For centuries, the trust we placed on both the medical and mental health communities was implicit. After all, they have years of education and training yet, I believe our medical and mental health communities are failing us.

You likely test drove the car you currently drive. Yes, I know you can now order a car online and have it delivered to your door. I am of the vintage that believes you need to try it before you buy it. After all, a car is a significant expenditure.

Prior to buying your home, you likely went to an open house and then toured the home several times before you put in an offer for the most significant investment you made. You wouldn’t buy it sight unseen…would you?

As business owners, we typically vet our vendors and suppliers. We request credit checks, seek out references, and inquire within our market as to whether the potential new supplier is going to bring us value and peace of mind. We wouldn’t engage a new supplier sight unseen, would we? Of course not, our business is too important not to sweat the details, isn’t it? 

Before hiring a new team member, we check references, do a police background check, subject the candidate to testing, (some businesses require drug testing) and interview the person anywhere up to 6 times. After all we wouldn’t hire a person sight unseen, would we?

So, why don’t we do this much due diligence with our medical and mental health providers? After all these people are critical to administering our physical and mental wellbeing.

Fact: a medical student in a family or community medicine program is required to take 10% of courses that deal with mental illness. None of the courses are clinical in nature, therefore, students are not exposed to patients with mental illness. And yet, doctors in family practice can prescribe anti-depressant medication. And most, will not refer a patient to a mental health professional, unless the patient requests it. Up to 73% of those using anti-depressant medication are not receiving treatment from a mental health professional. Another irony is that psychologists, who have a greater understanding of mental illness than family doctors, cannot prescribe medication as they are not medical doctors, as is the case with psychiatrists. Thankfully, that is changing; in Iowa, Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, and Louisiana, psychologists can be licensed to prescribe anti-depressant medication.

We are experiencing an epidemic of mental illness in our society and business leaders are not immune to it. Over 30% of today’s business leadership is struggling with ongoing depression.

During a particularly difficult time with my depression I went to see my family doctor and told her the medication I was on was no longer effective. After a few questions about my mood and state of mind she went into her filing cabinet and pulled out three fairly ambiguous tests and asked to me to complete them. One test had been photocopied so many times it appeared on an angle on the page. Though the tests were fairly easy to game, I was honest with my answers. After she reviewed the results, she informed me I was suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD); I knew that coming into the appointment. She then prescribed a new type of medication she had been told was effective (likely by a pharmaceutical salesperson). We had no conversation on the side effects of the medication; and we were done. All told, I was in the doctor’s office for 15 minutes. The next step should have been recommending a referral to a mental health professional; that didn’t occur.

Weeks later, while not getting any better, I had to insist on a referral myself. Would we accept this level of service from one of our vendor suppliers? Likely not. Keep in mind we pay, whether directly or indirectly, for our health care.

The family doctor can provide referrals and have their “go-to” specialists. Don’t be afraid to ask them why they are referring you to a particular therapist. Once you have a name, go online where you can access one or more of these review sites:                       

Chances are quite good you’ll find the referred doctor on one of these sites, if not, Google the name. Read the reviews and look for clues that will identify if the doctor will suit you. Look for words such as empathy, authenticity, listening, peace, genuine, goal-orientated, intimacy, non-traditional therapies, and of course a practice with a focus on depression. If after reading the reviews and you’re not comfortable with your family doctor’s referral, look to these sites for the therapist that most suits you. While reading the reviews, look for your personal situation in the comments. If you find a therapist you’d like to see, have your family doctor provide the referral; they are professionally obliged to. Fortunately, a growing number of therapists on these sites do not require a referral.

An excellent resource for identifying mental health professionals is Founded by Alon Matas and Danny Bragonier, this site is dedicated to connecting those in need with qualified mental health practitioners with telephone or online video therapy sessions. The reviews for this site have been quite positive.

During the workshop: What is the Cost of Depression to You and Your Business?© I introduce the “Test-Drive” concept.
In this segment, we start by discussing what we are looking for in test driving a dream vehicle. The responses are pretty consistent – style, agility, reliability, economy, comfort, safety, power, cutting edge technology, and efficiency. Next, we discuss what “test-driving” a therapist would look like. What would we want to know about the person, and the therapeutic techniques they prescribe?

Based on the responses from workshops, research, and personal experience I have developed the following list of questions I have utilized to test-drive several therapists,

  • Why did you decide to become a psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist?  –This speaks to desire and commitment to help patients.
  • Do you struggle with a mental illness? – Studies have shown up to 60% of therapists struggle with some form of mental illness; it makes them more empathetic.
  • What is the focus of your practice?  – Does it align with your personal needs?
  • What is the average frequency of appointments for their patients?  – Many psychiatrists see patients, with a high frequency of appointments. Avoid a therapist that encourages this long-term parasitic/addictive relationship with patients. The goal should be for the therapist to help you to heal yourself.
  • Can you describe how you provide therapy for clients?  – The therapist will likely require a session or two to assess your particular issues. Yet, ask for examples.
  • What are your thoughts on the “chemical imbalance” and “genetic predisposition” theories? – This question can lead to uncovering how current the therapist is on research. The science is quite strong that both theories have little or no impact on the person.
  • What are your thoughts on anti-depressant medication?  – Do they place a priority on medication as a necessity to live more effectively, or as a component of treatment?
  • Do you utilize therapies and techniques that are non-traditional? If so, what are they and why do you utilize them?  – If the answer is no, you may want to consider speaking to another therapist. Eastern medicine and non-traditional therapies are becoming more mainstream.

Each question is open ended. It can start a terrific conversation about the alignment of your needs and the therapist’s intentions. If you get any push back, or the therapist seems offended you may want to consider another therapist. It is critical to engage a therapist that has strong convictions, is transparent, and will be honest with you. In order for you to get value, this relationship must become very personal and intimate; trust is a critical component of the patient/therapist relationship. In my personal experience, great therapists welcome their patient’s curiosity and the need to be deeply involved in their therapy.

Be curious, because after all, this is your life we’re talking about. So, pick your dream car, oops, dream therapist and schedule a test drive – you’ll be glad, you did.

John Panigas is the author of Crazy, Who Me? My Journey as a Leader Overcoming Depression. John provides workshops, coaching, and in-house mental wellbeing programs for leaders and organizations that realize there is both a personal and economical cost of depression to the team and the business. The workshop “What is the Cost of Depression to You and Your Business? Utilizes a tool called “The COD (Cost of Depression) Calculator©” which calculates the financial cost of depression to your business.

John can be reached at [email protected] and