Why It Took Me 5 Months to Find A Therapist
Earlier this year I found myself overwhelmed by compounding family issues, feelings of isolation, broken friendships, professional stressors and the pressure of my fast-paced life. After venting to my closest friends I decided that it was time to re-engage my psychotherapy sessions. I have no shame when it come to staying mentally fit. In fact I enjoy dissecting my thoughts and behaviors with a non bias party...counseling is an over thinkers dream lol
Little did I know that the process of finding a new counselor would prove to become just as, if not more stressful than the reasons I needed counseling in the first place! Below I have listed some barriers I faced during my search for a therapist.
Like Finding a Needle in a Haystack
In short, searching online for a therapist was no fun! I started by using my insurance companies online provider search. I found that the online tool was not user friendly and did not give me a wide range of quality options for therapists that matched my search criteria. Eventually I tried the Psychology Today search engine which was a little better but ultimately stressful and time consuming.
Out Of Network and Out of Control
Out of network means that a providers services are not covered by your insurance company which results in you having to pay full price out of pocket for the services... Nah Bruh! Also in my experience, specialized therapy styles such as Art and Drama Therapy were never covered by in network providers.
Currently Not Taking New Clients
Popular/ highly rated counselors or those that were a strong match for my needs often were not taking new clients at the time. This issue further limited my options.
My preference for a counselor was that he/she/they were a person of color. I found that it was difficult to indicate on the databases if the therapist was a person of color especially because photos were not always available.
The Waiting Game
The time it takes to find a therapist can be anywhere from a few days to a few months!! I found it so exhausting that I gave up several times.I started my search in May and found a therapist in September! But even then my intake appointment was a couple weeks after the phone consultation and I did not start my first session until 3 weeks later.
Finally I found a counselor after a 5 month search and oddly enough I found my therapist through a referral after the online search failed me! I must say that it was worth the work and the wait however the search was so exhausting. I can really see how the barriers involved with finding a therapist can turn someone off to the benefits of counseling.
The Experts Advice
I know that my experience is not unique so I reached out for a professional opinion from my sister Tierra. Tierra is a dear friend and North Carolina based mental health professional, educator and advocate. She was kind enough to answer a few questions to provide some perspective and resources for those who may be considering therapy.
Mental Health Educator and Social Worker
What motivated you to work in the mental health field?
If I were to be honest, I don’t know the exact time when I felt motivated to work in the mental health field but I do have a couple of top experiences. Those times included my experience in Baltimore, MD when I attended The University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work and my professional experiences in behavioral health.
When I first moved to Baltimore in 2007 I observed a lot of people that were homeless. This was the first time that I experienced this and I was in shock. The reason I was in shock was because I am from a small town in North Carolina and we did not see “homelessness” on a regular basis or at all for that matter. I knew at that point that people that dealt with a lot of things that created tough life situations and I wanted to help in any way that I could. I’ve always had a heart to help people so this further inspired me to passionately pursue my Master’s Degree in Social Work so that I could learn everything possible and also apply the skills learned via my internships to the populations that I would serve.
When working in behavioral health, I realized how much working in the field impacted my own mental health. I had never experienced such “dark” places and I thought to myself, “How can I be a therapist and need help myself? How could anyone think I would even be credible?” When I think back on those times, I am glad that I sought out help. If I did not help myself and recognize the issue, I would not be here to even contribute to this blog. When people are in those dark spaces, it is very hard to be hopeful. I believe that few people actually WANT to be depressed and I say few because nothing nowadays is 100%. People just need a listening ear and a plan to overcome the obstacle that the face and a solution to a problem that seems unsolvable. Reaching out was the best thing that I could have done and still do. I am thankful for those around me who listen and care and I want to encourage all providers in the mental health field not to be afraid to take care of yourself first. Speak out so you can be mentally equipped to lift others up.
What are your current professional roles?
1-Director of Counseling Services at Johnson C. Smith University
2-Adjunct Professor (School of Social Work) at Johnson C. Smith University
3-Contracted Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Do you think that everyone can benefit from therapy? Why or why not?
