Shared decision-making is a process with three steps: The first one is education. You educate your doctor on your symptoms, complaints, and other health issues. In addition, you talk about your personal goals and preferences. The doctor in turn educates you about your diagnosis, possible treatments to choose, and the risks and benefits of each option.
Note that there are two experts in the room. You are the expert on yourself and your life. The doctor is the expert on mental health conditions and how to treat them.
The second step is exploring the options that the doctor presents. How do you feel about the doctor’s recommendations? Do you have questions or concerns? Based on your input, the doctor responds to you with additional information and recommendations.
In the final step, you and your doctor come to an agreement on which option to choose and agree on what steps you will take after the appointment.
Of course getting to an agreement isn’t always easy. You might be worried about the possible side-effects of a medication the doctor recommends, or even be reluctant to take any medication. The doctor might want you to stick with your medication longer to see if it works, or be worried about your safety if you go off your medication. Discussing these things educates both of you and can help you both to reach agreement.
How Shared-Decision Making Helps You
Teamwork pays off when you and your doctor decide together what to do next. Deciding together can be satisfying because you have a chance to talk about what you want and need and make a choice that is best for you. The decision you reach responds to your needs, as well as what the doctor thinks best. The more you learn in discussing what to do, the better you understand why the decision makes sense. And the more you are involved in deciding what to do, the more you are likely to stick with it.
Another benefit is that deciding together builds trust and improves communication between you and your doctor or other mental health provider. Trust and respect are essential in mental health treatment, which can be a long--and at times frustrating--process. You need to be able to trust your provider to be an expert, give you good advice and listen to you. Your provider needs to trust you to give an honest picture of what is happening to you and to follow the treatment you agreed to.
Teaming up with your provider to decide together can be empowering. You are taking an active role in caring for your health. You are taking responsibility for your own care. You can choose the treatment that fits best with your personal goals, like going to school or working. And, you know that you are being listened to and respected.