As a mental health blogger, it’s important for me to not only share my own experiences with depression, but to also offer outside resources that could be helpful to my readers. Deciding to go to therapy is a big step forward in addressing your mental health issues. There is no shame in asking for help.
‘How to Find a Therapist’ is guide was created by Dr. Janna Koretz, a psychologist in the Boston area who founded Azimuth Psychological. Azimuth provides therapy for people who have high-pressure careers, including consulting, finance, technology, healthcare, law, and academia. This is a modified guide from the Azimuth website. You can also download a PDF version here: Azimuth – How to Find a Therapist.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
As a psychologist, the most common question I get asked is: “How do I find a therapist?” Most people are overwhelmed with options, and don’t know where to start. Where do you look? What do all these qualifications mean? What are these different kinds of therapy? Does it matter what kind you choose?
I get it. Most therapists use lots of buzzwords like “dynamic” and “modalities”, rather than speaking in terms that people understand. And what’s the deal with all therapist websites looking like they’re from 1999? Because the process can be so confusing and frustrating, many people give up before they find a good fit.
This is why I put together this guide. I wanted to provide at least a broad overview of what the heck is going on in the therapy world, and help you understand the parts that are most relevant to you. You’ll find terms defined, credentials explained, and information provided so you can make a great therapist choice.
Armed with the information above, I hope you will feel more prepared to begin your therapy adventure. (And if you’re looking to work with some of the best therapists in Boston and Cambridge, I hope you’ll consider giving Azimuth a look!)
Dr. Janna Koretz
Founder, Azimuth Psychological
HOW TO FIND A THERAPIST
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Common Questions About Therapy
- Therapy Myths and Misconceptions
- Degrees and Licenses
- Therapy Approaches and Techniques
- Starting Therapy
- Using Insurance to Pay for Therapy
1. COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THERAPY
How do I know if I need to see a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist?
Therapist is a generic term that refers to anyone with some kind of training to help people with personal difficulties. A psychologist specifically refers to someone with a doctoral degree in psychology.
Although historically psychiatrists have provided therapy and medication, most modern psychiatrists only prescribe medication, and are not trained to provide therapy. So, if you’re looking for a therapist, you would most likely be looking for a psychologist or other therapist (such as a social worker). If you or your therapist think medication may be helpful, you would also look for a psychiatrist.
These differences are outlined in more detail in the under the Degrees and Licenses section of this guide.
What is the difference between counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy?
Counseling tends to be a service provided by someone with a specific counseling degree. These programs tend to focus more on crisis intervention and specific problem resolution.
Psychotherapy (often shortened to just “therapy”) tends to be a service provided by someone with an LMHC, social work, or psychology postgraduate degree (see the Degrees and Licenses section of this guide for more details).
Do I need to search on WebMD to see if I qualify for a diagnosis before I see a therapist?
A diagnosis is not required in order to attend therapy. Therapy can be helpful for many people, regardless of whether they meet criteria for a diagnosis or not. However, most insurance companies do require a diagnosis for reimbursement.
My therapist is dull and doesn’t laugh at my cat memes. Should I keep seeing them for therapy?
A therapist’s personality is a huge factor in the success of therapy. You’ll want to find a therapist who is a good fit from a personality perspective. Because it could take a few sessions to really get a sense of your therapist’s personality, it’s a good idea to “try out” a therapist for a few visits before you decide if he or she is right for you.
My friend Jane is an awesome listener. Why am I not feeling better talking to her?
Jane is likely a good listener and great friend. But, she isn’t trained to provide scientifically-validated coping strategies, problem solving techniques, and communication skills.
Therapists have many years of training and experience, and have gained some useful (and often counterintuitive) knowledge that not everybody has. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also keep talking to your friend Jane — just that a therapist will offer you something very different.
How does talking about something make it better?
Talking through your issues with a skilled therapist can help you understand why something is the way it is. It also helps with peace of mind, coping, problem solving, and preparedness.
The relationship you will develop with your therapist is also important. Having a trusting relationship with an outside party who has your best interests at heart promotes progress and well-being.
How do I know if I would benefit from therapy?
Therapy can be helpful in many different circumstances. A good rule of thumb is: if the issue you’re facing interferes with your day-to-day ability to function at your best, then therapy is likely to be a useful part of the solution.
Does my therapist think I’m insane?
No. Your therapist’s job is to help you with whatever you need, and he or she will be happy to have an opportunity to help you. Your therapist will look beyond the struggles you happen to be facing and see you as the whole person that you are.
I’m smart. Why can’t I resolve things on my own?
Here’s a secret: most therapists go to therapy. It even used to mandatory in some graduate psychology programs.
Why? Because it’s important for therapists to understand themselves before they can effectively help others, and it’s almost impossible to do that alone. Even when you are a professional therapist, the one person you can’t help is yourself.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA Stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is a series of rules put into place in 2003 by the federal government to protect the privacy of healthcare consumers. It prohibits the distribution or discussion of your private health information without your written consent (with a few exceptions related to the safety of yourself and others).
So, how do I actually start looking for someone to see?
There are a few ways to start this process. Asking friends and family for personal recommendations is often a good option, although depending on your relationship with your friend or family member, you may not want to see the same person. But, you could still inquire with the recommended therapist for their own recommendations of their colleagues. Therapists are used to taking brief phone calls to help with the referral process. (If you’re looking for therapists in the Boston area, you can always reach out to me directly for recommendations).
You can also try searching on Psychology Today, an expansive directory of therapists that can be filtered by location, insurance accepted, kind of therapy practiced, and many other details.
If the idea of combing through therapists online is daunting, there is a service called Sophiathat can help. Sophia is a therapist matching service that helps you find a therapist that’s right for you. After filling out a brief survey about what you’re looking for, Sophia’s system matches you to a short list of local therapists that are likely to be a good fit.
Can I schedule an appointment for someone else?
Typically if the person seeking therapy is over 18, they make the appointment themselves to maintain confidentiality.
2. THERAPY MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
I’ll have to lie on a couch, and I’m not really into that
While lying on a couch and free-associating was part of the drill a long time ago, it’s now only required when working with a therapist using a psychoanalytic approach (see the Approaches and Techniques section of this guide for more details).
