Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging so much lately is because I’ve been going through a tiny manic high and trying to curb it, part of which has involved a couple of trips to an assessment clinic- both psychiatric and psychological.
I first off want to point out that my current mental state is 99% level with a 1% increase in mania, or there abouts. I noticed the mania creeping in after some life changes and it got to the point where I realised I needed some help. Incidentally, I’d been referred to both a psychiatrist and a psychologist for problems around anxiety and the appointments seem to arrive right on time.
Recently I sat in my doctor’s office listening to him tell me how hard the psychology assessment would be- harder than the psychiatric assessment (mainly because I certainly don’t need psychiatric care right now). I realised as I cried and panicked and feared the appointment that I’ve been through a fair few of these assessments in my 15 years with mental health services but didn’t really have a reference point for it; there wasn’t a friendly Cosmopolitan article telling me the ins and out. So I figured I’d bloody well write it.
A little disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist myself, just someone with experience of the British NHS mental health services. Whilst my care throughout the years certainly hasn’t been consistent, the method behind the psychological tests has. I’m writing from experience.
How Should You Prepare?
Whether it’s your first or your 50th, it’s fair to say a psychological assessment isn’t a walk in the park and we’d all much rather be on the sofa eating Pringles than having our every word analysed. Over the years I’ve always been quite anxious about my appointments but always known it’s important to stay calm. The time you have with your psychologist is the ultimate “me” time- they’re quite literally there to talk about you and find out about you. Because the topics you’ll cover can be upsetting, I tend to make sure I have a few hours before and after the appointment free to myself just to indulge in my thoughts and allow myself to take in the experience.
If you’re stressed beforehand, take some time to listen to some calming or upbeat music. If you can walk at least part of the way to your appointment then do, fresh air always makes things less scary.
Arrive early- I always aim to get to my appointment venue 20 minutes early in case I get lost (very likely) or want to grab a coffee (also very likely)
Afterwards I tend to head straight home rather than work, although this isn’t always possible. I treat myself to a huge bath but you may prefer to head out with friends, go shopping or hit the gym. Whatever you do to reward yourself, do that. Self care after your psychological assessment is vital as you’ll end up talking about topics very close to you.
Do You Have To Take Anyone?
Not unless they ask you to, no. Personally, I much prefer to go to my appointments alone but if you feel more comfortable taking a friend or family member then don’t hesitate- you don’t have to tell them a word about what went on during the time you were with the doctor or nurse but sometimes seeing a friendly face afterwards is a huge comfort.
What Will They Ask Me?
Honestly? A lot. The assessment process is there to find out what the best course of treatment is for you. In most of my sessions there have been two doctors present; this allows for two opinions on your care and two sets of eyes and ears. Every single time when I’ve had two doctors, it’s been a male and female.
One thought I always have is “What if they think I’m so insane they lock me up there and then?” or “What if they think I’m not ill enough to be here?” If that were the case for either scenario, you wouldn’t be in that room receiving that type of treatment.
The doctors want to get an overview of you- your life, your experiences, how you’re currently feeling- but in my experience are never blunt. These sessions belong to you, if you want to talk in depth about something then it’s fine but if you don’t feel comfortable then you’re more than welcome to ask the doctor to move on.
Here are some key areas a doctor will likely focus on:
- How you’re currently feeling: are you anxious? Are you feeling depressed?
- Life events lately: work, relationships, family.
- Romantic relationships
- Your sleep pattern: how are you sleeping? How many hours? Nightmares?
- Any medication you’re on
- Your support system: do you have one? Does anyone know what you’re going through? Do you have anyone to talk to?
I won’t lie and say it’s a walk in the park but I will say the session gets easier as you become more relaxed in your surroundings. Personally, I always notice my body language suddenly change about 20 minutes in the session and I’ll unfold my arms and ease into the chair.
What happens next?
After your initial assessment, you’ll likely book another appointment for the near future. A second appointment will likely be further questions that the doctors want to expand on from the first assessment.
In my most recent assessment, my doctors gave me a fairly long form to fill in which explores everything from who I live with to early memories; this form allows you to take time to calmly answer questions which will determine the best outcome of your care and will mean the doctor can focus on your treatment as soon as possible.
This account is a personal one. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m certainly not a doctor but I have been through this system several times over; I’m writing this in the hope it’ll answer at least one person’s questions and calm at least one person’s nerves.
If you think you need to seek mental health help, please see your doctor. You are not alone in this.