Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Do You Switch Docs?

We got a very thought-provoking question:

I was wondering if you could address the issue of switching from a long standing psychiatrist (who provides regular psychotherapy - the ideal which garnered so much controversy in one of your other posts!) following a scheduled medical leave because the covering doctor seemed to be a better fit. What sorts of issues could be involved in that? I know both parties are professional, but I would still be worried about hurting one's feelings. Or what if the covering doctor did not want to continue to see the person; would that then ruin a dynamic of going back to the original doctor? How can this even be addressed?

Wow. Where do I begin.

1) In a long-standing psychotherapy, one of the issues that might be addressed is the therapeutic relationship and how that plays out as a mirror of other relationships, a process known as transference. The question of what else is going on here should be addressed. Is switching doctors a way of avoiding a problem that should be examined? Is leaving adaptive or a way of not addressing an issue.

2) Sometimes in the course of the therapeutic relationship, we forget that the goal is the treatment of psychiatric disorders and the alleviation of symptoms. Before changing doctors it would be important to take stock: why did you go to treatment? What were the symptoms and difficulties, and how are they doing now. If you're doing better, then I don't think it makes sense to leave a treatment that has been helpful because someone else is an easier person to talk to or a better fit. The goal of treatment is to get better, not to find a good friend. This isn't to say that people don't feel helped by a comfortable therapeutic relationship: they do. It is to say Take Stock first.

3) If this is an insight-oriented psychotherapy with frequent sessions, honesty demands that you at least mention the fantasy of leaving to the old doctor. If it is not that type of treatment, you may want to call the covering doctor and have a brief discussion: Will she take you on? She may feel like she's stealing patients and that may not be cool with her. She may have no openings. She will likely say to discuss it with your old doc first. Before you actually leave the first doctor, it makes sense to have a phone conversation with the new doctor, or even a single one-time appointment to discuss why you want to change, whether she will see you, and if that makes sense. Are there insurance or fee issues? Can she see you at a time you are available? Since you're someone who's needed to see a covering doc, what are her policies on emergencies?

4) If you're not getting better with your first doctor and you've followed treatment recommendations and given it a long enough period of time, then switching doctors is reasonable. If you're worried about hurting someone's feelings, then hopefully it means there has been something positive in the relationship. It may be worth taking stock with your first doctor. These are things that have been helpful. This is why I'm thinking I may want to try seeing someone else. If there's nothing positive, then leave and see someone else, even if it's not the covering doc. If there are positive things, then point them out. If the doctor's feelings are hurt, they will live (I promise). It may not, however, make sense to return to someone you've fired if things don't go so well with the second doctor, and leaving may indeed include closing a door.

Thanks for the great question and I hope that was helpful.