For the most part, you’ll be sitting on a chair or couch facing the therapist. But, if you’re worried about it, you can always ask when inquiring about a session. Therapists answer this question often, so no need to feel shy!
The therapist will say nothing and give me no direction
Some therapists are more directive or participatory, and some are less so. The therapist’s technique depends on their personality as well as their training. Most modern clinicians fall somewhere in between.
If this is a concern for you, be sure to ask; most therapists don’t write about their participation style on their website or clinical profiles, so it will be up to you to bring it up.
My therapist will do inappropriate things that make me uncomfortable, like in the Sopranos
Psychologists and most other therapists are required to adhere to an ethics code in order to maintain their license. They are also required to adhere to all HIPAA regulations. The provisions of both the ethics code and HIPAA are designed to protect your rights and your well-being as a client.
For details on HIPAA, visit: www.hhs.gov/hipaa
For details on the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethics code, visit www.apa.org/ethics/code/
This therapist doesn’t have a website, or their site looks like it’s from the 90’s. They must not be legit
Many therapists do not place high value on technology or websites. This may be due to lack of interest, belief that analog is more appropriate, or simply a lack of time. As a result, many well-qualified therapists do not have a good online presence or technological capabilities in their office (e.g., many of them do not accept credit cards). So, lack of a good website shouldn’t necessarily be a red flag.
If a therapist is recommended to you by someone you trust, or looks interesting to you based on the information you can find about them online, it’s always best to follow up to gain more information. It may end up being a great fit!
If I go to therapy, I am committing to going for the long term
Therapy can be any length of time. It really depends on what you’re working on. Some people also find that, even when they’ve reached their goals, they like having an independent expert to talk with about their life, and for that reason they continue to go.
3. DEGREES AND LICENSES
There are a number of different degrees and licenses that your therapist might have. Here is a list of the most common therapy-related degrees and what they mean.
If someone has a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. after their name, that indicates that they have completed a doctoral-level program in psychology. Clinicians with these degrees are are the only people who can legally call themselves “psychologists”.
One of these degrees isn’t “better” or more difficult than the other; both programs focus on human psychology and issues such as depression and anxiety. The main distinction is that, in general, Psy.D. psychologists focus more on clinical work during their doctorate, while Ph.D. psychologists focus more on research.
Master’s-level degrees include social work degrees such as Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LiCsw), Licensed Social Worker (LSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). These are individuals who have completed their master’s degree in social work. They are often referred to as “therapists” or “clinicians”, but cannot legally use the term “psychologist”.
Traditionally, social work degrees focused more on social systems, case management, and environmental factors. Today, however, many social work training programs incorporate psychology and clinical work as well.
Other masters-level degrees can include Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). An MFT degree focuses specifically on couples and family therapy.
As you look for a therapist, you may also encounter people with Psychiatrist (MD) and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) degrees. These professionals usually focus on prescribing medication, but some will also do therapy with their clients.
If medication is helpful for you, it is not uncommon to work with a therapist and a psychiatrist at the same time. If you don’t have a psychiatrist but need one, your therapist will often be able to provide some recommendations.
4. THERAPY APPROACHES AND TECHNIQUES
Many therapists’ websites give you the technical name for their approach, but don’t include an explanation of what that means for you. Below are the details of some popular approaches to therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is a popular type of therapy that highlights how our thoughts impact our emotions and actions, even when we don’t realize it. A main focus of CBT is building skills to consciously identify and rearrange thinking patterns that are unhelpful or inaccurate.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT is popular for clinicians helping individuals suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), focusing on topics such as mindfulness and interpersonal skills.
“True” DBT is done in a group format, with weekly meetings with a skills coach who is on call 24/7. However, many clinicians incorporate some aspects of DBT into their work on a less formal basis.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT includes some CBT principles, but also incorporates aspects of acceptance and mindfulness. Eliminating negative feelings is not the goal; instead to goal is to identify and accept them. The goal is to help you move forward with an ability to observe yourself and to choose to act differently in the moment.
Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy
Psychoanalytic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud. In this theory, there are three parts of the brain (the Id, the Ego, and the Superego) that combine to cause you to behave in certain ways. There is also the concept of “defense mechanisms” that are used unconsciously to keep negative thoughts at bay.
In psychoanalysis, clients often lay on the couch and free- associate. The focus is on the internal world of the client.
Psychodynamic theory is derived from Freud’s original psychoanalytic theory, with a specific focus on the therapist-client relationship.
Mindfulness means keeping focus in the present, instead of focusing on the past or future. Mindfulness exercises are meant to train the brain to simply notice thoughts that come into your mind, let them go, and focus on the here and now. Mindfulness has been incorporated into many different therapy approaches.
5. STARTING THERAPY
Typically, the process to make an appointment is:
- Call or email the therapist to make your initial appointment (or to find out more information before making your appointment).
- Once the appointment is made, you will usually need to complete some forms including your personal and contact information. These forms will usually also inform you about your privacy rights and the policies of the office. Forms can be sent to you ahead of time, but will also generally be available for you to fill out at the first appointment.
- Enjoy your first appointment! Therapy can feel weird at first, so trying out your therapist for three or four sessions is usually recommended so you can get a good sense of how you might work together.
Questions to ask when making a therapy appointment
Here are some questions you may want to ask of a prospective therapist. This focuses on personality and approach; for financial and insurance questions, go to the ‘Using Insurance’ section of this guide.
- What approach do you use?
- What kinds of clients do you have?
- Do you have a specialty?
- What make you unique?
- Who is your ideal client?
- What type of client would not be a good fit for you?
6. USING INSURANCE TO PAY FOR THERAPY
Health insurance is difficult to understand and ever- changing. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions, as well as a comprehensive list of what to ask your insurance company when you call them to inquire about your benefits.
Remember, insurance plans are very different from one another, and change often. Because of this, it is always best to call your insurance company directly.
How much am I going to have to pay?
