Three Tips for Scheduling a Therapy Appointment During the Pandemic.
Updated: Feb 8
It's January, and you might be looking for a new therapist, or going back to therapy. That's great that you are taking care of your mental health! And yet it is challenging to find a therapist in our second year of a pandemic. I have heard some folks say that they are in contact with up to ten therapists at a time to get an appointment. That is too much, and clearly, a sign that our mental health system that is sorely underfunded needs to change. In the meantime, here are 3 things that are helpful to share when scheduling a new appointment.
1. What brings you to therapy? You don’t need to share your life story on the first contact, especially if what you are coming to counseling for leaves you feeling vulnerable. But share something related to the counseling milieu that will help give the therapist a clue if you are going to be a good match. This can be brief especially if you are sending an email or leaving a voicemail. “I am seeking therapy for stressors at work,” or “my mother just passed away,” are enough to help the therapist not only match with you but remember what you are coming to therapy for at the first appointment. One or two sentences help a seasoned therapist know if they need to ask you more questions, or if perhaps they need to refer you.
2. Are you using insurance or paying out of pocket? Most therapists list what insurance they are in-network with on their website if they are private pay or both. Insurance is one of the top 3 reasons a therapist will make an appointment with you or not. It is often assumed that therapists take insurance, or that they are paneled with most insurance companies, and that is not always the case. Unlike a doctor’s office with a biller, administrative assistant, and other team members, the therapist is often a solo practitioner. In our industry, it is often recommended that if we take insurance that we only panel with a few that are often used locally. If you are out of network and willing to contact your insurance for some reimbursement, let the counselor know this too- sometimes if a counselor is highly skilled it can be worth it to go out of network. You can also use an HSA or FSA credit card with most providers which gives you some tax-free therapy appointments. Be sure to visit their website as this will help you get a felt sense of who they are, as well as answer financial questions.
3. Share a few times that work for you to meet. Sometimes therapists list their schedule online, and many only work a few preset days a week. Scheduling is also a big factor for getting an appointment, and yes, many people do prefer to see their therapist after work or on the weekends. The reality is that we set our own hours, and even if we see clients 5 days a week, that means we only have a few after-hours or later in the day hours to work with. Can you use your lunch hour to see your therapist, or flex your hours at work? Legally your job does have to let you take leave for medical appointments, and you are not required to share the nature of your medical visit. In my experience, a person scheduling a 1 or 2 PM appointment is more likely to get a standing appointment with me than a 4 PM, which is my last appointment of the day.
As a counselor, I am aware that it is harder to get in to see therapists currently. I am sharing these tips to help you help the therapist make an appointment with you. Our system is overwhelmed and ultimately with have a mental health system that is not sustainable. I know it can be frustrating, but if your counselor doesn’t call you back, please don’t take it out on that individual. They might be working without assistance, or they forgot to list that they aren’t taking new patients. It doesn’t hurt to reach out again because that email could have gone to their spam folder, or they might have just missed your message. I myself see no more than 15 patients a week, so it is common for me to open my practice to new clients for a few weeks, and then close again.
If you want to advocate for yourself while also supporting your local therapists- talk directly to your insurance about your struggles to find someone that is in-network. Legally insurance is required to contract enough providers to see their subscribers.
And please be aware that not all therapists offer free consultations. There has been an uptick in this request with so many social media outlets discussing mental health. While this is great in many respects, it places an undue burden on counselors that do not have the time to provide this. It is certainly okay to ask questions before the meeting, but please also ask if they offer this rather than assuming that everyone in our industry does this practice.
Therapists you reach out to might also not be seeing clients in person. Currently,
insurance companies are not only allowing virtual appointments, but some are even offering to waive copays or coinsurance if you choose virtual over in person. It’s okay to ask and it will help the provider know if they need to refer you.
You are taking a courageous step in addressing your mental health. I hope you find all the help you need to grow, heal, and thrive.
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Thank you for reading, and warm wishes to you and yours!