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 email@example.com 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
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.)
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,
Today’s topic: depression. For the past few months that I’ve been in Spain, I’ve been working, traveling, and focusing on my future by studying for my LSAT. However, as exciting as the future can be, I like to reflect on the past and how far I’ve come. Recovering from major depression and learning how to manage depression have made it possible for me to be where I am today and its so important for me to help others dealing with depression. Below, I’ve listed the top 10 ways I’ve stayed on track during my personal journey of recovery and what I consider to be crucial to my successes!!
1. See a psychologist.
Showing up at my university’s clinic was the first step I took towards recovery. It was the first time that I reached out for help and helped come to terms with the fact that I could not deal with my depression alone. While some people do see a psychologist for years while depressed and would argue that the therapy visits don’t help, I personally consider this an important step towards acknowledging your mental illness. Therapy helps you get into that ‘warrior recovery mode’ that you do not accept your current mental state and are willing to help other help you fight it. In addition, talking to someone helps you uncover realizations about yourself that you might of not had otherwise. At a therapy session, you have a place to share your thoughts and hear another perspective regarding your depression in a safe and consistent environment.
2. If you don’t know where to start, do the opposite of what you’re used to.
When I finally decided to take action and deal with my depression, I didn’t know where to begin after being severely depressed for more than four years. Suffering from depression during your teenage years brings an especially unique challenge: it interferes with your development. During the years when you grow and change the most (physically and mentally), depression hinders the process of discovering who you are and who you want to be. So by the time I found myself in college, depression was so engrained into who I was and who I though that I was, that I didn’t know how to separate from myself and who I was without it. All I knew what that I didn’t want to be the person who I was with depression and so I decided to do and be the opposite. That meant that even though my depression told me that I didn’t deserve to feel good because of allowing my depression to happen, I was to make myself feel good. I went out of my way to express my sense of fashion and to dress nice. I made sure to do my make up more often to feel pretty, because contrary to what my depression had been telling me, I did deserve to feel pretty and I deserved all the things that my depression had denied me.
3. Set small goals.
When tackling something as complicated as depression, its so important to cherish and celebrate the small victories. There will be times that you relapse or let depression get the best of you, and when this happens, its important to not have those disappointments destroy you mentally. Setting and completing daily goals like making the bed, reading for an hour, or completing small errands helps us feel in control and positive about our journey. Also setting long term goals such as getting an A on the class, or finishing a book, (or getting a good score on the LSAT), helps us work towards something bigger yet feasible.
4. Get a support system and trust it.
As you progress through recovery, you’ll realize that its a cycle of ups and down and more than once, you’ll relapse and find it easier and comforting to let your depression take the reins; DON’T. Our ultimate goal is to fight back for control. However, sometimes you won’t have the energy to fight relapses yourself and its important to have a support system to reach out to. Your support system should be people who care about you – your family, your friends, your mentors – who are a part of your journey through recovery. Trust that they care and will help you feel better and support you. Trust them to motivate you to get back up and fight your mental illness.
5. Find a hobby.
Hobbies are important. They help you create (whether its intangible or tangible) and reminds you that you are capable of beautiful things. They give you a sense of identity and comfort, especially as you deal with the ups and downs of depression.
Exercise has played one of the most important roles in my personal journey. Even now, I continue to go to the gym 4-5 times a week for mental clarity. Beyond the physical benefits of exercising, just an hour at the gym leaves me focused and boosts my confidence in tackling my day and my goals. It’s no secret that exercise helps with the release of endorphins, a chemical that helps relieve pain and stress, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this phenomenon. Even on days that I’m tired or down, just 30 minutes of weight training or cardio makes a world of a difference in my attitude.
7. Travel by yourself.
There’s no better way to learn about yourself than to spend some quality alone time. Solo traveling gives you the perfect opportunity to make decisions entirely on your own, to wander and to explore. I treasure my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires during my spring semester of college because it played such a vital role in helping me learn who I was. Traveling through Patagonia in southern Argentina and experiencing the Atacama Desert in northern Chile reminded me how beautiful the world is and how life is worth living. Figuring out my travel plans and meeting so travelers from all across the world taught me how capable I was and how much I could learn from other people. Even if you can’t take a trip out of the country or state, just a day out in the city or on a hike gives you time to reflect and look at the world around you. Its a refreshing experience to be reminded that the world is full of possibilities and wonders.
