June 30th 2014 | Vanessa Caceres
Consider your mind like a muscle: When searching for the right doctor or therapist to treat your depression symptoms, find someone who will be like a personal trainer to help you get into better mental shape.
“A doctor or therapist for depression is a lot like a physical trainer, only for the psyche,” says Amy Przeworski, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychological services at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “A good doctor or therapist recognizes where a person is now and helps to gently stretch his or her psychological muscles while not pushing too far outside of his or her comfort zone.”
How do you find the right mental health professional for your depression treatment? In addition to considering the person's credentials and training, it's important to feel comfortable with that person. Attend a few office visits to see if there’s a good fit. You'll likely have to speak with more than one specialist to find the right person for you, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
How to Find the Right Depression Specialist for You
Use this checklist to make sure you find a doctor or therapist who can put you on the right track to manage depression:
1. Select someone who can provide the services you want. For example, psychiatrists can prescribe medication, but many psychiatrists today don’t meet with patients every week for talk-therapy sessions, Przeworski says. In contrast, she says, psychologists, social workers, and counselors don’t prescribe medication, but they usually provide ongoing therapy services. Many people with depression will see both a psychiatrist and a talk therapist.
2. Make sure you feel a good connection. Przeworski says you should feel comfortable working with the person. “The bond between you and your doctor or therapist is extremely important, so finding someone with whom you click is essential,” she says. Your doctor or therapist should guide you to step outside your comfort zone somewhat and help you discover something new about yourself. “If that doesn’t feel like the right fit after a handful of sessions, that person may not be right to treat you.”
3. Find out about the person's approach to therapy. For example, a therapist using cognitive behavioral therapy will teach you techniques to help you change your behavior. A therapist with an interpersonal approach will help you explore how your relationships might contribute to your depression. A therapist with a psychodynamic focus will analyze how childhood experiences laid a foundation for your depression, Przeworski says.
4. Seek a collaborative approach toward your goals. “This doesn’t mean that you and your doctor or therapist can’t disagree on certain treatment goals,” Przeworski says. “Sometimes one of you may identify a goal early on and that changes as time wears on. Therapy may involve revising therapy goals and tasks periodically.”
5. Look for someone who will challenge you. You don’t want a doctor or therapist who’ll just tell you everything is going to be okay, says Patrick McGrath, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. “You want to be treated by someone who’s going to make you feel uncomfortable sometimes," he says. That’s because when you’re depressed, your motivation to try new things is lower, so you need a doctor or therapist who’ll prompt you to step out of your shell. The right person should be supportive but challenging, McGrath says.
6. Find someone with a clear treatment approach. If you ask how your doctor or therapist plans to treat your depression and they say something like “a mixed approach,” that could be a warning sign that they're not sure how to treat you, McGrath says. A good depression doctor or therapist usually has a clear-cut, evidence-based technique for working with depression symptoms.
7. Expect homework. Depression treatment isn’t just something that happens during your office visits. “Therapy happens all the time,” McGrath says. “If you’re not applying it in your life, then why bother?” He says he gives people “homework” for managing depression to do outside of his office and asks if they've done the work when they return. “If they didn’t do it, then we don’t progress in therapy,” he says.
In addition to these signs of a good doctor or therapist for depression, you’ll want to check on your insurance coverage before making a decision. See if your insurance covers mental health treatment, and find out if a specific depression specialist works with your health insurance company. If you’re paying any fees out of pocket, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends asking if there's an adjustable fee scale based on income.