Finding a therapist—not to mention the right person—can take time and determination, especially during a pandemic, when many therapists report that they cannot keep up with demand and must turn away patients.
When The New York Times polled 1,320 mental health professionals in November, nine out of 10 therapists said the number of people seeking care was increasing. During a Senate committee hearing in February to address the nation’s growing mental health and substance abuse problem, Senator Patty Murray of Washington noted that nearly 130 million Americans live in places with less than one mental health care provider for every 30,000 people.
Even therapists may have a hard time finding help. Thomas Armstrong, a clinical psychologist in Eastern Washington, waited more than a year to get treatment for his youngest child, who was two when they began the research. It took more than two years for the treatment to be proven most beneficial, and it was only found after he signed up for his academic network via Twitter.
“All the stars had to line up for me,” he said.
If you’re looking for a mental health care provider, don’t give up – there are many strategies that can help you.
Call a friend.
For some people — such as those experiencing a debilitating bout of depression — the idea of spending weeks or months looking for a therapist can seem overwhelming.
It’s not something you’re doing wrong — it’s the system is inherently broken and needs fixing,” said Jesse Gould, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis.
If you don’t have the energy to get started, ask a friend or family member to help you call providers and make an appointment, Dr. Gold suggested. She added that it is “one of the best ways that people who care about you can help your mental health.”
You can also try to get referrals directly from your personal network – whether it’s someone from your local parenting group, your friend’s therapist, your obstetrician, your primary care physician, or a trusted colleague. For students, referrals can also come from on-campus counseling centers, health centers, or a guidance counselor.
Jenny W. Xiao, a licensed clinical social worker in Georgia whose practice is usually 90 percent full, often helps find providers for patients you can’t see on their own.
She said her philosophy is that “connecting people to resources is part of our ‘rent’ for being human on this planet.”
Seize the opportunity with a new presenter in the field.
One of the best places to contact is the psychology clinic at your local university, which trains graduate students, said Margaret E. Crane, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Temple University whose thesis compares strategies for helping caregivers seek treatment for youthful anxiety.
She added that these clinics offer evidence-based treatments for both children and adults, and often have shorter waiting lists than community clinics or private practice therapists. “They can also provide you with high-quality referrals in the area,” she said.
You might also consider working with someone who has obtained certification but still accumulates the supervised experience needed to obtain a professional license. These doctors are usually less expensive, and their work is constantly reviewed by a more experienced therapist.
Finally, when looking for a provider, don’t assume that higher grade equates to better treatment. Keep in mind that most licensed therapists in the United States—such as licensed clinical social workers and licensed professional counselors—have master’s degrees, not doctorate degrees.
“Instead of looking for a specific degree, look for therapists who have been trained in evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy,” Ms Crane said.
Check the benefits of your employees.
Arniece Stevenson, 34, a Philadelphia graduate student who works for Girl Scouts, used the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, to locate a therapist faster than she expected.
An EAP is a free intervention program that can help employees solve personal problems by connecting them with appropriate resources, and may also provide a small number of free therapy sessions.
EAPs are considered confidential, but some employees are wary of being contacted due to privacy concerns. Mrs. Stephenson was hesitant, but she finally arrived one evening in the middle of the night. “I just had to muster up the courage,” she said.
The person I spoke to said that someone would call her back soon. The next day, I heard from a therapist who could start seeing her right away.
She said, “I was shocked—I was like, ‘Wait, really? “
The therapist you see is white, and Mrs. Stevenson, who is black, said she would have preferred the provider who was African American. Stevenson added that the two “clicked by accident.”
Explore digital directories and virtual options.
Many people begin their search for a provider by scrolling through their insurance provider’s list of providers, and then refer those against another database such as Psychology Today to learn more about each practitioner.
The list of the insurance company may not be up to date, however, some providers may not respond to your inquiries because they are already full.
In some cases, it may be more effective to look at free online directories where you can filter the results by who is currently taking in new clients. Options include Alma, ZocDoc, Monarch, and Headway.
Companies like BetterHelp, 7 Cups of Tea, and Talkspace offer online therapy and messaging with a licensed practitioner for a weekly or monthly membership fee.
And if you’re specifically looking for a color provider, a variety of websites have sprung up in recent years to help make those links, including Therapy for Black Girls, LatinxTherapy, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.
Look at nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofits focused on helping specific groups can also help people find a therapist.
Examples include the Beacon Tree Foundation, which helps parents in Virginia who have children with mental illness; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; The American Anxiety and Depression Association.
Postpartum Support International only took two days to connect Melanie Vega, 39, to a provider on her insurance board when she developed postpartum depression after the birth of her first child.
“I knew something was wrong when I kept telling myself my family would be better off without me,” said Ms. Vega, who has now been following a therapist for four years. “You helped me a lot.”
Other helpful nonprofit organizations include The Trevor Project, which provides trained counselors to LGBTQ youth; Transit lifeline. Black men heal. and the Asian Mental Health Association.
What if you don’t have insurance?
Some therapists are open to charging a tiered fee based on a patient’s income, so feel free to ask. And check the nonprofit Open Path Collective and Therapy4thePeople for evidence of therapists who charge less than $30 a session.
Sesame also offers low-cost mental health counseling that does not require insurance.
Community mental health programs are another option. You can find these via the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ treatment locator.
You can often find free or low-cost programs at local hospitals and medical schools, too.
FindTreatment.gov helps people locate treatment for substance use disorders and includes information on organizations that provide payment assistance.
If there is a crisis, do not wait.
Those who have attempted to harm themselves – or are in the process of doing so – should go to the emergency room or call 911.
If you or a loved one has thoughts about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (modern); In Spanish: 1-888-628-9454; For the deaf and hard of hearing: Dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255.
You can also text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor and receive free text message support from the Crisis Text Line.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has information on other types of mental health crisis services, such as mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization units. A list of additional resources can be found at SpeakingofSuicide.com/resources.