8. Don’t give up.
Relapses are inevitable and the faster you accept it, the better off you will be. However, the best way to decrease and mitigate the effects of a relapse is to resist it. Obviously this is easier said than done but I’ll be the first to tell you that recovering from depression isn’t easy. This means that if you don’t feel like going out and being social, then go out. When you feel like crying in bed all day, dress up, do your make up, and call a friend. The key is to do these things automatically and mechanically. The minute you start to negotiate with yourself is the minute you lose and your depression wins. You won’t win every time and over time, it’ll become easier and easier to overcome the depressive urges, just don’t be too hard on yourself!
9. Fake it till you make it.
Embarking on a journey of recovery doesn’t exactly mean you know where you’re going. You probably don’t remember what its like to get up from bed and go about your day without a struggle or what its like to live blissfully in the moment, and that’s okay. But you do have a vision of who you aspire to be without your depression and and sooner or later, you’ll become it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable as you embark on the journey of a better you and ignore the voice of depression. So get dressed and go out for a coffee with a friend. Laugh and socialize even though you might feel like you’re dying on the inside…. because you’re not dying. You are surviving and you are alive and you’ll live to see that day when you finally make it.
10. Lose the shame, get comfortable with your depression.
As you continue with your journey of managing your depression, you will learn that depression is not you, only a part of you. For some, like myself, depression is something that will always be apart of our lives, and thats okay. Through recovery, you’ll understand your relationship with depression and understand that any periods of sadness and heaviness wont last. Recognize that depression is something that happens to you and don’t let it shame you; you are strong and beautiful even with your scars.
Hey guys! Here’s my my first article published on Thought Catalog:
Depression sinks into you like an anchor. It weighs down on your shoulders relentlessly, dragging you down deeper and deeper into misery and emptiness.You desperately gasp for peace of mind, if only for a few seconds. With every gasp for air you are faced with the unavoidable reality that you are stuck in this dark hopeless pit.
Do not worry though, soon enough you become comfortable with your new home and forget that sanity and happiness ever existed.Yes, it is painful. Yes, it drains your energy, your spirit, your desires.But this is now your home and this is who you are. All you know now is constant sadness and unwillingness to exist. A life of anything but this is unimaginable.
However, there will come a time, and there is no telling when this time will come. This will be the time that you become tired of your dark pit. You will realize that you cannot simply go on living life like this. It is much too painful, much to heavy. You will realize that it is no longer the answer to simply gasp for moments of happiness and peace of mind. This is the moment when in the depths of your despair you see two, and only two options: to end your life or to change. But change is scary. What is required is a commitment to climb out of this pit that has been home for so long.
Once you have reached rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.
Sure, recovering from depression is no easy task. The journey up is not a one-time trip. On the contrary. It requires patience and the acceptance that for every amount of progress you make, there will be setbacks. Sometimes even enormous setbacks. Your progress will not be visible within a few days, or even weeks. You will see it after months. You will see that for every few days of sadness, you will be overcome with hours, maybe days of peace. Eventually, you will find that for every couple of good days, you will have your bad days. And in this progress, however slow it may be, you will find the strength to continue on your journey to recovery.
With every step towards recovery, you will uncover the beauty of life that you had once forgotten while you were in your hopeless pit. You will even come to appreciate parts of life simply because you could not experience them during depression. And as you make your way towards recovery, you will occasionally look back to your life in that dark, hopeless hole. You will shed a tear, maybe many, because your life in that hole, as miserable as it was, has gifted you with an incredible gift, a gift of being incredibly humbled by the beauty of life.
How to forgive yourself:
- You are trying, and that’s what matters. – The path to success is not a straight line. It involves ups and downs, stumbles and falls, and out-right walls cemented directly on your path. No successful person would be anywhere in life if they gave up and quit trying. Recovery from depression is like any path. Success requires commitment. Commit to recovery. There will be times when you will want to give up and call it quits, and that’s okay. Anyone who’s struggled with depression has been there, frustrated with inputting so much effort and seeing such little results mentally. The most important thing however, is to keep on pushing through and never letting your frustration get the best of you.
- Mistakes are mistakes and failures are lessons. – No one gets anywhere without making mistakes; how would you learn otherwise? The key thing to remember is to take a mistake for what it is – unintentional. So accept your mistake as a learning experience: an experience that helps you change for the better. Yes you can see mistakes as failures, but you can also see them as lessons. No one has gotten anywhere in life by avoiding failure. Just like you can’t except to create a successful business from day one, don’t expect to be able to manage your depression with a snap of a finger.
- Cherish the small victories. – Depression doesn’t go away because you’ve decided that its time to go has come. Depression, especially long term depression, becomes habitual. Its symptoms become engrained into who you are as a person and its difficult to remember who you were before your mental illness. Battling depression requires you to retrain your mind and resist the toxic manners that you’ve lived with for so long. As a result, rewiring your brain takes time and happens slowly. Focus on being better than you were yesterday and eventually you will realize the changes.
