Finding the Right Therapist to Treat Anxiety and Depression
With so much misinformation out there, unfortunately a good therapist can be hard to find. Everyone has needs which are unique to them as an individual, and it is the goal of therapy to address and cater to those needs. However, due to the diverse array of unique problems patients can present, there’s a likelihood that patients and therapists can be mismatched. Furthermore, just as in any profession, there are certain individuals who are more qualified for their position than others. The key is not to give up on seeking help if you need it, but to find the therapist that is best equipped to address your needs.
There are many reasons why someone would look towards therapy for help. For some, it may be as simple as needing extra support. Perhaps they feel as though the support system in their own lives is lacking in some respects, and that’s where a therapist can come in to help. Weekly check-ins can be just what the patient needs to feel fulfilled and secure in their lives. For others, the necessity of a therapist can be more acute. These situations likely need more intensive methods than the aforementioned weekly check-in. Research Assistant Professor at Boston University, Dr. Shannon Sauer-Zavala, explains that “If you are experiencing symptoms of anxietyand/or depression that are interfering with your daily life, recounting the events your week may feel validating in the moment, but is unlikely to lead to lasting relief.” Dr. Sauer-Zavala points to the effectiveness of methods such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) in such instances.
Because CBT is one of the most well known and successful therapeutic treatment methods for dealing with symptoms of anxiety and depression, many therapists claim it as one of their services offered. However, this information isn’t always accurate. According to Dr. Sauer-Zavala: “Many therapists list CBT on their websites as a service they provide, but actually fall back on more supportive (How was your week?) techniques in practice. As a result, people seeking a therapist need to be savvy consumers who ask the right questions to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.” Because of this, she, and many other healthcare professionals are advising patients to ask important questions when seeking out help from a therapist. Doing so will ensure that the therapists in question are providing evidence-based strategies to help with anxiety and depression, not just empty promises.
What to Look For in Therapist to Treat Anxiety and Depression
It’s no secret that anxiety and depression can color our perspectives and alter our views of ourselves and the world around us. As such, those of us struggling with either disorder have a tendency to view things from a negative point of view. In CBT, the cognitive aspect refers to the practice of questioning these initial thoughts in order to achieve a more realistic and balanced perspective. In other words, rather than just jumping into negative assumptions, we are encouraged to recognize all aspects of a given situation in order to better understand it. For example, if a friend doesn’t message us back, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they hate us, but rather, they may have been busy or not had their phone on their person in order to immediately respond to the message. Dr. Sauer-Zavala explains: “Challenging negative thoughts is a hallmark of CBT!” As such, she advises patients to “ask a potential new therapist if he/she teaches cognitive restructuring, which is CBT-lingo for challenging our negative first impressions. Also ask if he/she uses a thought record, a standard practice form that facilitates learning how to challenge thoughts.” Therapists who are familiar with utilizing this technique will likely have a greater chance of success in treating patients struggling with depression and anxiety.
Avoidance Isn’t the Answer
People with anxiety and depression have a tendency to avoid situations or activities which may trigger negative emotions in an effort to self-treat their symptoms. These methods may work in the short-term, they almost never have any lasting success. This is where legitimate CBT is especially useful. Dr. Sauer-Zavala puts it thusly: “The more you struggle against negative emotions, the more limited your life becomes (e.g., avoiding going to a party means you won’t feel anxious but it also means you won’t expand your social circle).” In CBT, the behavioral treatment involves encouraging individuals to engage in situations that are relevant to their life goals. A good CBT therapist will encourage their patients to pursue the paths that will ultimately allow them to move forward in their lives, even if these paths present emotional challenges along the way. After all, it is necessary to face these situations which provoke such strong emotions, also known as “exposures,” in order to improve one’s quality of life.
Modern CBT: Mindfulness Over Matter
Modern CBT methods have begun to include meditation and similar mindfulness techniques aimed at restoring a balance between the body and mind. The goal of these practices is to ground oneself in the present in a nonjudgmental fashion. This is aimed at combating the self-destructive thoughts and feelings people struggling with anxiety and depression may experience at any given moment. The most likely reason for these recurring thoughts, according to Dr. Sauer-Zavala is that “Often people with anxiety and depression are hard on themselves for the thoughts and feelings they experience…They mistakenly believe that beating themselves up for feeling anxious or down will make them less likely to feel that way in the future.” But research reveals that the opposite is actually true. Judging oneself for having feelings will actually do more harm than good. As a result, many therapists these days incorporate mindfulness techniques into their treatments to help their patients think and act without harsh judgment and/or criticism. Thus, for patients with anxiety or depression, it is good to ask any potential therapist who claims to specialize in CBT whether or not they also advocate mindfulness or related techniques.
Of course, the effectiveness of any treatment, CBT included, is entirely dependent on how often it is practiced. The teachings learned in therapy are only as effective as the patient’s commitment to them. This can really make a difference in whether or not the therapy itself is successful. That being said, the therapist also makes a large difference. Patients must look for a therapist qualified to treat their unique needs. This will require research, inquiries, and investigation, but will be well worth it. Matched with a compatible treatment program, patients with anxiety or depression can improve their conditions and significant reduce, if not eliminate, the symptoms of their condition.