It Only Takes One Good Doctor: How To Avoid The Bad Ones

I recall spending years agonizing over the idea that something might not be right about my thought patterns. When I voiced my suspicions to family, I was immediately told that I was making it all up for attention and that I should have been able to push myself out of it. So I sunk lower while trying to push myself harder. The repression-turned into anger, which, of course, pushed people further away.

Only once I started having suicidal thoughts and being fearful of how they could turn into actions, was I ready to accept outside help. Unfortunately, instead of things getting instantly better, the first professionals set me back more than they helped.

Photo by on Unsplash

Photo by on Unsplash

The first therapist I tried to speak to at this point was our high school’s psychologist, who already had way too many students in her care. I tried to make appointments with her, but after she had to cancel two in a row, at the last minute, I gave up trying to make more.

It took me another year to attempt to talk to someone. I was at another low when I went to the counselor at the first college I attended. That did not go much better, because she, a licensed, psychotherapist with a PhD, told me that with my situation could not be helped at their facility. She told me I could either call the National crisis hotline or try to come back when I felt better.

As my mental state and family situation deteriorated further, I dropped out of college to figure out what the next steps should be. Since finding someone to talk to was so fruitless, I decided it might be easier to try treatment with medications instead. This time, yet another doctor asked me a few questions and then tried to flirt with me. I continued going because I felt this was the price I had to pay if I wanted help, but after two months, I was too afraid to keep going. I took myself off of the medication he prescribed (awful idea, I should have read the bottle) but found another doctor after another three months.

Three doctors, some incorrect and terrifying diagnoses later, I had given up on getting any help. I resigned myself to continue "pulling myself up by my bootstraps," which for me included crying until my flashbacks were over and rocking back and forth in tears whenever I was left alone. But on the surface, I seemed fine to everyone, and I decided that this was good enough. I was starting school again in the fall and would be moving into a dorm room to get away from my family. Surely that should be enough.

It took my boyfriend finding me crying in the corner of my shower to force me to try the counseling center on my new campus.

About a year after my first attempt is the first time I understood that it only takes one good doctor to put me on the path to truly live a better, more fulfilling life. Finally, after this good experience did it make sense, why all the good online resources recommended counseling.

Finding a therapist is not like finding a general practice doctor. This is someone who will need to challenge and change the way you think, in a manner that resonates with you They need to be someone you can truly trust. I have previously complained about the state of US Mental Health Care Insurance, which of course, is also quite the hindrance for finding the right doctor.

When I asked on twitter and Discord what it was that made for a bad experience with a medical professional, I was astonished to see how many answers coincided. Indeed, I did not have to quote any one person or worry about a single contributor’s identity. People who had never met each other, all have at some point encountered a bad mental health professional.

Due to the chronic nature of most of my illnesses, I have seen many more doctors than those mentioned above. Over time, I have learned what kind of care and feedback works best for me, in an effort to reduce the amount I waste in co-pays with every new experience. I am not here to admonish any specialty, but rather celebrate those doctors that stand above the rest, to provide great care and fulfill their Hippocratic oath thoroughly. Doctors are just people, and just like anyone else, some have less than desirable qualities. To help you wade through and shorten the process of finding the right care for you, I have put together a helpful list (with the aforementioned community contributions) of what to avoid and what to embrace in a doctor, below.  


Consider It a Red Flag If

1.       If You have to wait too long

I start with this one because it has become a Seinfeld-lampooned trope of seeing a medical professional. There are definitely acceptable reasons someone runs late, but if you find that your wait time is chronically over thirty minutes, I would reconsider your options. I understand doctors are busy, but so is everyone else. I used to let this slide until I started working twelve-hour days. Meaning any time I took off became a precious resource. Sitting in an office, waiting for someone to be free was not how I wanted to spend that time. Not to mention how unlikely it would be that this frustration would have any benefit on my mental health.

2.       If You Do Not Feel Heard And Feel Rushed Out The Door

I remember sitting down in front of a doctor and explaining carefully all the data I had collected about my sleeping habits that I thought might help. How many hours I was sleeping on average, previous diagnoses from therapists when I was suddenly cut off. They interrupted me and offered a standard SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). When I said that I had tried and was not comfortable with its side-effects, he insisted that this was the only medication for me. The side-effect I mentioned? Uncontrolled twitching of extremities. All I walked away with was a script I was not going to fill, and the thought that I would likely never trust this doctor’s recommendation since they would not care what kind of side-effects I might experience. With so many options for medication out there, I just felt like they were expecting me to be an easy case they could give the usual and call it a day. I think my co-pay alone was worth more than that.

3.       If You’re Unsure About The Recommendation You Received

The least you can do for your health is to look for a second opinion. I like to do a lot of research before I go into a doctor’s office. Not the going onto WebMD and putting in my symptoms kind, but rather, which medications are most often given for such and such condition, and what are their main qualities, kind. I would never advise that you tell your doctor what you think you should be taking (I would even call it a red flag if a doctor took that advice), but it helps to be informed. After I graduated from college, I was seeing a new psychiatrist for three months when I started to complain I was losing more sleep than usual. She prescribed me something. I took the script, filled it at the pharmacy and took it the same evening. I woke up the next morning, feeling like I got hit by a bus. I don’t walk in front of buses, which is why this side effect was painfully noticeable. I went online and typed in the name of my medication. I wish I had done this sooner, as I found out that it was a serious tranquilizer, offered to those with bipolar going through a particularly bad manic phase. I certainly did not say anything that warranted something that strong. Goodbye doctor, goodbye patient.

4.       If You Feel Discriminated Against

The word discrimination gets thrown around a lot nowadays, but not feeling comfortable around a doctor you need to trust is horrible. That's far from the ideal way to start a provider-patient relationship. Whether they are microaggressions or your doctor said something truly offensive to you, every person deserves dignity and respect, especially when they are vulnerable. An non-Caucasian viewer of mine, on the verge of a full mental breakdown, went to the hospital. The doctor asked him a few questions and then told him that he was “inscrutable” instead of giving him his full diagnosis. The word choice, and the general notion of lack of trust from the doctor not only made my friend feel terrible, but it also solidified his mistrust for doctors.

5.       They Cannot Be Reached Outside of Office Hours in Case Of An Emergency

Most doctors use a calling service as a way to keep informed should something happen to their patient (at least in the U.S.) outside of business hours. This is not only reassuring to someone trying a new medication, but also can be incredibly helpful should that medication not take well. kind of service provides an extra resource for care and can be very reassuring for patients. It's an extra vote of confidence to see a doctor who wants to make sure their patients are doing well.


How Do You Spot A Great Doctor?

  • As soon as you enter the waiting area, you should feel at ease and accepted

  • You receive appropriate verbal and emotional feedback, letting you know you have been heard

  • The doctor is comfortable with offering you alternatives should you not feel certain about your first option

  • You are offered the full amount of time for your appointment without being cut off or unnecessarily delayed

  • When you google them, you don't find any pending board reviews, or legal actions

If you have tried but cannot find such quality of care near you, I have some apps and resources listen on this site for receiving mental health help. I don't prefer taking the self-help route, but sometimes it's healthier than the other options available to us.

Whatever it is you chose to do, take care of yourself. You are important and you deserve to feel better.


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What do you think, friend. Is this list comprehensive? Maybe you are a Doctor and there another side to this I am missing? Anything you would add, or think I have misunderstood? Please feel free to comment away, I look forward to learning more!