Q&A With Dr. Laura Dabney

This week we’re talking with a mental health PRO! Dr. Laura F. Dabny, M.D. is a psychiatrist who has run her own psychotherapy practice in Virginia Beach for nearly 20 years. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about mental health and its place in today’s society.

What is a popular misconception about seeing a psychiatrist?
That we are judgmental, critical or going to tell a patient what to do. Instead, we are impartial, supportive and help you find the best solution for your problems.

When should someone consider getting help for their mental health issues?
I define that by when your problem, however “big” or “small,” negatively impacts your relationships or job performance, it’s time to get help.

How, especially in the beginning, can a person learn to trust a professional with their mental health? 
By reading my last answer a few times! Just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with calling and asking to speak to the mental health person before making the appointment.
Reputable and trustworthy professionals will be glad to do this. It may help to see if you “click” over the phone before going in. I also strongly recommend that if you get a bad vibe for any reason in the first appointment, don’t make a follow-up appointment. An initial evaluation is a way to test your connection with the therapist. It doesn’t commit you in any way.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to get help for their mental health?
Break the concept of “getting help” into bite-size chunks. You don’t have to throw yourself into months of therapy. Start first by simply checking out some websites or some blogs on mental health. Then maybe just call and talk to the receptionist about the practice. These casual first steps might help get you over the nervousness about making an appointment.

What is the best way to address possible stigmas of mental health?
Luckily this seems to be improving. I think reading books by accomplished people with mental illness such as Kay Jamison’s book (Unquiet Mind) helps balance the media’s skewed perception that people with mental illness are untreatable or misfits.

Anything you’d like to add?
Although I’m an M. D., I do believe in using psychotherapy to help ween people off psychotropic medications. Big Pharma really pushed these medications as miracle drugs in the ’90s when I was in training. While they can be helpful, there are many people that can benefit from therapy or short-term use of medication, and therefore don’t need the medications for life. It’s important to get a second opinion if someone recommends medication without giving a list of pros and cons of the different types of therapy and medication usage.

What To Remember When Choosing a Therapist – If You’ve Had One Before

Last week, I wrote about things you should think about when you’re choosing a therapist for the first time. This week, I thought I’d build on that by talking about choosing a therapist if you’ve been to one before. 

Odds are, your first therapist will not be your only one. Sure, you might strike gold with the first one – you might even find ‘the one.’ But often, life and circumstances change, and we’re forced to see multiple therapists during our mental health journeys. Here are some things to remember when you’re picking a therapist when you’ve had one before.

Know your diagnosis. One time I went to see a medical professional who diagnosed me, after one brief assessment, with borderline personality disorder. They did this after ten minutes of speaking with me, and they were aware I had first been diagnosed with a mental illness three years prior. Still, that one ‘diagnosis’ was hard for me to shake, and it took many visits to other mental health professionals – who all told me that was a rash diagnosis – before I could believe them. If you’ve been diagnosed with something from a professional you trust, bring that with you to your new therapist. It’s helpful for all involved.

Do some research. Sometimes when you’re first looking for a therapist, you don’t get to be picky. You pick the person who’s closest, or the first person you find that takes your insurance. If you’re able, really dig into these new potential therapists as much as you can. Psychology Today has a ‘Find a Therapist’ section on their website and I’ve spent a lot of time on there when looking for someone new. You can see people’s specialties, the issues they deal with and their client focus. It’s been a great help to me and I’d totally recommend it!

You know more than you think you do. I remember the first time I went to therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t get much out of my first session. But when I went to see a new therapist for the first time, I felt much more assured. I knew myself, and my mental health, much more than I had in the past. That knowledge has helped me going forward, and your knowledge will help you, too. That leads me to my third point…

Confidence helps. While I didn’t have confidence in myself, I did have confidence in my knowledge of my mental health. This is something I remembered when I was going to see a new therapist a few years ago. Since I knew more about my mental illnesses, I was able to take comfort in the fact that at least I knew what I was up against. Having that confidence – even in the fact that I didn’t have confidence – helped me as I got to know my new therapist.

Think about your goals. Why did you decide to see a new therapist? I had to see new therapists because I was in college, so I was constantly switching between therapists at school and therapists at home. It got hard to keep track of what I was trying to achieve in therapy and made me sometimes feel like the visits were pointless. Yes, it’s okay if you don’t know why you’re there – getting help is a good step to take. But if you have time, take a minute and see what you’re trying to achieve. It can help in the long run.

I know there are plenty of other tips but these are some of my favorites. Have any to add? Leave a comment below.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Chinese Proverb.png