My wife has gone through nearly a dozen psychiatrists in search for the perfect doctor to treat her bipolar disorder. Some have moved, others were lost due to changes in insurance, and a few were simply ineffective in providing treatment.

I would say that the absolute worst was when she was receiving treatment through the local university’s School of Medicine, where the doctor in charge delegated her care to various grad students. Each appointment seemed to usher in a change of doctors-in-training and subsequently a change of medication cocktails. Continuity of care was absent (as was the supervising physician), leaving my wife feeling like a disoriented lab rat.

With most of the doctors, however, the problem was a lack of balance. On one extreme were doctors who would prescribe whatever my wife asked for, regardless of how effective, ineffective, or risky it was. On the other extreme, the doctors wouldn’t even listen to her… so she returned the favor by not listening to them. Her current doctor seems pretty good. He listens, but he makes it clear that he’s the doctor in charge. My main complaint (as with almost all doctors my wife has seen) is that the doctor is not always accessible, especially on weekends when most crises seem to occur.

Here’s my wish list for the perfect psychiatrist:

  • Knowledgeable and experienced in treating bipolar.
  • Covered by insurance… in network. (If you can afford to pay out of pocket, this may not be an issue.)
  • Responsive to patient feedback and requests, without being a pushover.
  • Ready, willing, and able to team up with the therapist.
  • Works at an acceptable mental health facility (acceptable to us) that’s covered by insurance (if hospitalization becomes necessary).
  • Readily accessible – returns phone calls in a reasonable amount of time or at least has someone on call.

Please share your experiences and insights on psychiatrists and other treatment providers you’ve had. This information can be very helpful for consumers shopping for providers and for mental health professionals who want to improve the care they provide.

Teamwork is essential, especially given the fact that most insurance companies won’t pay your psychiatrist to serve as your therapist, too. In Bipolar Disorder for Dummies, we show you how to build an effective mood management team, including a doctor (for diagnosis and prescriptions), one or more therapists, and a support group of family members and/or friends.