Providers deal with increased demand for psychotherapy

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need for psychotherapy has increased, causing small practices and larger health care providers to adapt to the higher demand.

“Both the number of people coming to therapy and the number of people attempting to come are frustrated ... practices are overwhelmed,” said Herbert Jay Rosenfield, licensed clinical social worker, founder and director of Adolescent & Family Counseling Center in Cheshire.

COVID-19 has created additional stressors in people’s lives, which has caused more people to seek therapy.

“It really has continued to disrupt lives and impact the way business has been done as we once knew it,” said Elizabeth Calandra, therapist at Silver City Counseling in Meriden. “It seems as though our sense of security has been compromised and we really don’t know what to expect day to day ... COVID has taken a toll on people’s relationships, employment, the ability to socialize with family and friends, people have been more isolated and disconnected ...  And connectedness is key. We need to feel connected.” 

Because of the growing need for appointments, Calandra said they are opening two additional Silver City locations. At the height of the pandemic, they did have to open a waiting list for the first time since opening six years ago. Currently, there is no wait list. 

Adolescent & Family Counseling Center, however, does have a wait list. Most of the staff haven’t returned to seeing clients in-person and have increased their average caseload per week to accommodate the demand.

“For us it has been more stressful as well,” Rosenfield said. “Staff see clients at times when they weren’t previously working … Even with scheduling, because everyone’s lives are to a degree turned upside down by this COVID-19, clients are more frequently either needing to change their scheduled appointments to another time or being forgetful and a higher percentage of last minute cancellations, breaking appointments or no show/missed appointments ... leaves the staff member frustrated.”

Calandra said virtual appointments have been a “silver lining” because it has helped Silver City accommodate the increased demand. At the beginning of the pandemic, Calandra said clients had to transition to get used to the virtual appointments, but now she thinks they have embraced them.

“It has been positive in the sense that people have been able to receive the treatment that is needed,” Calandra said. “Eliminating some of the barriers such as transportation, time — so I think that in the beginning, yes it was a little bit challenging for people to see that as a way of receiving therapy, but I think that now we’re moving into a new way of doing things and I think that people have adjusted.” 

John Santopietro, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare, said virtual visits have skyrocketed across the healthcare network. In 2019, there were 356 virtual visits at Hartford HealthCare, while in 2020, there were 420,000 virtual visits, Santopietro said. 

“Almost 70,000 of them were over the telephone,” Santopietro said. “People think virtual they think Zoom, but not everybody has a computer, not everybody has a smartphone … We’ve had to be really innovative. There’s still a demand.”

Laura Saunders, psychologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Institute for Living, said that while mental health providers are taking on more clients to meet the demand, they are also handling their own stressors caused by the pandemic. 

“We too are doing our best to manage changes in workload, trying to balance home and work and those other stressors and many of us work in teams so we do our best to support each other in the work that we are doing, but we, too, have experienced some of the same negative effects of COVID as the general population,” Saunders said.

While COVID-19 has created additional stressors and exacerbated others, Saunders said that the pandemic has allowed for more people to feel comfortable coming out and saying they need therapy or other help.

“It’s created a conversation...there’s a lot of people struggling with anxiety, isolation, excess worry, financial issues and things that are ticking points for mental health,” Saunders said.


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