This depends on whether your therapist is “in network” or “out of network”. If you are “in network” and have a deductible, you will need to pay the session fee to your therapist until your deductible is satisfied. If you are “in network” and don’t have a deductible (or your deductible has already been satisfied), you will just pay your co-pay.
If you are “out of network”, you will pay the full fee to your therapist at the time of your appointment. Your therapist will then provide an invoice that you can submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
I have insurance, so why am I being charged?
If you get a bill from your therapist even though you thought you were covered by your insurance, there are a couple reasons this might have happened.
- You may have a deductible that needs to be satisfied before your benefits kick in. In this instance, if your therapist charged you, it is because your insurance company told them that you are responsible for payment until your deductible is satisfied.
- You may have a copay that is different than what you expected, and the bill represents the difference between what you have already paid and what you still owe.
What happens if it turns out insurance doesn’t cover my appointments?
If insurance does not cover your sessions, you are responsible for the full cost. This is why, if you intend to use your insurance to help pay for therapy, it is very important to first call your insurance company to verify your benefits.
What questions should I ask my insurance company before scheduling an appointment?
When you call your insurance company, you’ll want to ask them a few questions to understand your benefits more clearly. Before you call, look up your desired therapist’s NPI number at npiregistry.cms.hhs.gov so you can give it to your insurance company.
- Is the therapist I want to see considered “in network”?
- (If your desired therapist is not “in network”) Do I have out-of-network benefits?
- Do I have a deductible? If so, how much is it, and how much has been satisfied to date? What is my copay?
- (If you do not have out-of-network benefits) Do I have a separate deductible for out-of-network expenses, and how much will I be reimbursed? (Make sure to ask for a specific number, not just a percentage)
There’s an app for that!
Better is an app that helps you get reimbursed by your health insurance for visiting an out-of-network therapist. Here’s how it works:
- Visit getbetter.co to sign up and download the iPhone app or Android-compatible web app
- Take a photo of the bill inside the app, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your “super bill” attached
- They work with your insurance to get you paid, and take a small fee out of your reimbursement check as payment
Sunflower photograph credits: Conner Baker
As some of you may know, I worked as a high school teaching assistant last year in Granada, Spain. I received my job through the Auxiliaries de Conversacion Program, which is run by the Spanish Ministry of Education. I had such a great experience in Spain that I decided to work in the Auxiliar Program another year, but in a different city. This time around I’ll be in Malaga – a big city on the Mediterranean coast that’s about 1 hour south of Granada.
I made a general post about the program last year, but I wanted to create a more in depth post about my time in Spain. That way, you can learn about my unique experience with the Program, the school I worked with, and living in Granada!
My city placement:
I was placed in a school in a little town just outside of Granada. Granada itself is a beautiful, mid-sized city in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. It is primarily known for the Alhambra – a giant fortress, built in the 13th century under Muslim rule, that overlooks the city. Granada is an exceptionally beautiful city in Spain that sees tourists from around the world.
About my school:
I worked in an instituto, which is the Spanish version of a high school. However, an instituto goes from Level 1 – 4, ages 12-16. If you decide that you want to attend college afterwards, you continue your education in the instituto for 2 more years. These extra two years are called Bachillerato. In reality, you can finish school at the age of 16, after the completion of Level 4, if you decide that A) you don’t want to attend a university, B) you plan to go to a technical school, or C) you’re done with learning.
My ‘boss’ was the bilingual coordinator at my school. This is the person that reaches out to you once you receive your school placement from the Auxiliar Program. Your coordinator makes your schedule and is the person you should refer to if you have any problems or need to miss days. According to the Program guidelines, you should be always talking in English at your school (knowing Spanish is not a requirement of the program!), so in theory, you should always communicate with your coordinator and teachers in English. However, my school was previously a French-Spanish bilingual school, so my coordinator is fluent in French and not English. However, it wasn’t much of an issue, since we communicated in Spanish. If there were any misunderstandings, english teachers would help.
My day to day:
For the most part, students in institutos remain in the same classroom with the same classmates while the teachers move from room to room. The only classes that students move for are Art and Physical Education.
As an auxiliar, I was given a schedule by my coordinator, showing the classes where I would help various teachers in the bilingual program of the school. The English-Spanish bilingual program is optional, participation in the program is up to the students and parents. The program requires that all subjects be taught in both languages. That means that a history teacher in the bilingual program must teach the subject in both languages, usually dedicating 1 class period a week for teaching the subject in English. Students had books in both English and Spanish (the English book was often a modified copy of the Spanish book). My role was to help teachers during the English days.
Below, you’ll see a copy of my work schedule. There are six classes a day and each class is one hour long. There are no breaks in between classes; class ends by the bell and begins when the new teacher comes in and starts the class. I had Fridays off and worked a total of 12 class hours a week. However, I have several breaks in between my classes, so I had this free time to work on presentations or materials for classes.
I attended many of my classes every other week – the classes highlighted in blue were Week 1 and those in yellow were Week 2. The classes in green are classes I was to attend every week (the coordinator probably couldn’t find another teacher that needed me at that time). More often than not, the teachers in green didn’t need me every week. In those cases, another teacher would borrow me for the class period or I would work on materials in the teachers lounge.
(In case you need help understanding my schedule: ‘3°D’ is equal to ‘the grade level ° the class within that grade’)
In total, I worked with 7 different teachers and 5 different subjects.
What was my expected of me:
I was never overwhelmed with classes preparations. Most teachers would tell me in advance what they wanted me to do for class and it was usually:
A) Preparing presentations. The teachers often me gave more than enough time to prepare any presentations, and most of them dealt with history (for Prof. E), and American holidays (for several of my classes).
B) Preparing nothing. During these classes I helped with the general English material in class. I usually read the english subject book out loud and then picked on students to re-read the sentences and corrected their pronunciation. After, the students would complete exercises – either from the book or from teacher-made worksheets. I would normally help students with understanding and answering the questions.
The renting situation in Granada:
The average rent across Spain varies, but rent in Granada is considerably low. You can generally find a room for 180-300 euros a month (not including electricity, water, and internet bills). Since Granada is a university town, there are many renting options. However, it is difficult to find apartments (especially in the center) that have been renovated. I assume that this is because there’s such a high demand for housing during the academic year, landlords don’t find a need to invest money into renovations.
