FIRST DO NO HARM: Good and Bad Psychiatrists



Finding a good psychiatrist can be difficult.

Three of my son’s doctors have been compassionate, talented and skilled psychiatrists who have helped my son and our family. For them I will always be grateful.

Three other psychiatrists who dealt with him didn’t bothered to learn anything about him except for his diagnosis so they could write a prescription, send him out the door to social workers, collect their pay and move on to their next patient.

And two were really awful.

When his insurance carrier changed, my son went to see an HMO psychiatrist to get his prescription refilled for an anti-psychotic medication. It was during a time when he was going on-and-off his medication, and also going from being stable to unstable. Without  examining him, she agreed to renew his script but added, “I don’t know of anyone this drug really helps. It’s nothing but a placebo.”

She wasn’t the most irresponsible. One of his first doctors hurriedly misdiagnosed him and prescribed a medication that made him sicker and endangered his life.

I received an email from a reader this week who asked me what he should look for in finding a psychiatrist for his daughter. “How do you know if a psychiatrist is a good fit?”

I received another email from a reader who asked if I knew how she could sue the psychiatrist who had been treating her son. She had gone with her son to his appointment and been assured that everything was fine. Two hours later, her son had become violent and psychotic. He was arrested and now faces up to five years in prison after being charged with two felonies. Was that really the doctor’s fault? She thinks so.

This doctor had maxed my son out on meds — the highest he had ever had in six years…I believe it was this doctor’s fault that he suffered some sort of serotonin overload syndrome but I’ve been told that I can’t sue him. Why not?

Other doctors can use blood tests and a wide range of physical exams to diagnose and treat an illness. Psychiatrists must depend on clusters of symptoms that often are described to them by their patients. This makes psychiatry one of the most difficult of the healing arts. It also requires more than medical knowledge. Whether or not the surgeon about to operate on you is compassionate and a good listener doesn’t matter as much as finding those traits in a psychiatrist.

How would you answer the two emails that I cited? Are you willing to share your experiences either on my Facebook page or via email? I’m not interested in anti-psychiatry rants, but I would like to hear stories that might help others avoid pitfalls and find doctors who can help them or someone who they love.  I’d like to hear positive stories too about psychiatrists who have gone beyond the call of duty. What makes them exceptional? You can send your comments to me at  I might not be able to respond to all of the emails, but I will post the best advice and helpful stories in a future blog. Meanwhile, be well and thanks for reading.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.