A poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling tired and frustrated and influence productivity and our ability to think. Poor sleep can lead to behaviors that further worsen sleep in the long run, including increasing caffeine intake to stay awake and skipping work outs because we are too tired. Moreover, over time, poor sleep can increase anxiety and negative thoughts about sleep that can further worsen our ability to sleep in the future. With this post, I hope to clarify what insomnia is and highlight some strategies that can help us find a good night’s rest when we fall off track.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia happens when we have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Most people experience some amount of trouble sleeping throughout the course of their life. Sleep difficulties can come as a result of a variety of factors, and brief episodes of insomnia often pass without any treatment. However, when the insomnia lasts for a long period of time (3+ nights/week for 3+ months), it can affect our mood, energy, and overall health. Chronic insomnia can lead to increased anxiety and worry about sleep and promote behaviors that can work to worsen our sleep. Luckily, however, there are strategies that can help those struggling to get a good night’s rest.
Strategies to improve quality of sleep:
Create a dark, quiet, and comfortable environment for sleep.
Reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Practice relaxation before bed.
Exercise during the day.
Refrain from taking long naps late in the day.
If you find yourself consistently struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, it might be time to consider seeing a psychologist trained in providing Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I has been found to be more effective than medication to help improve sleep and is a proven course of therapy for individuals who are experiencing trouble falling asleep, tossing and turning all night, or keep waking up throughout the night.
Finding the best therapist for you is the most important part of maximizing your successful with psychotherapy. However, as many people who have experience looking for a therapist can attest, finding a provider who is just the right “fit” can be very challenging. Here, I outline some strategies to help you find the therapist that is right for you.
Strategies for Finding the “Best Therapist” for you
1) Evaluate your needs and goals for psychotherapy
Who will be in therapy?
Therapy and counseling services can be provided to individuals, couples, families, or groups. Therapists often also specialize in providing care to clients within certain age ranges (e.g. children or adults). When searching for the “best fit,” it is important that you are clear about who will be engaged in treatment, as not all providers are trained to serve all these different types of clients.
What symptoms are you experiencing?
Because treatment modalities vary by symptoms and diagnoses, being able to broadly describe your symptoms and concerns can be extremely helpful in finding a therapist who is the “best fit” for you. This can help ensure that you are matched with a provider who has experience working with clients like you; and you can be confident in their ability to help you meet your goals for psychotherapy.
What kind of treatment are you seeking?
There are many ways in which providers treat mental health concerns, ranging from medication management to different types of talk therapy. While it can be challenging to understand all the differences in treatment options, it can be helpful to consider what approach might work best for you (e.g. short or long-term therapy, focus on the “here and now” or preferences to understand how past experiences influence how you feel today, etc.).
What resources do you have available?
When seeking therapy, you will need to consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to therapy (e.g. time spent commuting, parking, and practicing new skills in between sessions). If you plan on using your insurance, it is important to know what types of services they cover and any limitations to this coverage. If you do not have insurance, it can also be helpful to consider budgeting how much money you plan on investing in a course of therapy.
2) Evaluate potential therapists.
What is the therapist’s area of expertise?
Psychology is a very diverse field of study, which means that most therapists specialize in some area of clinical service. When evaluating a provider’s expertise, it is important to consider their level of education or type of license, their defined client focus, and the treatment modalities they offer. A therapist who specializes in working with people who are like you, are more likely to be able to provide services that will meet your specific needs and goals.
How and when will you access care?
You should be able to access therapy with relative ease, as you will likely be attending sessions regularly, especially at the beginning of treatment. It is also important to understand your provider’s availability to take on new clients, any flexibility they may have in their scheduling, and, when applicable, estimated waitlist times.
3) Choosing the “best therapist” for you.
Which profile or website do you connect with most?
For most people, first impressions of potential providers tend to be online. As you look for a therapist, I suggest that you read through their various online materials and visit their websites to get a better sense of who they are and what they do. It is important to be mindful of their expertise and how they fit your needs and goals for therapy. Once you have narrowed down your search, it is common to call several therapists or practices for an initial consultation before you ultimately make your choice.