My living situation:
My room in Granada cost me 300 euros + water, electricity, and internet (which probably to about 40 extra euros a month). While this is on the high end of rent cost in Granada, my apartment had a great central location and was nicely renovated and complete with extra home appliances like a blender and an iron. The apartment had 5 bedrooms (I roomed with 4 other Spanish girls) and 2 full baths. We also had a cleaning lady come to clean once every two weeks (a friend of the landlord), who would collect our rent money when the time came. Our landlord was very friendly and would come by the apartment to help fix any issues we had. For example, our washing machine once broke in October so she came with her husband later that day to repair it.
How I found my room:
My job officially started on Monday, October 2nd, 2017. I decided to arrive to Granada at the end of September to give myself time to go room hunting. I rented out an Airbnb room during these 10 days. Luckily, I found my room within 3 days and it was the 4th apartment I looked at. I came across my room on a Facebook group that was geared at incoming students looking for rooms to rent in Granada.
My commute to work:
Fortunately, my town, Albolote, was connected to Granada via a metro, so I was able to live in the center of Granada. I usually gave myself about 45-50 minutes to get to work. (5 minute walk to train station, anywhere from 1-10 minute wait for the metro, 23 minutes metro ride, 8 minute walk to my school from the metro.) Although the commute was a bit of a hassle, I enjoyed it because it gave me time to listen to podcasts and catch up on the news.
Meeting with other Auxiliars in the Program:
The auxiliars in and around Granada are very active on Facebook (our group is called Auxiliares de Conversacion en Granada) and Whatsapp. The Whatsapp group is always buzzing with people messaging to go and hang out. Most regions/cities have social media groups, which are a great way to make new friends and to have all your questions answered!
Extra money on the side:
While in Granada, I worked an extra 6 hours a week giving private english classes. In Granada, private classes usually go for 12-15 euros an hour, although your rate could depend on your experience, the distance you need to travel, and the type of tutoring that they are looking for (conversational english, studying for a cambridge exam, or homework help). How much you could reasonably charge also depends on where you are in Spain. For example, in Malaga, private classes normally start at 15 euros.
While private classes are great, the downside is that your students might cancel on you. I worked with children and it was common for parents to cancel class if their child is sick or had to attend an event. As a result, it’s important to not rely on the future money that you will earn from private classes.
But how do you get private classes?
Considering that we make 700 euros a month with the Auxiliar Program, I think most incoming auxiliars worry about making extra money. (700 euros is enough to get by, but if you want to travel and spend more money on leisure activities, an additional income is required!). However, as most find out, it’s pretty easy to pick up private classes to the point that you start rejecting them.
- One of the most common ways to get classes is through Facebook posts. Other auxiliars often post available private classes that they themselves cannot pick up.
- Another option is to get classes through students or teachers in your school. For example, two of my students last year were the nieces of an English teacher at my school.
- Some people in the program also find work as a teacher in english academies during the afternoons. English academies provide more working hours (anywhere from 4 to 20 hours a week) for a few euros less per hour than what you would charge for a private class. However, the money offered by academies are stable and consistent, so its ultimately up to you to figure out how much you want to work.
Traveling as an auxiliar:
While the 700 euros is enough for rent, food, and some leisure, you definitely need to save up and make some extra money to travel. Luckily, its affordable to do weekend trips around Spain and you can often buy super cheap plane tickets. For example, I ended up going to Ibiza for 5 days in May because I found roundtrip tickets for 30 euros from Malaga airport. (Granada does have a small airport, but many people use Malaga Airport because it is only 1 hour away and there are several buses a day that go between Granada and Malaga Airport).
Even though I have been studying Spanish for more than 10 years, I still get very nervous when I try to communicate in Spanish. While in Granada, I tried to push through that fear by living with Spanish girls and taking afternoon Spanish classes. I also occasionally attended inter-cambios to practice my Spanish with natives. Overall, my Spanish improved significantly and I am more comfortable speaking in Spanish now. However, considering that most of my brain power went to studying for the LSAT, I did not study as much Spanish as I would have liked. Now that I’ll be in Malaga this upcoming year, I’ll be spending more time and energy to increasing my fluency.
My favorite thing about working as an auxiliar de conversación:
I think I was very lucky with my placement because I had zero problems with my school! I enjoyed working with all my teachers and the students were good (although sometimes they were noisy, it was never with bad intentions). Since I am interested in education and hope to pursue education law, I learned a lot from working at a public school in Spain. I also learned a lot from my teachers and enjoyed working with the students inside the classroom.
My least favorite thing about working as an auxiliar de conversación:
My least favorite thing, if I have to chose, was the fact that my classes were spaced out throughout the day. Even though I only had to work 12 class hours, I ended up staying for most of the schools day. However, I understand the reason for this – the school coordinator tries his/her best to make you a schedule that works for you and the various teachers that you work with in the classroom.
The Auxiliaries de Conversacion Program is a great – many people end up staying in the Auxiliar Program for several years. By working only 12 class hours, you make enough money for your basic needs and have so much extra time that you decide how to spend. Some spend that time working extra classes, having fun, or studying for the LSAT (me!!). However, even with all my studying, I never forgot to take the time to enjoy myself and explore the city!
Public opinion regarding antidepressants vary across the spectrum. Some believe that antidepressants are unnecessary in treating depression and mischaracterized as an ‘easy fix’. Others would denounce that and say that antidepressants allow them to live a normal life. You could also find those, that would agree that antidepressants help, but not without with side effects that affect other aspects of the life. However, I think that when it comes to understanding how antidepressants work, the general population would be at a loss.
As someone who deals with depression, I have always been aware of antidepressants. I’ve heard stories about their unpleasant side effects, and thus, was a little more hesitant towards them. However, my bias against antidepressants was supported with no personal research. In truth, I knew little about the chemical role of antidepressants in treating depression.
However, that changed when………..
