Depression Therapist Career

What is a Depression Therapist?

A depression therapist is one who specializes in providing counseling exclusively to patients suffering with depression. Depression therapists possess the necessary licensure required by their state, but they can come from a variety of professions with backgrounds in psychology. Most depression therapists are usually psychologists (PsyD, EdD, MS, PhD), counselors (MS, LMFT, MA, LCPC), psychiatric nurses (APRN, PMHN), or psychiatrists (MD). However, some depression therapists are social workers (MSW, LICSW, DSW, CCSW).

Depression therapists are trained to treat depression through numerous different types of talk therapy. Most, however, are known to use one of the following two approaches: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which a depression therapist teaches patients to recognize negative thinking and modify behaviors that worsen depression; and interpersonal therapy (IPT) in which a depression therapist helps patients to improve their personal and professional relationships by finding healthier ways to express their emotions and solve problems.

What is an Adolescent Depression Therapist?

An adolescent depression therapist is trained to help teens between the ages of 12 and 18 that are experiencing symptoms of depression. The therapist may also be known as a social worker, counselor, or psychologist, and may specialize treating children or young adults in addition to teens. Some adolescent therapists choose to work with vulnerable teenage populations, including those who have been through the juvenile justice system or those with autism.

Given that teens often undergo dramatic psychological and physical changes, adolescent depression therapists often receive specialized training. Adolescent therapists often gain knowledge using a bio-psychosocial approach in order to consider all contributing factors to the teen’s depression. It is important for the therapist to understand if the symptoms are the cause of hormonal changes, school bullying, or a psychological disorder. Additionally, they may coordinate their work with the teen’s pediatrician, teachers, and parents to get a full understanding of their environment.

What Does a Depression Therapist Do?

A family therapist, sometimes known as a depression therapist, will look at the dynamics and relationships that exist between family members to gain an understanding of the context of the family dynamic. Something called a genogram provides a visual of the mental health history of the client’s family tree. This can be a useful tool for both client and therapist in understanding the roots of depression.  The client and therapist collaborate to empower the client to come up with a goal or goals to work towards in regard to improving their mental health.

The biopsychosocial factors will all be taken into account: that is to say, the therapist will consider all aspects of a client’s life and will encourage discussion around how and where the client would like to change. This would include looking at nutrition, medication, support network, family dynamics, relationships, social life, community, sense of belonging, spirituality, exercise, fun activities, and work life. The therapist will provide strategies and suggestions for change and will also encourage the client to figure out the changes they want to make themselves. The client is the expert of their own life! Homework is often given as a way for the client to increase their self-knowledge and insight, and to alter their unhelpful behaviors, replacing these with more positive habits.

Related: How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

There are over 440 different forms of therapy, so one clinician will vary in style and approach from another. However most will have the following factors in common, which studies have found to be most useful in promoting a successful outcome:

  • Ability to build trust and rapport with the client
  • A compassionate, heart-centered approach
  • Non-judgmental attitude
  • Goal orientated
  • Gives homework
  • Helps client to identify needs
  • Helps client to prioritize

Some of the better known and currently more popular therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family focused therapy. CBT works by identifying and transforming unhealthy patterns of thinking. It also teaches skills such as mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation. Family focused therapy considers how the family dynamic may be contributing to a person’s depression, and how change strategies may impact that person’s mental health for the better. This kind of therapy involves psycho-education, so the family can support the individual in a healthier and more productive way.

Why Do We Need Depression Therapists?

Depression can be a very difficult disease which affects almost 7% of the population, according to a survey by the National Institute of Mental Health. If left untreated can lead to extreme suicidal ideation and even death by suicide. The depression epidemic, and yes, it can be called an epidemic, is characterized by withdrawal and isolationist tendencies of individuals, as they suffer with unbearable emotional pain comprising of feelings ranging from hopelessness, loneliness and despair to feelings of unworthiness, shame and loss of interest in every day pleasures. The most efficacious form of treatment for the different types of depression has been found to be a combination of talk therapy, or family therapy coupled with appropriate medication.

Depression therapists are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, to conduct risk assessments and to work with a client to transform negative automatic thoughts and deeply held, underlying beliefs which are often at the root of the symptoms of depression. In today’s society, therapists such as these are a vital part of our social structure as they offer an essential service which can prevent suicide and change lives, turning hem around to more productive and satisfying ways to cope and, indeed, flourish.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Depression Therapist?

There are a number of different routes that can be taken to become a depression therapist. To start, a Bachelor’s degree will need to be acquired. While the degree should be obtained in the field of psychology, many graduate programs will accept other degrees if the student took a number of psychology courses during their program. The student should be sure to take any classes that focus on practicing therapy as well as learning about depression.