Booking an initial consultation to evaluate fit.
The initial consultation can be a great way to evaluate fit, as it allows you to assess what it would be like to work with this therapist. You can assess the timeliness of their response, their communication style, and ask more questions about their expertise and approach to psychotherapy. Once you know your provider has the right qualifications for you, it is important to assess if feel as though you can build a trusting therapeutic relationship with the provider.
By following the steps above, you will likely be well on your way to finding the “best therapist” for you. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but taking your time in choosing the right provider for you can make all the difference in determining your success in finding relief and support through psychotherapy.
In order to better understand your symptoms, you may have come across a “depression “quiz” or “test” online. Such assessments are often multiple-choice questionnaires that ask you about various symptoms of depression and their severity or frequency over a specific period of time.
Although such tests can be useful for people to gain awareness of their symptom severity, they can be misleading or unhelpful, depending on how they are used. A common and readily available assessment for depression is the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
Although a full discussion of the psychometric properties and clinical implications of the PHQ-9 are beyond the scope of this blog, here we attempt to provide some baseline information to inform you on how mental health professionals use this tool in practice and the general benefits and pitfalls of such assessment tools.
What is the PHQ-9?
When providing evidence-based care, it is common to ask clients to fill out various questionnaires to assess existing symptoms and to track changes in symptoms over time.
The PHQ-9 is a commonly used questionnaire that allows clinicians to quickly and objectively compare their client’s symptoms to a larger sample of individuals with similar concerns. Results from the PHQ-9 can tell us whether symptoms are mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe.
There are many great attributes about the PHQ-9 that make it popular and widely disseminated. However, it is important to know that the PHQ-9 alone cannot be the basis for any diagnosis.
Licensed mental health professionals integrate the results of assessments like the PHQ-9 with other important information, including the results of a comprehensive clinical interview and the review of other available records, in order to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What do I do after I take a depression quiz?
Following a self-administered “depression quiz,” it is important to know that whatever the outcome, a diagnosis can only be made after a comprehensive assessment with a trained mental health professional.
While online quizzes can be helpful to get an initial understanding of your own symptoms, it cannot replace the other information and clinical expertise needed to truly assess for any mental health disorder.
Regardless of the outcomes of such “tests” or “quizzes,” if you are experiencing depression or anxiety for an extended period, notably more than two weeks, I would highly encourage you to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for additional information and support.
As public awareness of depression increases, many wonder, “Am I depressed?” Because depression can look very different from one person to another, the answer to this question may be more complex than one would expect.
A full discussion of all the complex components of depression are beyond the scope of this blog post; however, we hope that with this post, we can help provide a bit more insight into what depression is and how to get help.
What is depression and what are the symptoms?
Most people experience feelings of low mood or sadness at some point throughout their lives (e.g. grieving a loved one or even just feeling a little blue).
Depression is different from these everyday feelings, as clinically elevated symptoms are often prolonged (over 2 weeks), cause significant levels of distress, and greatly impact your ability to function in your everyday life.
Symptoms of depression can affect how you think, feel, and behave. In addition to persistent feelings of sadness and/or a disinterest in previously enjoyed activities, depression can make you feel hopeless, worthless, alone, indifferent, ashamed, or unmotivated.
It can make it difficult for you to focus or concentrate, pessimistic in the way you interpret your experiences, and lead to thoughts of death or suicide.
Depression can also impact your physical health by making you feel restless and tired or by disturbing your sleep and appetite. Any combination of these symptoms can be a sign of depression and can impact different aspects of your life, including but not limited to your ability to work, to take care of household responsibilities, or to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with those around you.
How can I get help?
Diagnosing depression is complex and can only be made by a licensed health professional. A skilled health professional can ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis and create a treatment plan tailored to help you cope with your specific symptoms and areas of concern.
Although it can feel daunting to talk about all the ways in which you feel depressed, the good news is that there are proven methods to treat depression and improve quality of life.
Effective treatment plans often include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. With the right provider, a proper assessment can lead to personalized treatment plans that can be highly effective in helping you cope with depression.
If you or someone you love is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, we encourage you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255), for free, 24/7 support.