What To Do When You Can’t Find A Therapist
As we move toward the two-year mark of the changes Covid has brought to our lives, the demand for mental health support has increased dramatically, and making an appointment to see a therapist is often a challenge. Counseling therapy offices may be closed to new clients, or have waiting lists, as well as lengthened wait times between appointments. At a time when psychological support is greatly needed, this is frustrating news.
I’ve been in the counseling field for decades, and have run a solo private psychotherapy practice for twenty years. This is the first year I’ve had to turn people away, to manage an already stretched schedule and my own self-care, since the service I provide is completely dependent upon my own wellbeing.
The stress of this time is pervasive. The need to take care of ourselves has never been greater. While it goes without saying that none of this is ideal, there are things you CAN do, and here are some suggestions.
First, realize that being aware of a need for help is actually positive. (Note, I didn’t say it was comfortable!) When we realize we need some new skills, it’s rarely a happy thought. Most of us have habitual ways of thinking and doing things and don’t look for help or new approaches unless we’re in a pickle. So, start by giving yourself some credit.
What is the most common answer to “How are you today?” You guess it! “I’m fine.” We say it without a thought, yet, are you really fine? What if you answered honestly, and said something like, “To be truthful, I’m having a really hard day.” Most people feel some compassion for others when they hear that. So try to have some compassion for yourself, for going through what might be one of the most challenging times in your life. Treat yourself with the same kindness you show to others.
How bad is it.
If you’ve been struggling, start to keep track of how you’re doing, every day, for a week or two. Note how you feel and what is going on in your life at that time. Therapists also measure three factors: Intensity (How bad is it? 0-10); Frequency (How often is it happening?) and Duration (How long does it last?) Keeping track will help guide you to what the next steps should be, and may clarify what’s making things better or worse.
Help is always available. It may not be available at this moment in the way you might have chosen under other conditions. Online resources for therapy abound. Sites like Betterhelp, Talkspace, and Cerebral hire licensed therapists who see clients over video, phone, and even email. Local hospitals and clinics may also have therapy appointments available for those willing to meet remotely. While having to meet over your computer screen is not ideal, and it’s not the same as being in-person, it can be surprisingly helpful – and, in a time of stress or struggle, it may provide just the scaffolding needed to find your balance and move forward.
Group support is available for specific issues (such as grief or life change) through local hospitals or clinics, and 12-Step programs are a wonderful source of support for any kind of addiction-related challenge; more information on these is readily available online.
And if the intensity, frequency, or duration of the negative feelings are strong or things feel too hard, the next step needs to be calling a crisis line or going to the nearest hospital. People are sometimes afraid of this, in part due to references from books or movies that are no longer current. We have excellent resources in this area, and people really do receive excellent help there. (See below for resource list.)
I regularly ask my clients, “What are you going to do for yourself today?” At first, I might get a “deer in the headlights” look in response. If the answer is “I don’t know,” then you’re overthinking it. The term “self care” is commonly thrown around and often misunderstood. Here is a simple way to look at it. What are some things you might do for the loved ones in your life when they’re having a hard time? What were some kind gestures people have shown you when you were struggling? Take the time to do an act of kindness for yourself! While it’s true that those little things like buying yourself a bouquet of flowers next time you’re at the grocery store will not dramatically change your life, they might lift your spirits a bit, and every little bit helps.
Self-care doesn’t need to be fancy or cost money. It can include anything that brings you a lift or a sense of peace. It might be giving yourself a few extra quiet minutes to listen to sit and look out the window, or take the time to put some nice smelling lotion on your hands, or sing with a favorite song in your car for a few minutes before you run to your next errand. These are tiny, incremental, gestures you can do for yourself. And then, build momentum by doing at least one of them every day! And building a habit of taking some time every day to be kinder to yourself feels good.
Quiet the mind.
Meditation has been shown to help depression, anxiety, mental clarity, and overall mood. While the idea of meditation can feel overwhelming to people who haven’t experienced it, there are easy ways to begin. One is by simply counting as you inhale, hold briefly, and count as you exhale. Counting can distract the busy mind and keep the focus on the breath, which centers us. For the past several years I’ve been recommending meditation apps to my clients because people find them so helpful. Some of my favorites are Calm, Insight Timer, and Ten Percent Happier, but there are many available. Most offer guided (spoken) meditations, music or nature sounds, or simply a meditation timer with no sound. Many also offer a free trial period, so you can find one that fits for you. Taking time to be in nature, and time for prayer or quiet contemplation are also extremely beneficial. Even giving yourself 10-15 minutes a day to create this mental quiet will help.
