The right therapist can make all the difference in getting the best treatment for depression, but do some homework before you choose one.
If you're depressed, a therapist can teach you how to deal with your feelings, change the way you think, and change the way you behave to help ease your symptoms.
Finding a therapist you are comfortable with is essential. You will need to talk openly and honestly with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings, so it's important to find the right specialist for you, says Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a clinical professor at the Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.
The first step is to look at yourself and determine what it is you need, Dr. Howes says. “Ask yourself, Am I the sort of person who benefits from someone who tells me what to do? Or do I need someone with a good ability to listen and who will talk through things with me?" he advises. Your answer will tell you whether you need someone who will provide directive or non-directive therapy.
Also consider whom you might feel most comfortable with: a man or a woman; someone about your age, or someone younger or older; someone with lots of experience, or someone who is relatively new with fresh ideas. “Once you narrow it down, you can start looking for people who meet your criteria,” Howes says.
Different Types of Therapists and Their Credentials
Several types of mental health professionals can serve as a therapist for people with depression. Being aware of the training differences might help you narrow your search.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO degree) who have completed specialized training in mental and emotional disorders. They can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications for depression. Psychiatrists may also provide individual or group therapy. Philip R. Muskin, MD, professor of psychiatry and chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, advises starting with a physician if you’re severely depressed.
Psychologists have a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology. They are skilled in the diagnosis of emotional disorders and spend most of their time providing individual or group psychotherapy, but do not prescribe medication.
Social workers usually have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and have training in providing individual or group therapy.
Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in psychology (or a related area) and are trained to diagnose and counsel individuals or groups.
Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with training in psychiatric nursing.
Sources of Referrals
How do you go about finding the right therapist for you?
You might want to start by talking with your family doctor. If your doctor feels you need a mental health specialist, he or she should be able to give you referrals, Dr. Muskin says. Or you might be the one to tell your regular doctor, "I need to see a psychiatrist, and this is why,” he adds.
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You could also ask around to see if your friends or family members know of a good therapist who has experience in treating depression. “Personal references can be very good, particularly if they come from someone who knows you well and what you like,” Muskin says.
Here are other resources to help you find a therapist for depression treatment:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) runs a helpline that can help you locate support. Call 800-950-NAMI or email info@NAMI.org.
The American Psychological Association has a therapist locator on its website.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America can also help you locate a therapist near where you live.
Your health insurance company likely has a dropdown menu item, such as “find a provider,” for names of professionals in its network.
Schools and universities often have counseling services that can offer referrals if they can’t help you directly. You may have access if you’re an alum or faculty.
The clergy Faith leaders often know of mental health professionals who can help. And if they know you, they can recommend someone who fits your personality and needs.
Employee Assistance Programs If offered by your employer, they’re part of your benefits package.
How to Interview Potential Therapists
Once you have a list of at least two or three potential therapists, it's time to figure out which one is best for you. Call each therapist to get some key information before making an appointment.
Questions to ask include:
Are you taking new patients?
What experience do you have treating patients who have depression?
Where do the therapy sessions take place? Some psychiatrists have more than one office where they see patients, Muskin says. Their location and when they hold appointments can matter to you, he adds.
How much does the therapy cost? Do you take my insurance?
Can I meet with you before committing to a therapy session?
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If you're able to make a consultation appointment before a therapy session, ask the therapist more specific preliminary questions, such as:
What type of therapy would you recommend for my depression symptoms?
What will this type of therapy involve?
What are the benefits and the primary goals of my depression treatment?
Are you willing to work with other members of my medical team to coordinate my depression treatment? This is especially important if you have a non-MD therapist who will rely on your primary care doctor to prescribe medications.
How often would I need therapy sessions?
After meeting with a potential therapist, take some time to decide whether you are comfortable with them. If you aren’t, keep looking until you find one you like and trust.
Some people will improve with psychotherapy alone; others may need both psychotherapy and a prescription antidepressant. Once you start therapy for your depression, be patient. Psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) for depression can sometimes be painful, and you may find yourself doing most of the talking during the first few sessions. Your therapist will partner with you to ease your depression symptoms and improve your life.