I finished reading “Understanding Antidepressants” by Wallace B. Mendelson. Just as the title suggests, the book serves to educate its reader about antidepressants and how they function in the body. Antidepressants, like any other drug, create their effect by interacting with neurons. Different drugs interact with different neurons, and even within antidepressants, how they interact with specific neurons result in different antidepressants. In the book, Dr. Mendelson uses medical jargon and diagrams to showcase how drugs chemically affect the brain, and the discussion is easy to follow. As someone who doesn’t have a medical background, I found Dr. Mendelson’s explanations to be a vital supplement to my understanding of antidepressants.
The creation of antidepressants dates back to the 1950’s due to a little bit of luck (what luck you ask? I’d tell you, but then you wouldn’t read the book :—) ). As time transgressed, more and safer antidepressants were developed for medical use. As Dr. Mendelson discusses the different drugs created, he also shares their chemical function, limitations, and benefits.
Ultimately the book is meant to help those considering antidepressants to make an informed decision about what drug is best for them. More often than not, I’ve heard people complain about the side effects antidepressants, such as loss of energy and weight gain. As Dr. Mendelson states, each antidepressant has different side effects and the best option is the drug that most suits your needs and preferences. Taking an antidepressant that is incompatible to your needs, only hurts you and contributes to the stigma against antidepressants. Your feelings and concerns regarding weight gain, sex drive, sleeping issues, and anxiety, all play a role in finding the best drug for you.
Understanding your options and how different drugs affect your body, in all their totality, is important for achieving maximal benefit. Most antidepressants are of equal effectiveness and their differences in lay in the side effects and how an individual reacts to the medicine. Thus, it is vital to be knowledgable of your medical condition and the drugs that you put in the body.
I recommend this book to anyone who takes antidepressants or simply has an interest in understanding treatments for depression. The book is an easy read and presents a comprehensive overview of antidepressants without bogging you down with unnecessary details.
To anyone dealing with a mental illness, understand your options and figure out what works best for you!
You can find Dr. Mendelson’s book, “Understanding Antidepressants” here on Amazon.
The world is still in shock over the suicides of celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, and handbag designer, Kate Spade. Both of whom, are celebrated success stories who have left their marks on American culture. Now, their unexpected deaths have drawn attention to mental heath. How is it possible that two people, who have obtained the ‘American Dream’ in their own rights, decided to end their own life?
The public shock highlights the little understanding we continue to have for depression and mental health. There tends to be a popular assumption that depression is a sadness that isn’t quite compatible with attributes such as success, wealth, and attractiveness. It’s almost as if, people who achieve great success, people like Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade, don’t have a justifiable reason to have depression or commit suicide.
During an episode of ‘Parts Unknown’ in Argentina, Anthony Bourdain shared his challenges with depression.
‘Things have been happening, I will find myself in an airport for instance and I’ll order a airport hamburger. It’s an insignificant thing, it’s a small thing, it’s a hamburger, but it’s not a good one.
‘Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days.’
In this short, seemingly unimportant statement, Bourdain shed light on the irrationality of depression.
Depression is an illness that follows no rationale.
Mental health illnesses don’t care if you’re rich, successful, or attractive. They don’t care if you’re an internationally acclaimed chef or handbag designer. They don’t care if you’re a medical student with exams coming up or a mother working a full time job. Simply put, anyone can become a victim of depression.
Depression lurks in everyone’s shadows. It’s often tricky to discern, since on first glance it seems like ‘sadness’ – a standard human emotion. However, it can gather traction from genetic dispositions towards depression or from the accumulation of life difficulties and stressful events. It claims your mind little by little, slowly enough that you don’t notice it creeping in. Then all of a sudden, you’re drowning in a sadness that you can’t comprehend. You don’t understand where it came from and you don’t understand why it’s here. One moment you could be having a decent day, and the next moment you’re spiraling down a dark hole of heavy sadness.
While reading articles about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I feel in their pain and suffering. Their deaths bring me back to days of my depression, to the lowest moments of my life. Depression has an ugly way of ridding you of any hope and happiness. It immunes you from daily joys and makes you forget about all you have to be thankful for in life. With depression, you are surviving; not living. Suicide victims deserve our respect and compassion. A decision to commit suicide does not come before incredible suffering and a strenuous fight against sadness.
As much as I am glad that a public discussion on mental heath has been reignited, it’s important to realize that depression and suicides have always been present in our society. As celebrity deaths happen, more and more people are inclined to join the mental health conversation. These conversations pop up on our social media timelines and news outlets. At the very least, they force us to acknowledge the uncomfortable topic of mental health and challenge its stigma.
Celebrity suicides are clear indication that no one is immune to depression and we must be aware of the likelihood that one of our friends or loved ones is suffering too. Depression can be awkward to address and many of us don’t know how to go about it. However, helping someone we care about doesn’t require us to be medical professions. The simply acts of showing concern and compassion go a long way.
(For a more in depth guide on how to help someone with depression click here.)
A while ago, I visited Cordoba in Southern Spain. Along with Seville and Granada, Cordoba is a must-visit destination in Andalusia. One of my favorite things about the Andalusian region is its history. The southern part of Spain was under Moorish rule from the early 8th century to the late 15th century (almost 800 years!). The Moors were groups of Muslim tribes from Africa who had incredible influence on Spanish culture and history. As a result, Andalusia has a rich Islamic history. It’s also the region home to the ‘traditional Spain’ and traditions like flamenco and bullfighting.
Corboda is no exception in honoring the history of its past. Cordoba’s golden era was the 10th century, when its advances in science and the arts outshine other powerful cities like Bagdad and Byzantium. A symbol of Cordoba’s power is the Mezquita, a mosque that still stands today. Known for its recognizable red arches, the Mezquita is one of the most impressive Islamic structures in the world. The Mosque was gradually expanded over the course of 200 years. Currently, there are more than 850 pillars. However, the Mesquita had more than 1,2000 pillars before the construction of the Cathedral in the center of the mosque.
