In May, 2018 I gave a free public lecture in Melbourne, Australia entitled, Keys to Unlocking Depression: Why Skills Work Better Than Pills. The talk was sponsored by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and you can watch it on YouTube. It has been viewed by more than two million people!
The emphasis of my talk then and what I have continued to talk about is that people need to learn how to develop the necessary skills to manage depression rather than turning to medications hoping that a pill will make the depression go away. Depression is classified as a mood disorder, but it is more than that. It affects physiology, behavior, relationships, thought processes, and more. Just taking a pill as the sole form of treatment is, therefore, under-treatment. If you’re capable of moods, you’re capable of mood disorders. The goal is learning how to manage your moods with insight and skill. Easier said than done, but still the necessary path to follow.
I often use the comparison of other aspects of our lives that we need to manage on a daily basis. For example, you don’t balance your checkbook once and now you’re done with your finances. You don’t discipline your children once and now you’re done with parenting. You don’t exercise once and now you’re done with managing your health. Managing your feelings is an ongoing responsibility, not a one-time event. Learning to manage something as complex as emotions often requires help. So often, people are overwhelmed and don’t even know where to begin in their desire to move forward in their lives. That’s when getting into therapy with a sensitive and knowledgeable professional can literally be life-saving.
Many people have watched my talk and written to me asking how to find a therapist who has similar perspectives and approaches to those presented in the talk I gave. Choosing a skilled therapist is incredibly important. I want to help you choose wisely, so I’ve put together some specific suggestions to help you do so.
If the presentation I gave inspired you to get help, then it’s okay to say to a potential therapist that you watched it and would like an approach that works proactively on skill development. At your suggestion, they may want to watch it, too, to get a sense of what you found inspiring.
Here, then, are some suggestions for choosing a therapist. Look for someone:
- with the appropriate academic and clinical training (at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or other directly related areas)
- CLINICALLY licensed/credentialed (e.g., psychologist, licensed professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist). Licensure makes for accountability. Be aware that a psychiatrist is a physician and as such is often (not always) oriented towards a medical model and thus views medication, not psychotherapy, as the primary form of treatment
- with an advanced and CURRENT knowledge of the intricacies of depression; an experienced clinician who can be multi-dimensional in approach and who knows what and how to address patterns of depression and how to be results-oriented
- who will push you gently but firmly to be proactive in treatment through the use of structured (i.e., skill building, awareness building) assignments to do in-between sessions and focus more on the future possibilities than the past hurts
- who is willing to also talk to your partner and kids, at least occasionally, whenever it is a concern that your depression is adversely affecting them (to help them cope well) and to give additional insights into what they see in you
- who is available for regular consultation either in-person or through telehealth. Telehealth has been shown to be as effective as in-person therapy so please be open to such appointments. You can save driving time in your day, avoid exposing yourself to unnecessary health risks, feel comfortable in your own environment, and fit it into your schedule more easily
- who will both support and challenge you, engage in a true collaboration, teach skills, provide information, point you in the direction of helpful resources (books, videos, etc.) and offer perspective (not just sit and listen to complaints)
Get clarity before you begin as to fees, insurances accepted, length of sessions, frequency of sessions, and how progress will be measured.
Most therapists will give you some time in a brief phone call (5-10 minutes) to share your concerns and respond to your questions about how they’d approach your treatment. Get a “feel” for their personality and style. Interview several therapists and use all the above tips to help guide your choice. And, if after a session or two it’s not serving you well, then move on. It’s a therapy relationship and two people don’t always “click.” DO NOT OVERGENERALIZE that therapy is ineffective or that your depression is untreatable. It’s just about finding the right therapist for you.