The US shortage of Therapists is a problem. Psychiatrists? Not so much.

By Sam Allen

Nervousness spread through me as I read a Bay News 9 article titled: “Across Much of US, A Serious Shortage of Psychiatrists.” The article claimed that despite growing awareness of mental illness, a shortage of psychiatrists is becoming an increasing problem. My mind instantly filled with thoughts of people across the nation with mental illnesses that were going unaddressed. But then I remembered my first encounter with a psychiatrist and soon after changed my mind.

The year before I moved to Tampa I was terrified that I had been developing some type of mood disorder, so I was turned over to a psychiatrist like so many other cogs in the pharmaceutical machine. After admitting that she had not read my file that my therapist had sent over, the psychiatrist spent a brief 10 minutes with me and decided to prescribe medication. Her words on the subject were as followed, “I don’t think you have a disorder, but take this anyway.”

I angrily left her office without the prescription, appalled by her lack of interest in me or the impact these drugs that I apparently didn’t need would have on my body. She turned out to be right, I don’t have a mood disorder, but she should never have offered me medication.

This country needs a serious reform in the way we screen for mental illness and the care provided for people who genuinely need it. This lack of psychiatrists, who sit at their desks and only glance up at you long enough to scribble you a script, may be a good thing.

We need to focus on providing more Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The therapist I saw before going to the one who simply prescribed me medicine, met with me weekly and drew up plans on how I could change my ever-swinging mood. She helped me manage my stress and suggested meal plans that reduced my sugar intake and would help me sleep better. She encouraged me to work out a few times a week, so that I could blow off steam in a healthy way rather than taking my frustration out on others. Therapists help you work through your problems yourself, giving you the tools necessary to improve your life, especially when things get tough. Unlike therapists, Psychiatrists are medical doctors and can prescribe medication. Even now I turn back to the suggestions of my therapist when I become overwhelmed and think about how I can better manage my mood.

There are certainly people out there who do need a prescription, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help them too. Medication should be a last-resort option, but instead it’s a psychiatrist’s first instinct. This practice is putting a Band-Aid on a serious issue in our society. Going to see a therapist should be a healthy thing that we are not afraid to talk about or admit to. Everyone has problems and occasionally a trained professional is the best person to lend a helping hand.

This overmedication is part of what leads to the stigma of mental illness. All too often the mentally ill are given medication and sent off without any tips or tools on how to manage stress in general. It made me feel helpless to be sent to that office and know that this was all they were going to do for me. They were writing me off, medicating me and sending me away to make room for the next person in need of ‘help’. What we need is more accessible therapy options and a clearer distinction on what each counselor specializes in. We should be striving to solve the mental health crisis not to medicate it.

UT students who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, etc., have many options for therapy on campus. “We have our own counselling center which is staffed by two licensed mental health counselors, one licensed clinical social worker, one psychologist, one psychiatric nurse practitioner and a consulting psychiatrist. We have quite a variety of options here on campus. A student is eligible for up to six counseling sessions a semester and if they need more than that, our therapists will make a referral to someone in the community,” said Gina Firth UT’s Associate Dean of Wellness. “Every case is ‘case-by-case’ you can never give generalized care,” Firth explained.

However, with our growing number of students and initiatives to destigmatize mental health counselling we might begin to feel the effects of the ever growing need for therapists in our community. This shortage is one of the many concerns of Firth and Connie McCullough, UT’s Counseling Services Director. So with UT’s rise in student enrollment, will the university be able to provide enough care? “As enrollment continues to increase, as well as psychological and mental health issues continue to increase, we have to keep up pace with that. It’s absolutely paramount,” Firth assured me.


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