The Cathedral in the center of the mosque was constructed in the early sixteenth century. Originally, the church wanted to completely destroy the Mosque and build a Cathedral on top of it. However, this was met with strong disapproval from local residence, who saw the Mosque as an symbol of Cordoba. Finally, the Spanish King gave approval to build a Cathedral in the center. This construction spanned several hundred years. Its very interesting to see the contrast between the Mosque and Cathedral, especially because it’s essentially one big building. There are no walls that separate the two, so contrast in architecture and design is magnified.
In order to enter the Mezquita, you walk through the Patio de los Naranjos. The courtyard is filled with orange trees and a central fountain. There’s generally a long line to get into the Mezquita, so you’ll normally see groups of tourists waiting to enter the Mosque. If you look up, you’ll see the bell tower.
On the outskirts of the center, you’ll find a Roman bridge that spans across the river. It’s not the original structure, but the bridge dates back to the 1st century. It’s been rebuilt many times since then, the last changes being made in 1876. (Fun Fact: This bridge was featured in Game of Thrones – season 5 episode 3!)
I was in Cordoba for only two days, which personally seemed like a sufficient time. The center of city, while quite small, is especially beautiful. It is characterized by winding streets in between white walled buildings lined with flower pots.
Overall, my 1.5 day visit to Cordoba was great! It’s a small enough city with enough winding streets that you feel like an explorer.
While I balance a lot of my time between working as an English assistant and LSAT studying, I still make time to appreciate the beauty of Granada. Granada is a fairly small city in southern Spain, with a population of 230,000. To give you an idea, it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk from one end of the city center to the other. Despite its small size, Granada is nationally acknowledged as a beautiful and magical place. The Alhambra, an impressive fortress, overlooks the city and gives it a whimsical and mystical feel. Just by walking through the streets of Granada, you recognize its long and rich history. For centuries, Granada was under Muslim rule and it served as a popular trading center. Granada was the last standing Muslim city before it surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella I and Ferdinand V) in 1492!
If you pay attention, you’ll notice the subtle presence of Queen Isabella in the city. The Cathedral of Granada, the most impressive structure within the center, has the initials of Isabel and Ferdinand all around the Church. The Cathedral of Granada was built directly over the Nasrid Great Mosque of Granada (the Nasrid Dynasty was the last Muslim dynasty in power) shortly after the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs.
Also, along Calle Recogidas, a busy shopping street in the center, there are statues of Isabella I and Christopher Columbus in the Plaza Isabel la Catolica. The statues depicts Queen Isabella on a throne and Columbus is in front of her, showing her a map. Not too far from Granada, Queen Isabella granted Columbus approval for his 1492 historic expedition. The monument is in honor an event that changed the course of history.
With spring just around the corner, the sunny days are perfect to explore the city. Despite it getting warmer, the weather in Granada changes enough that one hour you need a jacket while the next you’d be fine with a sweater. Layering works best for this type of weather, giving you both the benefit of adjusting to the sun and adding texture to your outfit. For this day out, I went with a lighter tone in honor of the incoming spring!
And of course no day in Granada is complete without a tapas stop! Granada is one of the few places in Spain that continues to give a free tapa with the purchase of a drink. (A tapa is like a small appetizer of a snack). Going out for tapas is an affordable and Andalusian way to enjoy life. With a glass of wine costing between 2-3 euros, it’s hard to resist!
Despite its size, every time I walk through Granada I discover something new. Whether it’s a new tapas place or a new historical fun fact, this city never disappoints!
As part of my mission to raise mental health awareness, I´ve started a guest series. The series will feature various bloggers that write about positive thinking and mental health. By creating this series, I hope to introduce different perspectives and experiences regarding mental wellbeing.
The first guest blogger is Anita Chitnis, the creator of www.unstickyourlifenow.com, a blog all about giving you the extra push and confidence to live the life you want!
So, tell me a little bit about yourself!
My name is Anita Chitnis. I am 23 years old. I grew up in a suburban town called Edison in New Jersey. I went to Rutgers University and completed my undergraduate studies in business. While attending Rutgers, I realized that I didn’t want an office job right after graduation. So currently I´m running my blog, working on an ebook & video course, and waitressing part-time at a pancake house.
What’s your blog about?
So my blog is primarily a way for me to connect with anyone who is just a little stuck in their life. For those who needs a little push in the right direction with the assurance that it’s okay to be where they are right now. We are often pushed to believe that we need to have everything figured out at age 22.
What motivated you to create your blog?
I read somewhere that you should aspire to be the person you needed to be when you were younger. Looking back, I needed someone to tell me everything was going to be okay. I also needed someone to give me tips on how to change my bad habits. Hopefully, my blog becomes that reassuring voice for those who need it.
Also, I watched a video where 80+ nursing home residents were asked about their biggest regrets. Their biggest regrets were things they didn’t do (like asking someone out or going for that job). It made me realize that I wanted to express my creativity through writing. I didn’t want to regret not doing it later in life.
What do you hope people will get out of your blog and what are your ultimate goals for the blog?
When I started college, my anxiety levels peaked and I wasn’t able to deal with it in a healthy manner. I started down a vicious cycle of self-destructive coping behaviors like binge eating. I hope that my blog helps others realize that that’s not the way to cope and that help is out there. My ebook deals with this topic and goes more in depth than my blog posts. Once my ebook is done, I hope that it´s used as a help manual that can be referred to when needed. My ultimate goal is to make a living off what I love to do – help people. I especially want to help millennial women. I want to help fellow millenial women realize their potential and not be afraid to go after what they want in life.
Why is practicing positivity and optimism important to you?
I spent about 8 years of my life depressed, sometimes borderline suicidal. It was a horrible time and I wish I had gotten help sooner. I attended therapy and while I guess it was a stepping stone, it was not as helpful as I’d hoped. My life completely changed when I started doing daily affirmations. A lot of things can change for the better if you train yourself to have a different mindset.
What does ‘being healthy’ mean to you?
There is this notion that being healthy means eating kale and drinking lemon water every day, but I think it goes beyond that. You need to take care of your mind just like you take care of your body. You could drink all the green tea in the world, but if you don’t work out your emotional baggage and let go of past regrets, you´ll never truly be a healthy person. Stress kills more people than ever, especially now.
