A few words about the doctorís office from a bipolar client: I have patiently sat in many a waiting room waiting to be seen. If I am coming to therapy, itís because I have issues. Be courteous and have a nice box of Kleenex in the waiting room, and if possible, access to water like a water cooler would be very wonderful.
As the doctor, you know the demographics of your clientele. Perhaps you could keep that in mind when putting magazines in the waiting room for us to read while we are waiting for our appointment that should have started 5 minutes ago. More updated and interesting reading material would be nice: how about pamphlets on depression, quitting smoking, stress reduction, weight control, schedules to the closest AA, NA, or co-dependentís anonymous meetings. Help us get the help we need but that we still might be too afraid to ask for. If you put that type of reading material and general access info out for your patients, we just MIGHT take it when youíre not looking.
Also, along those lines, I would like to make a very important statement about ERís, typical doctors offices, and a psychiatristís office: if you have anything in those cabinets or drawers like disposable scalpels, gloves, licopene, bottles, LOCK THAT STUFF UP! Again, you are in an industry dealing with people who admittedly have some issues in their lives that they would like to address. While they are in your care, they should be safe. That is a doctorís responsibility to his client. Please, lock your drawers. I have mentioned this to several doctors over the years and they all replied that it never even occurred to them. Now that Iíve put it out there, please hear me, it could save lives.
OK, now into the office we go. I understand, as a former office ďownerĒ, that your office generally reflects your own personality, but I believe in this field the office area should be focused on soothing the client and making them feel comfortable enough to trust and open up to you. I am not suggesting by any means that you donít express yourself visually in your office, just take the patientís point of view into mind when decorating.
Most doctorsí offices are FILLED with extremely brilliant books about the conditions that we suffer from. I say, if you have that book on a bookcase in your office, you should be willing to loan it out to me if I ask to borrow it. If nothing else, if the book never gets returned you can take it as a loss on income taxes. But perhaps that book you turned me onto will have some answers that I had to discover on my own through reading. My bet would also be on the book being returned.
Plants are always a wonderful addition to any space. For some reason they generate a feeling of safety and vitality. Maybe itís because you notice that they are ALIVE and thriving and being taken care of in THIS PARTICULAR DOCTORíS OFFICEÖhmmmÖto a patient the perception might beÖShe/he CARES. Plantsí health and appearance say a lot about the personality of the person occupying the office space.
Again, a couple of boxes of Kleenex readily within reach of the client so they donít have to ask for some, would be very important to me. Itís funny how there is often Kleenex in the office, but sitting on the doctorís desk or on a credenza behind them completely out of reach of the patient. Perhaps this is done deliberately for some reason unknown to me, but Keep it Simple, let me just be able to lean over and grab a Kleenex without having to ask for one. Itís the little things that mean the most in these intimate moments shared between therapist and client.
Personally, Iím not into the lying on the couch scene. I prefer a nice comfortable chair and if I am fortunate enough to have a window view I am just about in therapy heaven. Itís also less intimidating when the desk is NOT used as a divider between client and therapist Ė a more open and inviting atmosphere where the doctor can face the client without barriers is much more comfortable. I have found that I can more easily interact with my therapist if they are sitting to one side of me or straight across from me without any barriers, and if they are good, they can then tell when I begin to dissociate during a session.
I think it is important for the therapist and client to pick certain areas they want to work on and come up with a plan for achieving those goals.
Also, being bipolar, I am sometimes too depressed to leave the house, even though I have a therapy appointment later that day. It would be VERY BENEFICIAL if doctors realized that those with mental health concerns do have anxiety and panic attacks- that sometimes, there is nothing we can do about. If more doctors would be open to changing their in-office appointments on a BAD day and would convert them to phone appointments, that would be extremely helpful. That way the commitment is still kept on the patientís side and we are still able to receive the assistance we really need. Itís generally when we canít leave the house that we need our doctorís help the most, and if we are incapable of getting to the office, what other solution can we come up with to keep these patients safe? I suggest the emergency telephone appointments I described.
There are a lot of things I want from the person I am willing to trust with my mental health. I expect honesty, straightforwardness, respect, the ability to stand up to me, the willingness to comfort me, their vow of silence about my intimate life. I think most importantly, I want them to know that I am not just another chart number with a diagnosis. I am a real live feeling person, coping day to day, trying to live with my mental illness the best I know how. I want them to be interested in the things I tell them. I want them to learn about me enough so that when I slightly shift to the left, they KNOW it is for a specific reason and they tune in to it.
Mara McWilliams resides peacefully in Northern California with her 7-year-old daughter and her wife, Renee. She has dedicated her life to raising her daughter; volunteering, preserving her mental health, and helping others improve themselves whenever she can. She expresses herself through painting, drawing, and writing.
Mara is the author of Outta My Head and In Your Face The poetry and artwork of Mara McWilliams reflects a journey that led her through the darkest depths of mental illness, to a place where she more often experiences a peace that is the result of tremendous hard work and dedication to a better, balanced, life. This book of selected poems and paintings by Mara McWilliams chronicles that journey. She hopes to give the reader a view into the tortured mind of the undiagnosed mentally ill, as well as to give hope to those whose lives have been touched by mental illness, that a full and beautiful life is possible.
Copyright 2003 Reprinted by permission of Mara McWilliams and The Bright Side-Wings of Support http://www.the-bright-side.org