What To Do While You're On a Therapist's Wait List
You’re ready to start seeing a therapist. You make the call, only to find out there’s a 6 month wait list, minimum. Now what?
MDW reached out to Dr. Melissa Sharp, clinical psychologist and owner of Dr. Melissa Sharp and Associates in St. Charles, Illinois, to shine the light on the severe uptick in wait times to see a mental health practitioner. Dedicated to providing a sensitive and caring environment for mental health care, Dr. Sharp and her team treats each client with compassion and respect.
In this informative Q & A, Dr. Sharp identifies why the waitlists are so long, and what women can do to while they’re waiting to begin therapy - offering tangible and practical tools for success.
MDW: Why are waitlists so long, and how long will I be on one before I see a therapist?
Dr. Melissa Sharp: There is a shortage of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health therapists in the United States which started even before the pandemic. However, the stress of the pandemic has caused more people to seek therapy, which has further increased the shortage.
Rather than turn people away, many therapists have created a waiting list for those willing. Most people come to therapy for several months, and a significant number continue to use therapy for many years. Unlike going to the dentist once every 6 months, most patients attend therapy for an hour a week or biweekly. Therefore, once a therapist gets a new patient, this person is often seen for an hour a week and might continue to do so for the next 6 months to a year or longer.
This limits the number of patients that a therapist can have on their caseload and makes it difficult to predict when they will have an opening in their schedule.
We don’t know how long a patient is going to be in therapy.
Complicating it further, some people begin spacing out their appointments to biweekly or monthly, some take time off therapy for a surgery, an illness, or get busy with work (or some other reason) and then return a few weeks or so later. These are reasons that make it difficult to figure out the “right” number of patients to have on your caseload without under- or over-scheduling yourself.
Many of us began taking on more patients than we normally see or cut out breaks in our day in order to accommodate the increase in demand; however; that was a recipe for burnout and could not be sustained. So even just getting one or two calls a week can add up quickly on a waiting list when a busy therapist may only have an opening for a new patient once every month or so. I have some part-time associates who have smaller caseloads with very long term patients and only have an opening about once every six months or so.
MDW: What are some easy tools and strategies women can use while they’re waiting?
MS: Journaling about your problem for about 20 minutes a day for about 4 days in a row without censoring your thoughts can help bring clarity and insight.
Daily meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression when done consistently for at least 8 weeks. Meditating in the same spot (a specific location) at the same time helps establish a routine and will help cue your brain to the task. Just start with a short amount of time (even if just for a minute or two) and see if you can work your way up to 10 minutes or more.
There are many apps that can help with meditation and guided meditation is much easier than unguided. You can also do a walking meditation if sitting is challenging or you have a lot of anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is another technique that helps reduce stress and create relaxation. Some people prefer this to meditation, especially if they have a lot of physical anxiety.
Listening to uplifting podcasts, music, or reading true stories of inspiration might help change your perspective and direct your thoughts and feelings away from the negative and onto the positive.
Sign up for a fun class! Exercise, the arts, crafts, cooking, etc. This will take your mind off the negative and onto something positive and productive. It will also force you to be around people, which can be helpful, even if you feel like isolating yourself.
Engage in creative projects or express your feelings through art. For example, buy some special colored chalk called pastels and some thicker paper, turn on some beautiful classical music and express your feelings through your art creations!
Join a support group - online or in person: - Emotions Anonymous is modeled after the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-steps model but in this group can be applied to anything. I’ve been told that working the 12-step model is the “western way to achieving enlightenment.”
- AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and Smart Recovery are both self-help groups for addictions. AA has a religious component (higher power) while Smart Recovery does not.
- Al-Anon is a free support group for individuals whose loved ones are suffering from an addiction. There are groups for adults and teens.
- DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) has free support groups usually held in local hospitals and has a support group and an educational component.
- Fox Valley Hands of Hope offers free individual and support groups for grief and is located in Geneva.
- Resolve.org is an organization that offers support for women experiencing infertility that includes local support groups.
- NAMI.org is an organization with resources for mental illness
MDW: If being online and on social media is a trigger for unnecessary stress, what do you recommend your clients do to unplug? Is there a certain amount of time we should be spending off-line?
MS: Social media and the news are both well-known triggers for anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. I would recommend reading news articles rather than watching the news on television or listening to it on the radio so you can pick and choose what you read. Also, I do not recommend engaging in social media or the news just before bedtime because whatever you are thinking about before you fall asleep is going to affect your sleep quality and your dreams. Set limits for yourself with social media and stick to whatever guidelines you create, whether it’s limiting the amount of time or when (time of day) you look at social media.
The best is little to no social media, but if you really want to include social media in your life I would recommend no more than 30 minutes a day. Fill your time with something of value - even if it’s just relaxing - because relaxing is definitely valuable to your health and sense of well-being. Engage in a hobby like reading a fun book, doing crafts, hanging with your pets or human loved ones, journaling, going for a walk, or calling a friend on the phone.
MDW: Any online platforms, books, blogs to subscribe to that you prefer?
A book I often recommend to my patients is called, Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It’s the true story of a man who was able to create happiness for himself even while he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Another book I recommend is called, Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This is a true story of how a woman whose entire family was murdered in the Rwandan civil war of 1995 was able to find peace and release all anger.
Healthjourneys.com is a great resource for guided imagery for just about any mental or physical problem there is.
The CALM app is an excellent app for learning relaxation tools such as guided meditations, breathing exercises, sleep stories, and even tools for children.
HeartMath.com is a website where you can learn about a well-researched tool for improving focus, sleep, feelings of calm, reducing anxiety, fatigue, and depression.
ADDitude magazine is a great resource for those with ADHD. Visit additudemag.com
MDW: Any other tips for success?
MS: Yes! Eating healthy (lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar and processed foods), exercising, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, and having some time (even if just 15 minutes a day) for yourself are all important as well. Our physical and mental health are tied together so don’t ignore your body.
Good quality vitamins (Vimergy is probably one of the best quality brands of vitamin) such as B-12 and B-Complex, Vitamin C, Zinc, D3, and Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Threonate are good to take since most of us are deficient in these vitamins and help maintain your immune system and nervous system/brain functioning.
Chamomile and Ashwaganda are supplements that can help calm the nervous system and are safe to take.
Create an environment that is calming and soothing to support yourself such as: lighting an unscented candle (many scented candles contain toxic chemicals), listening to relaxing music, buying fresh flowers, keeping a clean and organized home, and taking an epsom salt bath.
Adapt an attitude of self-compassion. Kristin Neff is an author, researcher, and educator, AKA the guru of self-compassion!
More about Dr. Melissa Sharp:
Dr. Melissa Sharp specializes in helping clients who have been stuck and unable to change unhelpful feelings, thoughts, and behaviors by using an innovative therapy called Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT) TM. RRT is a cognitive-experiential approach to creating desirable changes in a shorter time-frame than most traditional forms of therapy. In this approach, the subconscious mind is engaged to quickly and painlessly create positive and enduring changes.
Dr. Sharp has effectively treated a variety of issues such as trauma-related stress (PTSD), grief, panic attacks, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors, guilt, resentment, and low self-esteem using RRT.
Learn more about individual and group therapy with Dr. Sharp and her team at drmelissasharpandassociates.com