How to Find the Right Therapist When Treating Depression

If you are treating depression and searching for a therapist, these strategies can help.

A young woman speaks to a therapist during an appointment for cognitive behavioral therapy.

Updated on June 14, 2024

Also known as major depressive disorder, clinical depression, or major depression, depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 18 percent of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime. It is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

There is also research that suggests depression is underdiagnosed, and that many communities do not have adequate access to healthcare for depression (as well as other mental health disorders).

Depression involves constant feelings of low moods, sadness, a loss of interest and enjoyment, difficulty functioning, and changes in behavior, such as changes in eating and sleeping habits. Symptoms and severity vary from person to person, and the condition is often a different experience for different people.

Depression is treatable

Symptoms can be debilitating, recurrence rates are common, and left untreated, episodes of depression persist for longer periods of time. Depression also puts a person at risk for other mental health disorders (such as anxiety), substance use disorders, medical conditions (including cardiovascular disease and diabetes), and suicide.

Like any medical condition, depression requires treatment, and it can be treated. Treatment may include psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. Mild depression may only require psychotherapy, while a combination of psychotherapy and medication may be more effective for treating moderate or severe depression. But again, depression is a different experience for every person.

What is psychotherapy?

Also known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy involves talking to a mental health professional. This can include talking one on one, talking as a couple or family, or as part of a group. Psychotherapy is used in the treatment of a wide variety of mental health disorders and other emotional challenges. The goal is to help the person being treated better understand and address difficult emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

There are different types of psychotherapy. The types that are most often recommended in the initial treatment of depression are cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on recognizing unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior and learning better ways to address these unhelpful patterns. CBT is adaptable, and the therapist and the person being treated will collaborate to find strategies that work.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on interactions with other people. For example, identifying and improving conflict or difficulties in relationships and how these affect or influence depression. IPT is time-limited, meaning it has a set number of sessions (typically one session per week for 16 weeks).

Remember, different approaches work for different people. While CBT and IPT are frequently used for the initial treatment of depression, there are other approaches that a healthcare provider may recommend. Different types of psychotherapy may also be recommended at different times.

Finding the right therapist

Therapy is a collaborative effort, and anyone being treated for depression (or any mental health disorder) needs to have a good working relationship with the therapist. Here are some questions to consider when choosing a therapist:

  • What types of therapy can this person provide? Does this type of therapy match what I am looking for?
  • What are this provider’s credentials?
  • Does this therapist have experience treating people with depression similar to my own diagnosis?
  • Do they have experience treating people with a background similar to my own? Background can mean age, ethnicity, and cultural background—these can be important factors in a good working relationship with a healthcare provider.
  • How do you feel about working with this therapist? Do you feel comfortable bringing up concerns or sensitive topics? Can you be open and honest?
  • Do you feel confident this therapist and approach to therapy will benefit you?
  • What do you hope to get out of this treatment?
  • Does this provider accept your health insurance? What will be the out-of-pocket cost?

When you talk to any potential provider, it is important to discuss the goals of therapy, the timeframe for those goals, and how you should think about your progress. If you need help finding a therapist, try asking for a referral from a healthcare provider you have worked with before. Many will be happy to provide recommendations.

Article sources open article sources

National Institute of Mental Health. Depression.
Benjamin Lee, Yan Wang, et all. National, State-Level, and County-Level Prevalence Estimates of Adults Aged ≥18 Years Self-Reporting a Lifetime Diagnosis of Depression — United States, 2020. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). June 16, 2023.
Navneet Bains and Sara Abdijadid. Major Depressive Disorder. StatPearls. April 10, 2023.
Olivia Remes, Joao Francisco Mendes, and Peter Templeton. Biological, Psychological, and Social Determinants of Depression: A Review of Recent Literature. Brain Sciences, 2021. Vol. 11, No. 12.
Sharon Cobb, Mohsen Bazargan, et al. Depression Treatment Status of Economically Disadvantaged African American Older Adults. Brain Sciences, 2020. Vol. 10, No. 3.
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Depression.
Better Health Channel. Depression explained.
Heather Dovish, William Kim, and Anthony M. Quaste. Pharmacologic Treatment of Depression. American Family Physician, 2023. Vol. 107. No. 2.
National Institute of Mental Health. Psychotherapies.
American Psychiatric Association. What is Psychotherapy?
Rabie Karrouri, Zakaria Hammani, Roukaya Benjelloun, and Yassine Otheman. Major depressive disorder: Validated treatments and future challenges. World Journal of Clinical Cases, 2021. Vol. 9, No. 31.
American Psychological Association Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT).
American Psychological Association. How to choose a psychologist.

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