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Finding Dr. Right

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Your health complaint: Blue mood
Your options: Psychiatrist or psychologist
Your best bet: Psychologist

Psychologists are Ph.D.'s who practice psychotherapy, or talk therapy, which is proved to be highly effective in treating mild to moderate depression, says John Bachman, Ph.D., interim mental health director for California's El Dorado County. When symptoms are more severe or recurring, your psychologist may refer you to a psychiatrist, an M.D. who can prescribe antidepressants. But taking a pill doesn't mean you should take a pass on psychotherapy. "Research has shown that a combo of the two is best for severe or recurrent depression," says Bachman. Although there are still psychiatrists who perform psychotherapy, the number is dwindling. That means if you want to get at the underlying cause of your depression, you'll need to stick with your psychologist.

Another option: a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or master's-level counselor or therapist (M.S., M.A.). These mental health providers don't have the same level of education or training as Ph.D. psychologists, but they typically charge less and many are excellent therapists, says Bachman. "The latest research suggests that the effectiveness of therapy may hinge more on the quality of the therapeutic relationship than on the type of therapy," says Bachman.

Your ideal psychologist is: State certified (call your State Board of Psychological Examiners to find out), has a Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology, and has treated depression in women.

Your health complaint: Fuzzy vision
Your options: Ophthalmologist or optometrist
Your best bet: Optometrist

These eye professionals attend four years of postcollege optometry school that's specifically geared toward learning how to measure vision and prescribe glasses or contacts. But if it's permanent vision correction by laser surgery you want, ask your optometrist to refer you to an ophthalmologist, and request one who specializes in corneal and refractive surgery. These medical doctors are the only "eye doctors" who can perform surgery on the eyes, including LASIK.

Your ideal optometrist is: A graduate of an accredited optometry school (look for the initials "O.D.," which stand for Doctor of Optometry, after his name), and state certified and licensed, credentials you can confirm with your state optometric association by logging on to healthguideusa.org/state_optometry_boards.htm.

Your health complaint: An itchy rash
Your options: General practitioner or dermatologist
Your best bet: Start with your primary care physician

He should be able to diagnose and treat most common rashes. But if your rash persists or recurs, or if there is any blistering or sign of infection (yellow crusting or fever), see a dermatologist, advises dermatologist Bruce P. Robinson, M.D., an assistant clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. These medical doctors diagnose and treat rashes and other skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, and skin cancer. If you or your dermatologist suspect your rash is triggered by something you're eating, it may be wise to consult an allergist. Although both dermatologists and allergists can perform patch tests to identify the source of a contact skin allergy (top culprits are jewelry metals and fragrances), an allergist will run blood and skin tests to determine if your itch is diet-related.

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