Join online forums and ask others what their personal experience is. Look up reports and articles to find out more information. Or get a third or fourth opinion. Knowledge is power.
Schedule a call or meeting. If you want to keep working with both professionals even though they have differing opinions, then it can be helpful to schedule a phone call or meeting with everyone involved. Taking this step can help get everyone on the same page.
When should you find a new doctor?
Now, before I conclude this, I do want to address one more thing. Sometimes you just need to find a new doctor. Or therapist. Or other types of mental health professionals. The whole point of seeing doctors and others working in this field is to get help. That's it. So if they aren't helping you, there's no need to waste your time or money with them.
Here are some red flags that let you know it's time to shop around:
You feel depersonalized. You are an individual. Therefore, you aren't the same as any other person. Your needs are different. If your helper is not treating you like you are your own separate person, that's a red flag. Don't allow them to make assumptions about you and then offer you treatment options based on those assumptions.
They talk at you. I don't care if it's your family physician, therapist, priest, or anyone else, it's time to find a new one when all they do is talk. How are they supposed to help you when they aren't asking about and learning about you? Every single appointment should start with them asking you questions.
They don't like you working with other professionals in the field. If your helper wants to be the only person who's working with you and they don't want you getting second opinions, it's a red flag.
They're always in a hurry. Doctors have a lot of pressure to keep to a tight schedule and squeeze in as many patients as they can. You want a doctor who's going to schedule the right amount of time to talk with you. If they blow in and out the door at your appointment, then find another doctor who has more time.
Trust your instincts when it comes to your health
Remember to trust your instincts. This whole thing is about YOU. If you feel like it's not working with a certain doctor or you aren't comfortable with what someone is telling you, then find someone else. And keep going until you find the team that you click with. The most important thing is that you stay on the road to mental health recovery.
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