- Do not compare yourself to others. – We are all on our own paths to happiness and success. All of us come from different up-bringings and have faced different hardships. Someone suffering with a mental illness knows as well as anyone that what’s on the surface is not representative of what’s inside. Especially with all the edited pictures on social media, it’s easy to convince yourself that everyone else is having a much better life than you. Focus on your personal victories and being a better than the person you were yesterday.
- Adapt the mindset that you are on a constant path towards self-improvement. – Happiness is a journey, not a destination. If you begin to look at your life as a never-ending journey, then you will automatically accept the facts that you will make mistakes. These mistakes aren’t there to make you stop your journey, they’re meant to make you grow and consistently mold you in to a better person. To not make any mistakes is to not make any progress.
Self forgiveness is important; with or without depression, self forgiveness is necessary in order to have a healthy relationship with yourself. I hope these five steps help bring you step closer to self-love!
We’re finally in 2017 and I’m back in Miami to finish up my last semester of my undergraduate career. I’ll be graduating in May with a Bachelors of International Relations and a Certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Now that I’m on the home stretch *dundundunnnn*, it’s important to not only look towards the future, but also at all that I’ve accomplished during these past few years. Like, (1) earning a full ride to attend FIU, (2) studying abroad in Buenos Aires during my sophomore year, and (3) learning how to deal with my depression.
Looking back at this year, here’s a few things that I’ve accomplished in 2016:
- Made the Dean’s list.
- Visited my friend Anna in Paris and took a road trip in the South of France.
- Spent the summer in Poland and completed a public affairs internship in Warsaw.
- Organized a mini solo trip to Barcelona after my internship.
- Worked a business development internship my Fall semester.
- Started my blog!
Looking forward? What are my goals?
- Finish off the semester strong with all A’s. – Classic.
- Live day by day. – As much as my grades and GPA matter, it’s equally important to make the most out of the few months that I have left as a college student. After, I graduate, I’m not sure if I’ll stay in Miami or go back home or move to a foreign country – so these may be my last few months in Miami! What does this mean? It means taking advantage of every day and saying yes to new experiences.
- Study for the LSAT. – Although I’m not entirely sure of what I want to do in the future, I have a few paths in mind. One possible path is law. This semester, I’m taking a few law classes to see whether or not I’d like studying law. Even still, I will need a great LSAT score to get into law school, and that requires months of studying. Therefore, studying starts….NOW.
- Figure out a plan post graduation. – Last semester of college = figuring out the next step in life. If you’re wondering what the plan is as of now, there is none *nervous laughter*.
- Travel. – This semester, I want to travel somewhere, sometime. Why, you ask? I’m a firm believer that travel is good for the soul and makes you excited for life. Traveling reminds me that there’s so much to see and in experience in the world. So this semester, there will probably be times where I’m stressed out about the future, traveling will help me remember that there’s more to life.
- Continue working on my blog! – I have worked too hard to quit now! Running a blog has been time consuming and sometimes frustrating; from constantly trying to write good content, to learning to become more tech savvy in running/designing my blog. Despite these challenges, I have grown and learned so much from creating my blog. At the end of the day, I’m truly excited and determined to help and inspire others!
As some of you know, one of the main reasons I created my blog was to raise mental health awareness by talking about my personal experiences with depression. Since writing a post about my depression in September, I haven’t really posted as much as I’d would like to on my blog. The reasons for this is (1) I was pretty busy this past semester (more in a later post!) and (2) the difficulty in writing about a complex topic like mental health.
I don’t think depression really ever leaves a person. You overcome depression by learning how to manage it, but that doesn’t mean that depression will never affect you again. In my case, my depression remains a little voice in the back of my head that occasionally comes out to haunt me *dundundunnn* and makes me question my overall recovery from depression. When this happens, which is pretty much always when I sit down to write a blog post, the voice questions my ‘credentials’ to write about the subject and try to empower others.
It’s a voice that tells me that it’s silly to try to break away from my depression, convincing me that I will always be shackled down by its chains. “Hey lil mama“, it whispers in my ears, “I’ve been around for years, don’t go around acting like you done with me“. It mocks me for trying to empower others, pointing out the irony in how I try to write posts while the shadow of depression looms over me.
Depression thrives on self-doubt and it will always try to come back from the dead by trying to convince you that you are no better without it. What I have realized these past few months is that I must take this voice for what it is: a voice. A voice’s power is limited by the amount of power you chose to give it. Likewise, a voice has absolutely no power to do anything, unless it successfully convinces you to act out on its behalf.
