Since the onset of the pandemic, demand for therapy and mental health services has skyrocketed. According to a November 2020 poll from the American Psychological Association (APA), 74% of psychologists who treat anxiety have seen an increase in patients since March 2020, and 60% of those who treat depression have also experienced the jump. Overall, 29% of psychologists' books have exploded with appointment requests over the last two years.
Why? Because America is stressed. The APA's 2020 stress assessment of the nation found that 78% of adults attribute a significant amount of their stress to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an August 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that during late June 2020, 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health and substance misuse.
"There definitely has been an increase in demand for therapy," says Alison LaSov, licensed M.F.T. and CEO of Advekit, a free platform that connects patients to therapists and assists with insurance reimbursement paperwork. She adds that the imbalance is "for better or worse," meaning that although resources are suffering in some areas—especially in rural regions, she says—this historical moment is finally beginning to destigmatize mental health treatment.
"And I think it's because, globally, we've finally all had a shared [traumatic] experience of this pandemic," LaSov adds. "Everyone, to some degree, needs support. I mean, this has impacted all of us."
If you've been on the verge of seeking therapy, be it due to the world's current circumstances or your own, you can and should seek treatment despite what the numbers say. Yes, the process may be a little trying, but that's why we've collected advice from therapists to help you press forward.
As Meghan Watson, a resident therapist at Alkeme Health puts it: "You don’t have to be in crisis to get help for your mental health. Even if you’re simply curious about therapy and aren’t actively struggling with a mental health disorder or major conflict, you can reach out for support."
Here are the best ways to do it.
Contact multiple therapists at once
There's no moral code against reaching out to multiple contenders at the same time—it's really the best way to find availability in a timely manner.
"Check out mental health directories (Psychology Today and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have extensive ones.) and read profiles of therapists that you feel connected to," recommends Watson. "You’re absolutely allowed to check out more than one option and make a decision that works for your interest, availability, and budget without feeling pressured."
According to LaSov, all therapists should respond to inquiries within 24 hours. "So my first tip is if you're not hearing back from a therapist and days have gone by, it probably is not the right fit for you," she adds. With that being said, also don't be afraid to follow up.
Know your financial options
Whether or not you have health insurance, finding a therapist within your budget can be tricky because, according to LaSov, many don't accept insurance due to low reimbursement rates, and those who do may not accept yours.
That's why it's important to advocate for yourself. Always ask about self-pay rates, as they're sometimes lower than insurance co-pays. Additionally, LaSov says many therapists offer a sliding scale rate based on income, "so it’s important to ask your therapist if this is something that they can accommodate."
She continues: "If you find yourself paying out of pocket for your sessions rather than using insurance, your therapist can give you a superbill or invoice to see if your insurance carrier will give you any reimbursement. For those who may need help with navigating their insurance in these scenarios, Advekit is a platform that files claims and waits for reimbursement on behalf of the patient, so they can strictly focus on getting treatment instead of worrying about payment logistics."
Pay attention to specialities and backgrounds
As you scroll through therapists' bios, you may notice that some disclose their backgrounds, religions, and even sexual orientations as a way to better connect and identify with their patients. Others might note specializations in specific mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.
"There's a certain cultural competency that therapists will have, or a certain understanding that might be helpful to the patient, versus someone who is not from that same background," says LaSov. "With that said, even if you see a therapist from a different background, it doesn't mean they won't be effective in helping you."
Schedule a consultation (and another, and another)
Most therapists will respond to inquiries by inviting you to a short consultation—they're usually free and last about 20 minutes. Both Watson and LaSov recommend taking full advantage of these meetings and asking very specific questions, such as:
What kind of therapy do you provide?
How do you conduct therapy?
How will we know when therapy is successful?
I am experiencing “XYZ." Do you have experience in dealing with these issues?
More than anything, Watson recommends being open and honest about your selection process. "You can even say something like: 'I’m exploring a few different therapists and options for therapy. I’m not ready to make an appointment just yet, and will reach out when I’ve made a decision,'" she says.
Although it can be helpful for a friend or even your doctor to recommend a therapist, LaSov warns that referrals don't always work. "This is different than going to like, a dentist," she explains. "If my friend's dentist is gentle when they clean her teeth and I want to go to that dentist, I think that makes a lot of sense. But if my friend is going to a therapist for something that, let's say, she's going through and it's very different from what I'm struggling with, it doesn't mean that therapist is the right fit for me."
Aim for in-person appointments, but don't discount virtual ones
When nationwide lockdowns left therapists with no choice but to hold therapy virtually, it gave access to people who didn't have it before. However, in LaSov's opinion, there are some therapy benefits that can only take place in person.
"I feel strongly that there is an importance to being in person, at least sometimes, with your therapist," she explains. "There is something to be said about that in-person connection you have as you're kind of working through whatever you're going through; having someone in the room with you."
With that being said, if in-person therapy isn't in the cards for you, virtual sessions can be a great alternative—especially if you have a busy schedule or live in a remote area—as long as you have a quiet, private place to hold them.
Give a session a shot
"There is a misconception that you go to therapy once or twice and you're supposed to be completely relieved of all of your symptoms," muses LaSov. This is especially true if the patient and therapist aren't clicking, and although no one recommends staying with a counselor you don't like, "any support or any treatment is better than suffering alone," LaSov says, until you can find a better match.
Regardless, there's no shame in "breaking up" with a therapist who doesn't meet your expectations. "You may need to join a waitlist for your preferred therapist if you’ve found someone you like and they aren’t available," Watson explains. "Also don’t be afraid to ask them if they have someone they can refer you to and what the expected wait time might be."
Go with your gut and don't give up
It's pretty clear that finding a therapist, especially right now, can be draining and discouraging. But it's worth the work to find the right one. "You’ll know when you’ve found the right therapist when you feel safe, comfortable, and motivated when you speak to them," says Watson. "Building a trusting relationship with your therapist is a key part of the healing process, so focus on finding someone who you trust to keep you accountable and affirm you emotionally, mentally, and spiritually."
If you're struggling to connect with someone, Watson recommends doing your best to prioritize mental health by joining a support group, working through a therapy workbook, or listening to a therapy podcast.
"Don’t give up if you don’t find someone right away," she urges. "Pace yourself. Managing your mental health isn’t an instantaneous process. Take breaks if you’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out."
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