I think that everyone can benefit from “someone to talk to”. People have many different opinions about “therapy” and what it entails. The reason for these opinions is because of either good or unpleasant experiences with a therapist or agency or even what they believe culturally. It is important to find the right fit with a therapist so that both the client and the practitioner can build a good rapport and trusting relationship with one another. Life happens to the best of us and if things continue to build, it only takes one circumstance to make someone feel like everything is falling down around them. If the fit is right, then yes…everyone can benefit from therapy. As a therapist, we always want to make sure that we are doing what is in the best interest of the client so it is important to have regular dialogue about the progress that is made during the treatment process.
Have you had any personal challenges finding mental health providers?
Yes, I have had personal challenges finding a mental health provider. The thing is, there are many providers but not all of them accept certain insurances or their fees may not be affordable for some. Being a contracted worker for many years created a lot of barriers because I either could not afford the insurance premiums, the service or I didn’t have adequate coverage. Another barrier was when I actually secured insurance, it did not cover my assessment so I had to go to my primary care physician. I was so frustrated because I wanted to be serviced by a particular provider and I couldn’t so I totally understand when clients feel the same when seeking services.
What advice would you give to people of color who are seeking providers that represent their cultural/racial/ethnic background?
The advice I would give to people of color who are seeking providers that represent their cultural/racial/ethnic background is to spend time researching their websites and other professional sites. I would call them in advance to see if they accept the insurance that they have or if they do not have insurance I would ask them if they have a sliding scale. It also wouldn’t hurt to visit the agency or provider to see how you feel when you are there. Granted, vibes change all the time, but it wouldn’t hurt to go visit if that’s possible. I also wouldn’t count out a provider that did not necessarily represent their background because therapists from different backgrounds have special gifts and talents that could help as well. As long as the person receives the help they need and builds a good relationship with the therapist, that’s all that matters.
What are some of the steps to finding a provider that you think it is essential for people to know?
One of the biggest steps I think is to first acknowledge that you need a little (or a lot of) help and support. If your job has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), it could be worth it to try this out if you just want to see how you like it. Some jobs have certain providers in that network so keep that in mind. Another route could be to see if the county/state has a MCO (Managed Care Organization). This MCO should have an ACCESS line or a number to call for a care coordinator to link them with a provider that would best fit their needs. Also, I would simply ask around (i.e. colleagues, friends and pastors). Some people have had good experiences with a provider and could make an awesome referral. There are also national websites that could be used to finding a provider such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Lastly, some churches, places of worship or spiritual/holistic gathering places have resources that could be useful. As a special note to college students: if possible, seek support from the Counseling Center on campus. The one take away from this is: don’t stop until you find a therapist that works. Just don’t give up. If you feel that you don’t want to repeat your story over and over, it may help to write it down so that you can give it to them as a head start and you can decrease the impact of retelling your story.
What would be your advice to someone who has never tried therapy before?
My advice to someone who has never tried therapy before is to be hopeful and optimistic that things will work and also get better. It may not happen overnight because the concerns didn’t all happen overnight so this is why hope is important here. Also, keep in mind that it may take some time for things to level out so don’t give up on it so quickly. If you need to ask questions, ask them. As a matter of fact, write them down prior to starting so that you can think clearer. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up about it. If you need to bring something to color or doodle on while in therapy, do that. If it helps to bring someone for support, ask about the process for making this happen. Whatever accommodations you need just ask. This is your personal journey; a journey that was not promised to be easy but it will be worth it. When we go through things in life, sometimes it is to help someone else…so that they can see the living, breathing being that made it through the very thing that they are experiencing. Look at it this way, when a person is training for a marathon, they have to do a lot of conditioning to get stronger and sometimes that process is hard…but the good thing is that they get stronger and the pain that they experienced, they realize that they made it through. The athlete is now able to run longer, lift more weight and win more races! The same applies to mental health; once you get through it you will be stronger, you will be better and you will experience more victories!
Can you share some of the common barriers to finding a therapist?
Some common barriers to finding a therapist are: stigma, fear, insurance, finances, transportation, the lack of child care and sometimes….the actual agency J Some agencies lose a lot of clientele because of broken systems and processes. On the other hand, there are lot of changes that happen in the mental health field that are beyond the therapist or agency’s control that cause changes to happen with policies. For this reason, a lot of adjustments have to be made that unfortunately cause barriers to treatment. This is not the case all the time, but it does happen.
Can you provide any online resources that will help facilitate a therapist search?