Finding a therapist — let alone one that’s a good fit — can take time and determination, especially during the pandemic, when many therapists are reporting being unable to keep up with demand and having to turn patients away.
When The New York Times surveyed 1,320 mental health professionals in November, nine out of 10 therapists said the number of people seeking help was increasing. During a February Senate committee hearing on the nation’s growing problem of mental health and substance abuse, Senator Patty Murray of Washington noted that nearly 130 million Americans live in places where there is less than one mental health provider for every 30,000 people.
Therapists can also have trouble finding help. Thomas Armstrong, a clinical psychologist in east Washington, was waiting more than a year for treatment for his youngest child, who was two years old when they began the search. And it was more than two years before he received the treatment that proved most beneficial, only found after tapping into his academic network via Twitter.
“All the stars had to be right for me,” he said.
If you’re looking for a mental health provider, don’t give up – there are several strategies that can help.
Call a friend.
For some people — like those suffering from debilitating depression — the thought of having to search for a therapist for weeks or months can seem overwhelming.
“It’s not something you’re doing wrong — it’s that the system is inherently broken and needs to be fixed,” said Jessi Gold, 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 contact providers and make an appointment, suggested Dr. gold before. It’s “one of the best ways people who care about you can help with your mental health,” she added.
You can also try to get referrals directly from your personal network – whether it’s someone in your local parents’ group, your friend’s therapist, an obstetrician, your family doctor, or a colleague you trust. For students, referrals may also come from on-campus counseling centers, health centers, or a student advisor.
Jeanie W. Shiau, a licensed clinical social worker in Georgia whose practice typically operates at about 90 percent capacity, often helps find providers for patients she can’t see individually.
Her philosophy, she said, is that “connecting people with resources is part of our ‘rent’ for being human on this planet.”
Take the chance on a provider who is new to the field.
One of the best places to go is your local university psychology clinic, which trains graduate students, said Margaret E. Crane, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Temple University whose dissertation compares strategies to help caregivers seek therapy for adolescent anxiety.
These clinics offer evidence-based treatments to both children and adults, she added, and they often have shorter waiting lists than community clinics or therapists in private practice. “They can also give you quality recommendations in the area,” she said.
You might also consider working with someone who has earned a degree but is still gaining the supervised experience needed to earn a professional license. These clinicians tend to be less expensive and their work is constantly reviewed by a more experienced therapist.
Finally, when looking for a provider, don’t assume that a higher degree means better therapy. 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 doctoral degrees.
“Rather than looking for a specific degree, look for therapists who have been trained in evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy,” Ms Crane said.
Check your benefits.
Arniece Stevenson, 34, a Philadelphia graduate student who works for the Girl Scouts, used her Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to find a therapist faster than expected.
An EAP is a free intervention program that can help employees resolve personal issues by connecting them to the right resources, and may also offer a small number of free therapy sessions.
EAPs are billed as confidential, but some employees are reluctant to contact them over privacy concerns. Mrs. Stevenson hesitated, but finally answered around midnight one evening. “I just had to work up the courage,” she said.
The person she spoke to said someone would call her back soon. The next day she heard from a therapist who was able to treat her immediately.
“I was shocked — I was like, ‘Wait a minute?'” she said.
The therapist she sees is white and Ms Stevenson, who is black, said she would have preferred an African American. But the two “happened to be a match,” Ms Stevenson added.
Explore digital directories and virtual options.
Many people start looking for a provider by scrolling through their insurance company’s list of providers and then comparing it to another database like Psychology Today to learn more about each doctor.
However, the insurance company list may not be up to date and some providers may not respond to your inquiries as they are already full.
In some cases, it may be more efficient to look at free online directories where you can filter results based on who is currently accepting 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 doctor for a weekly or monthly membership fee.
And if you’re specifically looking for a color provider, a variety of sites have popped up in recent years to make those connections, including Therapy for Black Girls, LatinxTherapy, and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.
Look for nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofits that focus on helping specific groups can also help people find a therapist.
Examples include the Beacon Tree Foundation, which supports parents in Virginia who have children with mental illness; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
It took Postpartum Support International just two days to connect Melanie Vega, 39, to a provider on her insurance plan when she was suffering from postpartum depression after giving birth to her first child.
“I knew something was wrong when I kept telling myself that my family would be better off without me,” said Ms. Vega, who has been seeing this therapist for four years. “She helped me tremendously.”
Other helpful nonprofits include The Trevor Project, which provides trained counselors for LGBTQ youth; the trans lifeline; black men heal; and the Asian Mental Health Collective.
What if you don’t have insurance?
Some therapists are open to charging tiered fees based on a patient’s income, so don’t hesitate to ask. And check out the nonprofits Open Path Collective and Therapy4thePeople for directories of therapists charging as little as $30 per session.
Sesame also offers inexpensive mental health consultations that don’t require insurance.
Community-based mental health programs are another option. You can find these through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s Treatment Finder.
You can also often find free or low-cost programs at local hospitals and medical schools.
FindTreatment.gov helps people find treatment for substance use disorders and provides information on which organizations offer payment assistance.
If there’s a crisis, don’t wait.
Those who have tried to harm themselves — or are about to do so — should go to an emergency room or call 911.
If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK); 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 be connected to a trained crisis counselor and receive free SMS 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 response teams and crisis stabilization units. And for a list of additional resources, see SpeakingofSuicide.com/resources.