Where are all the therapists? Well, they’re in session. And they might be for a while.
The stories keep flooding in. Someone finally made one of the most vulnerable phone calls imaginable, to ask for help—only to be told that there is a waiting list a mile long to see a licensed therapist. And the people that agency or practice usually refers to? Their caseloads are completely full, too. Maybe this person who called has built up to a boiling point, and now feels like he or she must sit in that state, pressure building, until the phone call to schedule with a professional finally comes.
Did we mention this is also happening during a pandemic? For you, maybe the pressure builds during re-entry to work after being home for over a year—or maybe your thoughts and feelings have suddenly begun to feel like they are crashing down on top of you in a way that you have never experienced before. Then, the delta variant hit and your world shifted. Again.
Unfortunately, you are not alone. These are the stories we are hearing daily as mental health professionals, as we struggle to meet the needs of the individuals who call us. We hear your stories, and it pains us to share that we sometimes do not have the capacity to help you in the way in which we so badly desire. This is not just the experience of ChristianWorks, or Dallas, or the state of Texas. Nationally, mental health professionals are stretched thin, and mourning the moment each of us must turn away another client.
The New York Times reported in February of 2021:
since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States more than a year ago, the number of people in need of mental health services has surged. But many say that they are languishing on waiting lists, making call after call only to be turned away, with affordable options tough to find. Providers, who have long been in short supply, are stretched thin (Caron, 2021).
Thankfully, here at ChristianWorks, we have been able to work diligently over the past few months to narrow down our waiting list and be able to serve most of the individuals who are now calling our intake office. Our waiting list, which never even needed to exist pre-pandemic, now hovers at a much lower number than earlier this year. Yet, the crisis remains. Nationally, individuals are continuing to struggle with anxiety and depression with drastically climbing numbers, with young people (ages 11-17), tracking highest on screeners for these concerns (Mental Health America, 2021).
So what do we do when the supply is so much smaller than the demand for mental health services? These are questions that, at ChristianWorks, we are committedly continuing to ask ourselves. I am hopeful that these few, short tips below can assist you in “waiting well” if you are not able to currently be connected to the mental healthcare that you are seeking.
NOTE: If you, a friend, or a family member are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please call an emergency hotline (1-800-273-8255), go directly to the ER, or reach out to a higher level of care such as an inpatient or intensive outpatient program.
The tips listed below are meant to be utilized in a stable environment in which you and those around you are safe and able to generally function in your daily capacity.
- Build out the different levels of your support system.
We all need levels of support that range from surface-level to depths of understanding. Who are the 1-2 people you feel emotionally safest around? Practice vulnerability with them; maybe share about your desire to seek help for yourself, and the potential frustrations of waiting for that care.
Who are the people in your life that provide an upbeat or welcoming place to find lighthearted connection? Lean into those moments. Avoid extended isolation. If you are a member of a faith community, find small ways to feel engaged in that environment.
- Do one thing a day to challenge your maladaptive thoughts or behaviors (aka, the things that keep you from functioning well). This could be the same small thing every day; keep it simple!
Another counselor recently recommended a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear shares several basic ways that we can create small habits for ourselves that build into second-nature changes over time. The counselor who recommended this book shared that she uses a jar of beads to encourage herself to move toward being “someone who takes more risks.” Every time she does something outside of her comfort zone, like presenting at a conference or having a difficult but necessary conversation, she moves a bead over into her jar. Over time, she began to feel confident in saying, “I am someone who does hard things.” She could look at her jar and have proof of her moments of courage.
Consider the person you want to be. Finish the sentence: I want to be someone who ___________. What are small things that point toward you being that person right now? What are the small things you do to “move a bead” in your everyday life? These are great reflections to bring into the counseling space when the time comes. It can help highlight not only your personal strengths, but also the areas that you want to focus on during counseling.
- Be gentle with yourself. Level your expectations.
I will refrain from telling you how unprecedented these times really are; you know that already.
What we maybe do not often consider enough is how the small, seemingly-unrelated-to-pandemic-life frustrations and changes have wreaked havoc on our emotional and mental well-being over time. The trauma of the past year and a half has not always been a sudden change for many individuals. For most, it has been a slow culmination of varying stressors that, over time, eventually feel suffocating.
So be gentle with yourself. The pressure that has taken almost 2 years to build will not be alleviated in a day. It may take some time to find healing for yourself, even once you enter counseling.
- Know how to respond if your concerns move to crisis level—have a plan to keep yourself safe and supported
Know your emergency hotlines and plans for yourself and your family if your concerns begin to worsen. Keep a list of area agencies that provide intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or inpatient care should you need it.
“Waiting well” does not mean you have to wait alone. Continue to check in with practices at which you are waiting to see a counselor; ask them for referrals and suggestions on how to engage in healthy community support groups while you are waiting for care.
Caron, C. (2021, February 17). ‘Nobody has openings’: Mental health providers struggle to meet demand. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/well/mind/therapy-appointments-shortages-pandemic.html.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Penguin Random House.
COVID-19 and mental Health: A growing crisis. Mental Health America. (2021). https://mhanational.org/research-reports/covid-19-and-mental-health-growing-crisis.
Mosley, T., Borchers, C., & McMahon, S. (2021, March 5). ‘Critical’ need for mental health counselors grows as pandemic takes a toll. ‘Critical’ Need For Mental Health Counselors Grows As Pandemic Takes A Toll | Here & Now. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/03/05/mental-health-therapists-pandemic.
The state of mental health in America. Mental Health America. (2021). https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america.