What are some daily (or weekly) habits of yours that keep you mentally healthy?
I used to be someone who laughed at meditation. I thought that sitting there with my eyes closed would do nothing. This attitude changed when I reached the peak of my anxiety and had several panic attacks a day. Now, I deep breathe and meditate every day for about 10 minutes. I do this exercise longer on days that are busy or stressful. I also do positive affirmations on a weekly basis. Also, I’ve been working out a lot ever since I got a scare from the doctor about my physical health. Luckily, I fell in love with weight training and quite honestly, working out helps me be more focused and calm calm.
If you could give your 15-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
A lot of bad stuff is going to happen but it shouldn’t discourage you. People are not who they say they are all the time, but that doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself and not trust others. It just means to be a little careful. Do things that scare you because you might end up liking them. Most importantly, live a life without many regrets because that’s the best life to live.
What is confidence to you?
Confidence is simply the way you feel about yourself and about your capabilities to do things. You need to practice self love and talk to yourself like you would to a friend. When you start the journey towards self love, you have to figure out what keeps you from living the life you want. Once you figure out how to overcome these obstacles, your confidence will grow tenfold.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
“If anyone ever did it, then you can too”
I always assumed that to reach a certain level of success, you need certain credentials. On the other hand, you see people lose 300 pounds without surgery (not to say weight loss surgery is an easy way out because it isn’t) and people that go from living on the streets to making millions. You have to believe that if they can do the impossible, so can you. Sure it will be tough, but you have to work for your dream!
I think we all have a personal code of conduct or guidelines that help define how we want to life our lives and who we want to be. Can you share three or four codes that you live by?
1. As long as you aren’t hurting others, do things that make you happy, no matter how strange they might seem.
2. Stop hating on yourself and others, channel that energy somewhere else. (I constantly have to remind myself of this one)
3. Don’t lie to yourself. Focus on doing your best and put 100% effort into whatever you’re doing. Results will come.
4. Take away one good thing from every person you meet. Learn something from everyone.
…..and that wraps up my first Q&A with another blogger passionate about helping others through positivity! If you’re interested in following Anita, please subscribe to her blog, www.unstickyourlifenow.com, or like her on Facebook.
Until next time,
As some of you may know, I’ve been studying for the LSAT for a while now.
What’s my story?
I graduated from Florida International University in May 2017 with a Bachelors in International Relations. I initially planned to take my LSAT in June and spend my gap year teaching English abroad in Spain. Ultimately, I hoped to attend law school in the fall of 2018. I started studying for my LSAT in March 2017, which didn’t give me enough time to be well prepared for my planned exam date. Like many other LSAT takers, I would soon find out how truly frustrating and exhausting it is to study for the LSAT. Like many others before me, I assumed that 2-3 months of studying was a sufficient amount of time for preparation. If you’re lucky and naturally good at logic, then sure, 2- 3 months might be all you need. BUT, most of us, including myself, aren’t that lucky. The LSAT is a unique test in that it requires no outside knowledge. Everything you need to know is in front of you, it’s just a matter of knowing how to dissect the information. Improving on the LSAT takes a lot of time and effort, I would come to find out. What was originally supposed to be 3.5 months of studying, has now passed the 7 month mark (with breaks included). Over these few months, I’ve learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. Here’s a list of the 5 top things that I wish I had known before studying for the LSAT.
Things I’ve learned:
1. Study for while before setting a goal for yourself.
I think that it’s a common mistake to determine a test date first and then get into studying for the LSAT, expecting that you’ll achieve your goal score. However, most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need. The suggested studying time is a year. While I took this suggestion with a grain of salt in the beginning of my studies, I strongly stand by it now. In hindsight, I wish I had studied intensively for two months beforehand to understand my strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Score improvements are made when you truly understanding your struggle areas and your most effective learning styles. Such insights could take at least 1-3 months to develop but they are necessary for greater score gains.
There are several questions you need to ask yourself as you begin to study: What is my goal? What was my LSAT base score? How realistic is it to achieve my goal LSAT score? Am I willing to put in the necessary time and energy to get the score I want? How much time a week can I dedicate to my LSAT studying? Am I okay with the possibility of needing to retake my LSAT?
Be realistic with setting your goals. On average, LSAT takers improve their score 5-10 points after studying for a couple of months. Of course improvements vary from person to person. Ultimately, its up to you. Also, be open to the idea that you might end up studying longer for the LSAT than you initially planned.
2. Figure out a schedule/plan and stick to it.
Successful preparation isn’t possible without a structure plan. If you don’t dedicate the appropriate time to your studies and/or use that time efficiently, you’ll see little improvement in your score. Luckily, there are many resources out there (like PowerScore, The LSAT Trainer, Magoosh, and 7Sage) that have created various study plans to help you structure your studies, depending on how many months you plan to study. Although keep in mind that any creator of a study plan requires that you use their material to study.
Personally, I started with the 2 month PowerScore study plan during the summer. It required me to read their LSAT trilogy pack (AKA about 1,800 pages) in, you guessed it, two months. This was to prepare me for the June exam. I studied about 35-40 hours a week and essentially spent my entire summer in the public library. After I realizing that I wasn’t prepared to take the June exam, I bought the 7sage online self-paced course. 7Sage is an online LSAT resource created by Harvard Law graduates with the purpose of making LSAT prep material more affordable and easier to understand. The core curriculum is about 98 hours of information and it took me about 2 months to complete it. I found this source extremely useful because it included a lot of listening and visual explanations which helped me tremendously in understanding the material.
I postponed my June LSAT to the September LSAT, but I wasn’t happy with my September score when I received it in November. Almost immediately, I made the decision to delay law school for a year and to retake the exam in June 2018. Currently, my LSAT prep focuses on repetition and doing lots of practice exams, timed sections, and blind reviews. Blind review, a concept coined by 7Sage, is when you go over a completed practice test and take your time to go through the questions. By doing the questions with no time limit, you realize what questions you got wrong because A) you ran out of time, or B) you have difficulty with a particular type of question. Blind review is almost essential in improving your LSAT score because it forces you to narrow in on your weakness areas.