When we move the body, the mind moves as well. A leading expert on trauma said recently that if everyone exercised for one hour a day, there would be very little need for psychotherapy! The key is to start somewhere and make it easy. Don’t overthink it. Consider movement on a spectrum, and find what feels right to you. Of course you could join a gym if you want to, but simply walking is also great.
Miranda Esmonde-White, author of Aging Backwards, suggests trying to move our joints in every direction they naturally move, every day. This could be as simple as standing up to stretch, shrug, and wiggle your fingers. The options for movement classes are vast (from vigorous workout to chair yoga for beginners), available online or on TV, requiring very little effort to start. Get some movement every day.
Pay attention to food and drink.
This topic is endless. The point is, what we eat and drink causes us to feel a certain way. Most people recognize this, even if they are reluctant to change their habits. Just learning to be aware of how you’re feeling and what you’re eating is a good place to start. Eating irregularly can cause blood sugar dips that can look and feel like depression. Sugar and caffeine cause us to spike and then crash. Alcohol is a depressant. Dehydration from not drinking enough water causes headaches, low energy, and GI issues. Many people experience certain foods “disagreeing” with them, and the inflammation caused by dietary issues has an impact on the entire system. The bottom line is that it’s not just our physical bodies, but also our moods that are affected, so awareness is key, especially if you’re dealing with depression or anxiety.
Natural and homeopathic remedies.
This topic, too, is endless. There are many options and resources available, but if you’re taking any kind of prescription medication, do proceed with caution and check with your medical professional before trying.
Some of the things I’ve recommended include herbal teas, like Chamomile (which is very calming) or Licorice Root (which is energizing). There is a product called “Calms” or “Calms Forte” made by Hylands, which is helpful for stress and sleep. I also like “Rescue Remedy” made by Bach, which is a homeopathic remedy combination that comes in many forms, and which is very useful for mood issues, and feelings of stress. The sleep formulation also includes an additional homeopathic remedy to specifically target the churning thoughts and busy mind that can keep us awake. The Bach “flower remedies” in general are very user-friendly and address specific emotional states. Their website is helpful, but I recommend talking with a health professional who works with homeopathy.
It’s also a good idea for people experiencing depression symptoms to get a Vitamin D test. Low vitamin D levels, or difficulty metabolizing vitamin D, can look and feel like depression.
This is a challenging time.
One of the hardest parts is that we can feel a loss of control. We don’t know when things will “get back to normal,” and in the meantime, we are often frustrated with changes and restrictions. Here is a piece of advice. When we feel a loss of control, it is important to find something that we CAN control. (Please note, other living things do not fall into this category!) Anything you can do to feel a sense of structure, organization, mastery, or measurable improvement can be helpful in this regard.
If the thought feels daunting, break it down into smaller pieces. Again, don’t overthink it – just pick something. It may sound too simple, but when you take a step, such as straightening your desk, folding laundry, following a new recipe, or using a language app to learn Swedish with three new words a day (as I’m currently doing!), you’re helping your brain to switch gears.
Of course it will not change the planet if your sock drawer is so neat that Marie Kondo herself would congratulate you, but while you’re making order out of chaos, and then appreciating the order you’ve created, you have brought yourself a lift or a small bit of peace, and demonstrated that you can help yourself feel a little better, which is a good start.
Dianne Frances, MFA, MS, LPC, NCC
Dianne has been a private practice psychotherapist for 20 years.
Mental Health Crisis Resources
(Note - This list is not comprehensive – many more resources are listed online)
Emergency Medical Services—call 911
Immediate emergency help for potentially dangerous situations, 24/7
Waukesha County - Crisis Intervention: During regular business hours, contact the outpatient clinic at (262) 548-7666 and ask to speak with a crisis worker. During non-business hours, contact Impact 2-1-1 via the Waukesha County hotline at (262) 547-3388 and ask to speak with a Waukesha County mental health crisis worker.
Milwaukee County - Psychiatric Crisis Line/Hotline available 24/7. Provides immediate emergency counseling and referral information. (414) 257-7222
Aurora Psychiatric Hospital 1220 Dewey Ave, Wauwatosa, WI 53213 (414) 454-6600, open 24/7
Rogers Behavioral Health (Hospital)
34700 Valley Rd, Oconomowoc, WI 53066
(262) 646-4411, open 24/7
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat
Trained crisis workers available 24/7. Confidential and free. Crisis center referrals.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
Mental health and local treatment service info. Phone staff available M-F, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
Warmline: Peer-run support line for those with mental illness.
This is not a crisis line. (414) 777-4729