Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Right Now
Dec. 17, 2021 New York Times
Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.
“All the therapists I know have experienced a demand for therapy that is like nothing they have experienced before,” said Tom Lachiusa, a licensed clinical social worker in Longmeadow, Mass. “Every available time slot I can offer is filled.”
The New York Times asked 1,320 mental health professionals to tell us how their patients were coping as pandemic restrictions eased. General anxiety and depression are the most common reasons patients seek support, but family and relationship issues also dominate therapy conversations. One in four providers said suicidal thoughts were among the top reasons clients were seeking therapy.
“I regularly wished aloud for a mental health version of Dr. Fauci to give daily briefings,” said Lakeasha Sullivan, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta. “I tried to normalize the wide range of intense emotions people felt; some thought they were truly going crazy.”
The responses to our survey, sent by Psychology Today to its professional members, offer insights into what frontline mental health workers around the country are hearing from their clients. We heard from mental health providers in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. (You can learn more about how we conducted our survey at the end of this article.)
While there were moments of optimism about telemedicine and reduced stigma around therapy, the responses painted a mostly grim picture of a growing crisis, which several therapists described as a “second pandemic” of mental health problems.
“There is so much grief and loss,” said Anne Compagna-Doll, a clinical psychologist in Burbank, Calif. “One of my clients, who is usually patient, is experiencing road rage. Another client, who is a mom of two teens, is fearful and doesn’t want them to leave the house. My highly work-motivated client is considering leaving her career. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise and fatigue.”
Here are some of the findings from the survey.
Demand has surged.
Nine out of 10 therapists say the number of clients seeking care is on the rise, and most are experiencing a significant surge in calls for appointments, longer waiting lists and difficulty meeting patient demand.
“I live in a rural town, but I still get approximately seven to 10 inquiries a week that I have to turn away,” said Amy Wagner, a marriage and family therapist in Carrollton, Ga. “I know the other therapists in my area are also full and have been since the pandemic started.”
“Every single day there are new inquiries,” said Jacent Wamala, a marriage and family therapist in Las Vegas. “People are having to deal with the aftershock, emotionally and mentally, of what has happened.”
Respondents said the higher demand was coming from both former patients who had returned for care and from new clients seeking therapy for the first time for anxiety, financial stress, substance use, job worries and other issues that have surfaced during the upheaval of the past 18 months. Many therapists say they are counseling health care workers who have been traumatized by caring for Covid-19 patients.
“The pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities,” said Gabriela Sehinkman, a licensed clinical social worker in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who specializes in serving the Latino community.
And while the pandemic has been polarizing, our analysis found that the higher demands for therapy are happening in every region, and at similar rates in red and blue states.
“Even if some clients don’t recognize certain scientific aspects of the pandemic, they’re still feeling the isolation and separation,” said Nathan Staley, a licensed professional counselor in Kansas City, Mo. “Political disagreements are increasingly a source of distress.”