And so I throw a peace sign and say, “watch me do my thing” to the little voice that so desperately tries to retain the power that it once had over me. What this also means, my fellow readers, is that you can expect more consistent posts in the upcoming future!
The main reason I created this blog was to share the story of my depression, my recovery, and how it made me the person I am today. Beginning in high school, I suffered from depression for 5-6 years and an eating disorder for 4 years. These years were defined by constant sadness and mental instability, only to be covered up with a ‘happy’ mask during the day to fulfill societal expectations. After coming to FIU, the struggle to hide my depression behind my mask became unbearable. I finally hit rock bottom the spring of my freshman year at FIU and [unwillingly] starting seeking professional help. From the day I dedicated myself to recovery, my journey was anything but easy; it was full of setbacks, breakdowns, frustration, tears, and anger. As someone depressed for so many years; my life only consisted of being depressed and trying to hide it. With my decision to recover, I was destroying everything I knew myself and life to be.
The next two years that followed were essentially a blind mission to create a completely new person out of myself. Depression took most of my teenage years – a significant period of growth in anyone’s life. And so here I was, as a 20 year old, desperately trying to figure out who I was without my depression. Without depression playing center stage in determining my actions and behavior, I had to learn everything about myself: what I liked to do for fun, who I wanted to be, what my strengths and weaknesses were, and even what my personality was like. Similar to a time when you had a presentation for class that you were completely unprepared for, yet you had no choice but to get up and present. Sure, you came up with some BS before class, but on the inside you were low-key freaking out that (1) you’d forget your hastily complied BS, (2) freeze, or (3) be asked questions that you were completely unprepared to answer. This was what my life was like for two years: a time full of anxiety because I lacked complete understanding for who I was as a person (and who desperately hoped that no one would ever put me in a situation I was not prepared to be in.)
What do you do for fun?
– The most basic question asked by someone you just meet and equally one of the most horrifying questions someone suffering/recovering from depression can ever be asked.What do I do for fun? What are my hobbies? What do I enjoy? As someone who was just re-learning the concept of fun, this was one of the many questions that put me in panic-mode. Depression is a world completely absent of fun and it took time for me to discover what I truly enjoyed doing [which is harder than you’d think].
And so my recovery went on – five steps forward, three steps back. With each failure, I learn new things about myself and about life. I eventually learned to trick myself into believing that every setback had a purpose and eventually my ‘failures’ became ‘lessons’. With each passing month, I began to see little changes in how I felt and how I saw the world. I began to appreciate things that I was unable to enjoy in the past. And with these changes, my desire to continue towards recovery grew stronger.
This is not to say that recovery was a walk in the park – it was a tug-of-war between ‘keep on going’ and ‘give up’. Many times, ‘giving up’ almost won because of my frustration with the concept of recovery. How was I to possibly know when my recovery would end and when my depression-free life began? I would constantly question this and get tired spending so much energy and time focusing on my mental health and sanity. I was tired of making progress and then falling into a depression relapse, only to undo all the progress that I had done. My journey often seemed impossible, as I tried to understand who I was as a person, struggling to figure out what parts of my life were a product of my depression and what parts were the real me.
Through these ups and downs, one of the greatest lessons I learned was that I could not accomplish this feat alone. In the moments I wanted to give up and go back to my habits of depression, I turned to my support group to get me back on my feet. Yes, internal motivation and determination is a necessary key in recovery, but having the support of those who have seen you at your worst and want you to be better is just as important.
Within these two years, I had done the impossible: I recreated myself from someone who had no desire to live and had complete hatred towards herself, into someone in love with life and herself. My recovery and the experiences that came with it, have been life changing and responsible for everything I am today. Everyone knows the saying, “mind over matter”, a short, yet powerful statement that suggests that with the right mindset, anything is possible. However, depression handicaps the mind, making every part of daily life a dreadful chore, so doing anything beyond the necessary was exhausting. Now that I’ve learned to manage my depression, I am amazed by the beauty of life and the endless possibilities as to how we can live it.
Now, my depression does not control me; I control my depression. With this new found power, I am excited about life and living it to the fullest: from dressing fabulously to feel good, to traveling the globe to learn about myself and the world. This post is meant to be a gateway to future posts about depression and recovery. By incorporating my recovery as a key element of my blog, I want to challenge the stigma related to mental illnesses and provide a platform to openly discuss depression. My depression and recovery have gifted me with a unique life philosophy that can be related and adapted by anyone. For those battling a mental illness, my hope is to shine light on depression and prove that recovery is very much possible, regardless of how impossible it may seem at any given moment. For those that aren’t, well I hope you become more educated on mental illnesses and reflect my life experiences on your own life.
Thank you for taking a moment to read this post and I hope you check back with my blog soon. 🙂