3. Improving on the LSAT requires changing how you think.
As I mentioned, the LSAT is a unique exam in that all the information you need is right in front of you. Understanding how to find the correct answers by breaking down arguments is key to acing the exam. The LSAT makers are incredibly good at creating trick answer choices and making you panic through the use of convoluted sentence structures/themes. Improving on the LSAT means improving your logic-based thinking and polishing these skills to move through questions in an efficient manner. However, rewiring your thought process takes time. Many LSAT studiers notice a general improvement after taking a study break, ranging from a couple days, to two or three weeks. During the summer while I studied, I had two breaks (about two weeks each) when I went to Miami and to Peru. After returning back from these trips, I noticed considerable improvement in my comprehension of the material.
4. Know that LSAT preparation is a mental rollercoaster.
As I mentioned in the previous point, rewiring your brain takes time and progress shows itself slowly over a period of time.The LSAT does not give swift gratification and it’s easy to get discouraged during the process. At these points, its important to remember that you’re not alone in your “LSAT disappointment”. I’d be hard pressed to find an actual LSAT studier that hasn’t A) had a mental breakdown, B) re-considered law school, or C) experienced multiple plateau in their studies. When you start having doubts, it’s important to remember that your LSAT score does not define you. What matters the most in these periods of self doubt, is that you push through and keep on studying. As said by Colin Powell, “there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,hard work, and learning from failure.”
5. LSAT is unlike any other test and burnout is real and will happen often.
The LSAT is an mentally intensive test and finding a healthy study-life balance is key. Therefore, its important to get proper sleep so that you have enough focus and energy to dissect complicated text. You will find yourself getting sick of the LSAT and in these cases, its perfectly okay to take a few days off. This is better than forcing yourself to study, while you grow more hate and disdain for the LSAT. Score improvements require you to be motivated and excited to take on theLSAT – this just won’t happen if you force yourself to study through a burnout. Taking days off will not hurt your progress and are almost a necessity. You need to take the time to re-energize, do the things you love, and remind yourself why you decided to study for the LSAT in the first place.
Personally, I found my best study times to be in the morning. During the summer, I generally woke up at 7:30AM and to study from 8:30AM to 3:30PM. Even now, while I’m working in Spain, I find time to study by waking up 3 hours earlier before work and dedicating my Fridays to the LSAT. The LSAT carries a lot of weight in law school admissions and I make my LSAT preparation a priority. However, as important as the LSAT is, I still make time to enjoy the tapas and adventures that Spain has to offer!
So that’s it – my 5 tips on what you need to know and prepare for as you begin your LSAT journey. There’s a lot more tips to be given on the LSAT and I’ll make sure to talk about them in future posts. Hope you find this helpful and please reach out if you have any specific LSAT questions!
I’ve been in Granada for 5 months now and I couldn’t be happier with the return of sweater weather.
And why exactly am I so happy about this?
Well… one thing that I wasn’t expecting from Granada: cold winter nights (sometimes dipping below freezing temperatures….. eeeeek). Being in the south of Spain, I assumed that it would be all rainbows and sunshine – partially wrong. While it is hot and sunny in the summer, Granada’s winters get frisky cold, especially when the sun sets. This is because of its location under the Sierra Nevada, the nearby mountains known for its ski resort. Due to Granada’s unique proximity to the mountains, Granada gets significantly colder than the surrounding parts of Spain.
ANYWAYS, the weather is finally easing up, AKA I can finally take off the winter coat and jazz up the streets with my sweater weather wardrobe. The buttoned down sweater that I’m wearing now is something that I picked up from an open-air market in Berlin. For only 10 euros, I knew it was a calling. With just enough color for my liking, I went with an all black outfit to make the strands of color on the sweater pop. Also, I just happened to have a yellow belt that matched my sweater, working for a great addition!
As someone who loves her black clothes, I love spicing it up with statement pieces. In this outfit, the job is done by my new, bang-for-my-buck sweater and my yellow Marimekko belt. Marimekko is a Finnish brand that is known for its use of bright colors and bold patterns. The brand makes some awesome statement pieces that I 1000% approve! (I got this belt while I was doing a summer exchange program in Tampere, Finland in 2011. For more information about the scholarship that funded my experience in Finland click here).
From the girl that’s hoping that sweater weather is here to stay, your’s truly,
Around the holidays, I spent some time exploring the city of Berlin. I was in Poland for Christmas and decided to spend the New Years in Berlin. Beyond the capital’s dynamic historical past, I was pleasantly surprised by its strong alternative culture. Berlin is one of the most diverse street art metropolises in the world and is home to one of the coolest places I’ve visited: Teufelsberg.
What is Teufelsberg?
Teufelsberg is a hill topped with abandoned buildings that are covered in street art and graffiti. Despite it’s current look, Teufelsberg didn’t start out as an ‘open art gallery’. It first served as a technical school under Nazi occupation. After the war, the Allies unsuccessfully attempted to destroy it and then covered the remains of the technical school in rubble, creating a massive man-made hill. Due to its height, it served as a spy station after the war for the American and British governments. Once the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union was dissolved, Teufelsberg was abandoned as a listening center. It was eventually bought by a group of investors who planned to build hotels and apartments on the hill. Construction never took off because the Berlin housing boom in the late 1900’s threatened the profitability of the project.
How did it end up as destination to visit?
While Teufelsberg stood abandoned and fenced off from the surrounding areas, artists began to sneak inside to cover the buildings in art. In 2016, the landlord of the property decided to open Teufelsberg up to visitors and tourists to admire this “street art gallery”. Currently, the entrance fee is 8 euros and opening hours start at 10AM everyday. While not in the Berlin center, it’s easily accessible by metro by taking the S-Bahn to Grunewald Station. From there, its about 25 minute walk, which includes walking through a residential area and then a 10 minute up-hill walk. I recommend half a day for a visit, that way theres plenty of time for transport and exploration.
Here are some pictures from my visit!
Teufelsberg is unlike anything I’ve visited so far. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical cultural stuff you see while visiting European cities. Although the entrance fee is a bit overpriced, I definitely recommend a visit!