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What to Do When There's a Waiting List

What to Do When There's a Waiting List

Recently on OpenCounseling, we covered what to do when you've made an appointment with a counselor and have to wait a few weeks for your first session. But what do you do when the wait is even longer than that? When a counselor tells you that they can't see any new clients for months, you might feel like you have no choice but to wait, especially if you've already called other counselors who weren't accepting new clients. In many cases, though, you do have other options. You may be able to find a private practice counselor with similar expertise, get a referral from a mental health crisis or information line, or start online counseling right away.

1. Don't give up.

It takes courage, effort, and persistence to recognize that you need counseling, research your local options, and reach out to a counselor. It can be discouraging when you finally call to make an appointment, only to find out the counselor you so carefully chose has a really long waitlist or isn't taking new clients. You might feel like it's a sign you'll never get the help you need, but that isn't true. Don't give up! You've cleared nearly all of the hurdles to starting therapy, and you can get over this last one. The first thing you can do is talk to the counselor you've just called.

2. Leverage the inroads you've made.

It's not rude to tell a counselor that you can't wait months for your first therapy appointment. Most therapists don't like having to turn anyone away or asking anyone to wait and won't be offended if you'd rather see someone else. Ask the counselor or their front desk staff if they can recommend other counselors or agencies in the area. Many therapists are part of local professional networks and have colleagues to whom they refer clients they can't accommodate. They may even know someone who's a better fit for your needs than they would have been!

3. Carefully consider the range of options that fit your needs and budget.

It's easy to get swept up in the romance of reading counselors' profiles and imagining there's someone out there who's a perfect match for you. You're doing yourself a disservice when you get too picky, though. Getting attached to the idea of seeing one specific person can make things harder than they need to be if your counseling needs can be met by a wide range of professionals.

Some things are worth insisting upon. If you want to process or heal from trauma, it's important to find a counselor with relevant expertise, ideally someone who is proficient in one or more evidence-based interventions for trauma. If you've seen counselors before and know what does and doesn't work for you, you should use that knowledge to choose your next therapist wisely. It's easy to overthink it, though. Keep in mind that many of the issues that bring people to therapy don't require special qualifications to treat.

Most counselors use methods that can effectively treat a wide range of mental health conditions. If you want to work with someone who can help you change your habits, address symptoms of anxiety or depression, work on relationship conflicts, or simply understand yourself a little better, there are many counselors who can meet your needs. Many private practice therapists, non-profit agencies, and public programs are equipped to help people realize these goals.

4. If you're in crisis, call a local, state, or national crisis line.

If you're in crisis, it's important not to wait to get mental health treatment. If you're having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, or otherwise don't feel psychologically safe, tell someone. Most people in the mental health field will know what to do to help you.

In addition to national and international suicide hotlines, many states have statewide, regional, or local mental health crisis lines. Any hotline can help connect you with the right resources, but the people who answer local crisis lines are often more knowledgeable about mental health services in your area and are better equipped to quickly make local referrals.

In order to receive federal funding, states are required to provide essential mental health safety net services including crisis intervention, so every state has a mental health crisis system in place. OpenCounseling is currently compiling information about every state's public mental health system and crisis lines. If your state hasn't been covered yet, you can use your favorite search engine to find the information you need. Combining terms like "mental health crisis" or "crisis line" and the name of your county or city should bring up information about local resources for people in crisis.

The people who answer crisis lines and hotlines are trained to offer compassionate support, transfer you to emergency services when needed, and help set up appointments when you don't need to see someone immediately. They can be good resources even for people who aren't in crisis, as crisis lines often serve as local mental health referral and information lines as well.

5. Consider trying online counseling.

Many people hesitate to try online counseling out of concern it isn't as "real" or as effective as seeing someone in person. However, the advantages of seeing a therapist face-to-face are subtle, not essential. Research shows that online therapy works as well as therapy provided in traditional settings. This makes it an excellent option when local resources are limited.

Online counseling providers are set up to quickly link people with therapists and rarely have wait times. They also try to pair people with counselors who are a good fit. When you can't find the right person locally, it might be a sign that the right therapist is waiting for you online. If you're ready for therapy and have a good internet connection, consider trying BetterHelp  (a sponsor). The right therapist may only be a click away!

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Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Posted on 06/02/2019 by Stephanie Hairston, MSW

Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a masters-level clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments. She has also worked as a technical writer for a medical software company and as an editor for a company that appeals denials of insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment. As a writer, she is motivated by the same desire to help others that brought her into the field of social work and believes that knowledge is one of the most essential recovery tools. She strongly believes in the mission of OpenCounseling and in making therapy accessible for everyone.