Moving to college involves adjusting to changes on many levels. Among these challenges is transferring to a new therapist and this can be difficult for a college student. While some therapists are licensed in multiple states, many are not. Continuing with an existing therapist may not be an option or the student may never had had a therapist and is starting from scratch.
College mental health centers are overwhelmed and often funnel counseling requests into existing support groups or limit the number of sessions students may access per semester. Young adults have often told us that the services are inadequate and often leave them adrift. So, what’s a college student to do? Here are our tips:
- Give the college mental health center a try. It may be that a brief intervention will be useful, or a group will provide the necessary support. Therapists in these settings often have extensive experience working with college students. On the other hand, sometimes these clinicians are students themselves, training to become therapists and doing their field work in the counseling center. The only way to know if the counseling center will be helpful is to check it out.
- Ask a previous therapist or pediatrician for recommendations. Sometimes they know someone in or near the college town and a direct referral to a trusted and effective clinician is the best place to start. Sadly, this approach may run into a dead end; many colleges are outside urban areas and finding a known therapist in a college town is often a longshot.
- Call the college counseling center and ask them who they refer to in the community. They typically have a good awareness of local therapists and may be able to get you moving in the right direction.
- Reach out to local doctors’ offices, asking for the names of mental health providers that they trust for college students.
- Follow up with phone calls to therapists that appear to meet your needs. Ask a previous therapist to vet them by looking at their website and giving them a call if indicated.
- Consider accessing a therapist in another state or distant from the school that is licensed in the state the school is located. Many psychologists participate in an interstate compact and social workers and other mental health professions will likely have this access soon.
- Get on waiting lists. Many therapists are full and getting on as many waiting lists as possible may be your best chance to get in to see someone quickly.
- Check in with a previous therapist when home on break or long weekends, if possible.
- Ask parents for help implementing these suggestions. Taking on this task while also managing classes and adjusting to college life may just be too much.
Access to mental healthcare in this country is impacted by a shortage of mental health providers. It is estimated that we are currently need an additional 8,000 providers to adequately meet the need. Colleges in large urban environments will likely have more resources, while colleges that are in more rural areas will be impacted by the mental health provider shortage more significantly. When they need is great, devote the effort to find a therapist or ask for help finding a mental health professional from those who have the ability to do the legwork.