I came up with the concept of TherapySafetyNet in September 2007. I was receiving more calls from prospective clients than I could accept into my practice, and some of them stood out because they seemed stuck in a kind of benefits purgatory. Uninsured, their income was too high to qualify for social services, yet their employers offered no healthcare coverage. It was hit or miss to suggest alternate referrals to those prospective clients. While I’ve always got an assortment of excellent colleagues to suggest, at any given time most would have only one or two potential openings on a ‘sliding scale.’ At the same time, I had extra web site capacity, so I thought, is there any way these elements could be put together to help?
So what started as a bit of web site tooling around in my living room became TherapySafetyNet.org, a free referral service to connect uninsured New Yorkers with socially responsible therapists in private practice.
We’ve grown considerably, and experienced our share of growth pains along the way. TherapySafetyNet is now a coalition of psychologists and social workers in private practice, each of whom agrees to devote some portion of their work to uninsured clients at a significantly reduced fee.
As we grew in both membership and client inquiries, the administrative demands became too much for me to do alone. Several professionals in our coalition pitched in with the labor involved, notably Evelyn Shaw, LMSW, Donna Seroff, LCSW, Laura Freiman, LCSW, and Janis McAdams, Psy.D. The very heart of our service is made of their tireless volunteer efforts, individually handling each inquiry and referral, as well as contributing to the development of TherapySafetyNet as an organization.
In a typical month, 15 to 20 uninsured people contact us for help securing a referral for affordable therapy. Considering the fact that an estimated 1.2 million uninsured people are living in New York City, we are barely reaching our intended audience. One of our biggest challenges is to make our service widely known. To this end, we’ve done outreach to other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that may encounter uninsured New Yorkers and refer them to us. We’ve made our services known to local colleges whose students are not required to have health insurance. Our services are listed with organizations that serve local artists, such as The Field and Dance Elephant. And TherapySafetyNet’s page on Facebook receives 100 visitors in an average week. Beyond these achievements, our need for help with public relations remains strong.
We’ve gone through considerable turnover in our professional membership in the past two and half years. In the beginning we did not do a good enough job making it clear to interested mental health professionals how TherapySafetyNet differs from other websites that present directories of therapists in private practice. For some time, we faced differences in expectations–therapists who were willing to reduce their fees slightly, but not far enough to meet the actual needs of uninsured people. By now, we have addressed this discrepancy through more rigorous membership requirements.
To be clear, membership in TherapySafetyNet is not for every New York psychologist or social worker under the sun. What we offer is an organized way to fulfill the ethical imperative to devote some portion of one’s practice to working with clients in need, for little or no compensation. We continue to invite socially responsible therapists to join our coalition, and our need currently is greatest for those practicing in Brooklyn.
Please visit www.TherapySafetyNet.org to learn more about our efforts to help uninsured New Yorkers find quality, affordable psychothearpy.
Geoffrey Steinberg, Psy.D.