While a few organizations will accept a therapist with a Bachelor’s degree, many require at least a Master’s degree to be obtained. A Master’s of Social Work or a Master’s of Counseling Psychology can be obtained, both of which often require 60 hours of graduate work. Classes should be taken that focus on depression, if possible.

After acquiring the degree, the student will need to complete an internship. A practicing clinician will supervise them for about 3,000 or two years. The actual amount of hours required differs state to state, so this should be checked beforehand. At this stage, the potential therapist should make sure to take on as many clients as possible that have depression in order to increase their experience treating clients with depression.

A PhD can be obtained but is not required to practice. This can be done before or after the internship. A depression therapist with a PhD has more opportunities of where to practice, and can conduct research at a university if interested.

What are the Licensure and Certification Requirements for Depression Therapists?

When searching for an appropriate Masters or Doctoral program, it is important that the program has been accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This ensures that the degree obtained is legitimate and will be recognized by a state board when seeking licensure.

The exact process for becoming a certified therapist depends on the state and the type of license desired. Overall, the process will involve getting a graduate degree (Masters or PhD), and passing one or more state-certified exams. For example, obtaining a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California requires passing a Law and Ethics exam in addition to the Association of Work Boards exam. A Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor will need to pass the Law and Ethics exam and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor (NCMHCE) exam.

It is important to note that becoming a depression therapist does not entail receiving a special licensure like those received by a marriage and family therapist or therapists working with children. This means that the license will be a “generic” license, but the therapist should be sure to gain experience treating clients with depression during their internship period.

What Skills are Required for a Depression Therapist? 

  • Empathize – Depression therapists must possess the ability to understand their patients’ experiences, and whether they are able to articulate their feelings or not, depression therapists must be able to accurately identify with those emotions.
  • Establish Boundaries – A skill that is inherent to no one, depression therapists but hone the ability of setting boundaries with their patients. It is not uncommon for patients suffering from mental illness, especially depression, to feel personally attached to their therapists. This attachment, however, is inappropriate and unprofessional for a depression therapist to nurture.
  • Communication – Depression therapists are required to have excellent communication skills. As the themes discussed during therapy are far more abstract than they are tangible, it is crucial that therapists articulate such subjects as clearly and comprehensible as possible. Nevertheless, effective communication requires more than articulation skills, it also requires the ability to listen. An effective depression therapist practices active listening; i.e., they must pay close attention to not only everything their patients say, but also to everything they do not say.
  • Critical Thinking – A depression therapist must be able to retain all that they learned throughout their education, stay current in regards to new information developed from recent psychological researches, assess their patients’ personal history, present circumstances, and their concerns for the future, and finally, apply all of the above to their processes of making diagnoses and strategizing proper treatments. This practice not only requires years of preparation and repetition, but immense critical thinking skills, too.
  • Impartiality – The ability to be impartial requires a subset of two different skills. First, depression therapists cannot become emotionally invested in their patients’ lives so that they continue to think clearly and make assessments as objectively as possible. Second, depression therapists must remain impartial so that they refrain from making judgments against their patients. When patients sense that they are being judged, they are far less likely to be open and forthcoming.
  • Self-care – In order to help others live fuller, happier lives, one must first be skilled in living one of their own. As depression therapists have stressful and strenuous jobs, they must be able to treat themselves with care, dignity, and patience.

What is the Job Outlook for Depression Therapists?

Depression is quite common worldwide, which ensures that clients will always need to seek treatment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in the field will grow 29% in the next 10 years, compared to an 11% increase in employment overall.

This rapid growth in job opportunities is attributed to a number of different factors. For example, insurance agencies have increased their coverage for those seeking treatment for depression. State agencies have required that insurance plans cover both inpatient and outpatient treatment for depression. Additionally, there is an increase in veterans and active military members seeking therapy, as it has become less taboo in recent years. Overall, seeking treatment for mental health issues has increasingly been seen as more acceptable for all individuals. There is a push to increase the number of practicing therapists, particularly those focused on treating depression.

How Much Does a Depression Therapist Earn?

Regarding estimates of salary, depression therapists are often lumped in with other mental health counselors who do not have specialized training. As of May 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics places the average salary at about $44,000 per year, with the top 10% making $65,000 or more. Higher salaries can be earned by having more years of experience, a PhD, or a successful private practice. Depression therapists employed at substance abuse facilities make about $39,000 whereas those in an outpatient practice can make about $45,000.

The salary made by depression therapists also varies by location. For instance, those in Tennessee can look to making about $34,000 per year while therapists in Arkansas make about $52,000 per year on average. In addition to considering the licensure process required by each state, potential depression therapists should be sure to check average salaries in each state.

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