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Wait Times for Therapy Appointments at Harvard Reach Six Weeks Amid Increased Demand

Students seeking therapy appointments with Harvard's Counseling and Mental Health Services face a six-week-long wait time.
Students seeking therapy appointments with Harvard's Counseling and Mental Health Services face a six-week-long wait time. By Michelle H. Aye
By Lucas J. Walsh and Vivian Zhao, Crimson Staff Writers

Want to see a therapist at Harvard?

You may have to wait a while.

With demand for mental health care soaring nationwide, Harvard University Health Services is in the process of hiring additional clinicians, administrators said last month. But the wait time for new patients to get a therapy appointment with Counseling and Mental Health Services is currently around six weeks long, according to Barbara Lewis, the chief of CAMHS.

Lewis said in an interview the current wait times are “not ideal” given that the semester is only 14 weeks long. She pointed to alternative mental health services CAMHS offers, however, including a 24/7 hotline the school launched last August and urgent care options.

Around 3,200 students had clinical appointments with CAMHS last fall, per Lewis — a figure that does not include urgent care, CAMHS workshops and groups, or the CAMHS hotline. The hotline, which allows affiliates to receive immediate support from licensed therapists, has received more than 1,600 calls since its launch, Lewis said. Students can also get same-day urgent care appointments on business days by calling CAMHS.

CAMHS currently employs 36 clinicians and is searching for more, Lewis wrote in a February email — up from the 32 last fall, but a net decrease from 2018 when it employed 41.

“Through the pandemic, a lot of staff decided to either retire or go into private practice, or do something else,” Lewis said. “We’ve had a lot of turnover.”

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, therapists have seen greater demand nationwide. According to an August 2021 report from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of adults struggle with mental health or substance abuse disorders.

“It’s practically impossible to get a therapist these days,” Nguyen said in the same interview last month. “We’ve seen a lot of folks who have felt like they need to back away from doing that line of work because it’s so difficult — and, in particular, on Zoom.”

CAMHS launched a committee in October to examine and model access to mental health care at Harvard following a recommendation put forth by a 2020 mental health task force convened by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76. The group, which consists of around 15 members, meets once per month.

“We are looking at both our model of care — sort of an overall view of CAMHS — and thinking about what we should be providing, what we can provide,” Lewis said.

—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at lucas.walsh@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Vivian Zhao can be reached at vivian.zhao@thecrimson.com.

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HealthSchool of Public HealthMental HealthGlobal HealthFront Middle Feature