October is a beautiful time in New England, and a favorite season for many folks: the changing leaves that crunch beneath our feet, the crisp air that has us embracing “sweater weather,” the spooky spiderwebs and jack-o’-lanterns reminding us Halloween is around the corner.

Speaking of spooky... October also happens to be the time when some of the more ghoulish realities of the academic year set in. Perhaps not so coincidentally, October 10 is also Mental Health Awareness Day. With these themes in mind, I felt it was the perfect time to revisit the emotional spoke of the wellness wheel and connect with my colleagues in CAMHS about how to weave our own “spiderweb of support”!

One of the best—and most prominent—resources at Harvard is Counseling and Mental Health Services, widely known as CAMHS. CAMHS offers many services dedicated to emotional and mental health, such as short-term counseling, psychiatry, workshops, groups, and the CAMHS Cares 24/7 support line for Harvard students (617-495-2042). CAMHS also offers referrals to community providers, tapping into a large network that can help you build your web of support.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the CAMHS referral coordinator. She answered some frequently asked questions and provided information intended to help students feel more like the spider and less the fly in their efforts to get unstuck.

What are “wait times”? What are the current wait times at CAMHS?

“Wait times” refers to the waiting period before contacting a provider and your first appointment. Depending on many factors including demand for providers, variation in schedules, time of year, etc., wait times can be a few days, a few weeks, or even longer.

At CAMHS, initial consults currently are booking about one month out.

I am feeling nervous or frustrated about the wait times to see a provider. What can I do in the meantime to get help and/or to bolster myself until my appointment?

If you decide that you want to see a provider at CAMHS, take an appointment even if it seems “too far away” or if you are not sure if you need it. There may be a cancellation so they can fit you in earlier than expected.

In the meantime, please make sure to focus on all elements of the wellness wheel! Engage in workshops and groups, practice meditation and mindfulness, take care of your physical health, listen to podcasts, practice self-care and get engaged with others, check out additional resources (such as meeting with Student Services and Chaplain Services) and more to help manage stress. And if you’re experiencing distress and need clinical support, remember to call CAMHS Cares (617-495-2042).

How do I even reach out to a community therapist? What do you typically recommend?

Start by reaching out to 5-10 therapists to “cast a wide net.” Whether you plan to email or call, write a script. Include that you are a Harvard student (many clinicians like working with students), your insurance information, and ask about scheduling an initial phone consult. Make sure to leave a voicemail if you choose to call.

When searching, try not to focus on the therapist’s degree. All therapists are trained and licensed. It is more important to consider fit and experience working with issues similar to yours. A therapist’s degree is not a predictor of client outcomes.

Try not to be a perfectionist in the outreach stage. You can only tell so much by a short biography and it’s best to hop on a call with a clinician to see if you click. By speaking with them you will be able to gather more information and gauge therapeutic fit.

If you don’t hear back from a therapist, it’s likely because their practice is full. Try not to get discouraged and reach out to others. If you are feeling stuck, reach out to the CAMHS Referral Coordinator for additional tips and referrals.

Finally, it may be helpful to expand your search for a mental health provider to the Greater Boston area and beyond in Massachusetts, particularly if you are comfortable with speaking to someone online. At this time, many therapists have not yet transitioned to seeing clients in person and continue to offer telehealth only.

I met with a provider but am not sure they are the right fit, is this normal?

Yes. Therapists are like any other relationship. There are folks we click with and others we don’t. Find someone you think may be able to help you achieve your goals, who has experience working with concerns similar to yours, and that you trust—though this last may take time. Just as with medical doctors and other health care providers, it often takes at least three sessions to know if a therapist is a good fit.

If you feel stuck in this process, reset. Use your resources and web of support.

Be kind to and take good care of yourselves and one another. Remember to visit B-2 in person or virtually and, above all, B-Well!

B-2 B-Well: Weaving Your Web of Support

Photo by Tony Rinaldo