Catching a Counselling Appointment
The era of COVID-19 has seen an interest in counselling services unlike anything else in my lifetime.
When the pandemic started, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Would many of my clients drop away? Would my phone fall silent? Would my inbox be empty? To my surprise, not only did none of this happen, I saw an unprecedented increase in the need for support from current, past and potential clients. And I was, and continue to be, honoured to support as best as I can.
Current clients have commented that it can be hard to find an appointment in my online schedule (pre-booking is always recommended!), and potential clients have been taken aback by the length of my waiting list, which I have had to close for the time being. Sorry, friends.
But this isn’t an article about my practice per se and the intricacies of my waiting list. This article is about giving some context to the dilemma of finding counselling during this global crisis and steps you can take to help you secure an appointment. I will also discuss some strategies to cope if you are on a counselling waiting list.
If you need to go into prequel territory, please see my now-vintage article, Finding a Therapist or check out a more recent article about the inner machinations of counselling waiting lists. I also have a new therapist checklist if you want to organize your search.
And, I’ll also add, that as the shape of the pandemic continues to change–particularly as vaccines are picking up speed–you may read this article in the future and find it less relevant. When the pandemic is wrapping up, will there still be a heavy demand for counselling services? Will we be returning to our regularly scheduled lives or struggling with the transition to “normal life” and in need of support? Who knows? Uncertainty seems to be the one thing I can bank on these days. At the risk of flattering the counselling profession, however, there will always be a need for therapy, no matter what is going on.
Common Appointment-Securing Obstacles
The following factors may be more true during a global crisis, however, can also occur at other times too.
Community or Societal Need
Demand for sessions increase when communities are in crisis or our society is facing a major event, severely affecting a disproportionate amount of people and their personal situations.
Therapists who have a good reputation in the community are in higher demand and often have waiting lists.
The longer a therapist has been practicing and maintaining a vibrant practice, the more repeat clients they have. It’s not uncommon for clients to reconnect with the same therapist over various points in their lifespan, particularly if they have a good connection with the therapist and they feel that the therapist knows them well.
Community agencies providing counselling may not have the funds to adequately staff their services their counselling program may have been cut altogether.
Mental Health Concerns
Certain conditions like depression, anxiety or ADHD affect the way the brain processes information, which can make the task of finding a therapist and securing an appointment, difficult.
Structural Inequities in Accessing Counselling
Examples include racism, poverty, sexism, gender discrimination, ableist culture, homophobia/ biphobia/transphobia, fatphobia and other forms of discrimination.
Many cities, like Vancouver, have an overwhelming amount of counsellors, making it difficult to process who has appointments available and who doesn’t. Further, there is no universal method for discerning this.
Counselling is expensive and waiting lists for subsidized counselling tend to be longer than those for private counsellors.
Example include counsellors that don’t return calls or emails or haven’t received client messages, potential clients who miss replying to counsellors messages and technology breakdowns which lead to communication breakdowns.
Tips To Secure A Sooner Appointment
- When finding a counsellor, have several options available. Getting your heart set on one therapist is often a road to disappointment.
- Call the therapist first. Have a preliminary phone or video chat to help you determine if it is a good fit before booking. It can be pretty frustrating to have a paid introductory session, realize that it’s not a good fit and then re-start the journey to find someone new. It’s happened to me and it wasn’t fun.
- Get organized. Have a method for tracking whom you have consulted with and whom you haven’t and what your impressions were. This will save time and confusion.
- Ask trusted friends, family or health practitioners for a referral to a counsellor that has helped them or their clients. A minority of counsellors operate on a referral-basis only when it comes to accepting new clients and some counsellors also prioritize referrals.
- Ask potential counsellors whether they have a cancellation list. Some do, some don’t. Getting in on a cancellation could secure you a sooner appointment, but it’s important to ask beforehand what the timing of subsequent appointments would look like, before signing up for cancellations. Will you be returned to the cancellation list or can you book in regularly after that
- If there are a few counsellors or counselling agencies that interest you, consider joining more than one waiting list, to maximize the chances of your name coming up sooner.
- Minimize Internet researching by using a counselling directory, allowing you to see counsellor profiles with less searching. Use an article like Finding a Therapist, to help identify important qualities in choosing a reputable counsellor.
…And a Few Hints While You Wait
- Utilize more informal supports until you can get your appointment. There can be great therapeutic value in a walk with a friend, participating in spiritual life (if important to you), communing with nature, or a support group in the community, as a few examples.
- Ask the therapist to make suggestions while you are on the waiting list. Therapists may be able to make a general suggestion or suggestions for you during the course of a pre-counselling consultation. It is important to note, however, that because these consultations tend to be brief, the suggestion will not necessarily be as specific as you would receive after a full counselling appointment, as the therapist has not had the opportunity to talk with you in depth.
- Consider a bridging counselling service, like an employee assistance program, if you have that option, or a short-term counselling or crisis service. This can sometimes be a way of dealing with more pressing issues or acute distress until you can see your counsellor of choice.
- Explore the value of reading and research: articles, books, blog posts, apps and podcasts which address the issues you are seeking help with, can sometimes provide a head start to get you thinking and learning more, before your counselling appointment. Some folks like to take notes about what they are reading, as discussion points in a future therapy session, or as journal prompts to promote more self-reflection.
- If you can’t wait, or you need a crisis service, not a counselling service, please connect with the local crisis service in your community for immediate support and problem-solving. If you are in British Columbia you may call 1-800-SUICIDE, 24/7 or check the crisis services list on my lower cost counselling resource guide, by scrolling to the bottom.
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