How to cope while waiting for therapy

Learning how to cope while waiting for therapy has become a reality for many.

Covid has put a remarkable amount of pressure on the NHS. Its mental health services were already under strain, and now, waiting lists are bursting.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the NHS is fantastic and you can receive incredible care; but in some parts of the country, you can wait for up to a year for mental health support. And when you need help, even waiting a week can seem like a lifetime.

So if you’re struggling with your mental health, and you’re facing a long wait following an NHS referral from your GP, what can you do to cope while waiting for therapy?

Before we start, it’s important to say: 

If someone’s life is at risk, or you don’t feel you can keep yourself or someone else safe, call 999 or go to A&E. That would be a mental health emergency.

If you need help urgently for your mental health, but it’s not an emergency, or you’re not sure what to do, call 111 or ask for an urgent GP appointment.

It’s so important not to under-report your symptoms to your GP for fear of not wanting to make a fuss. If you do, you risk not receiving the care you need. If you’ve had suicidal thoughts, tell your GP. Please don’t feel that your problems aren’t as bad as others’.

External support to help you cope while waiting for mental health support

There may be many reasons why you need help. And there are many services available offering support while you wait to be seen by a therapist. Please use these services; your problems are as important as anybody else’s, and you won’t be wasting anyone’s time. 

NHS urgent mental health helplines

If you’re in crisis, distressed, and in urgent need of help with your mental health, you can get immediate expert advice and assessment from the NHS urgent mental health helplines. They:

  • Provide 24-hour advice and support for you, your child, your parent, or someone you care for.
  • Allow you to speak to a mental health professional.
  • Provide an assessment to help decide on the best course of care.

You may have already been given a crisis line number to call in an emergency. If not, find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline in your area.

Free listening services

These organisations offer confidential support from trained volunteers. 

  • Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email for a reply within 24-hours.
  • Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you’re under 19.
  • If you’re under 19, you can call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. This number will not appear on your phone bill.
  • Call 0203 906 7676 to arrange an assessment with The Listening Place (TLP) for 6 face-to-face support sessions with a trained volunteer (London-based).

6 ways to help yourself to cope while waiting for therapy

There are also lots of ways you can support yourself while you wait for therapy. Bear in mind, however, that when you feel very low, it may be nigh on impossible to motivate yourself to do anything at all, leaving you in a vicious cycle. 

The less you do the less you want to do, especially when you’re struggling with depression. It can feel like you’re wading through pea soup. 

If this sounds familiar, get help. Talk to one of the services mentioned above, or speak to a friend or relative who can support you get on board with one of the coping strategies below. 


  • Private therapy

You can access private therapy either as a stop-gap to help you cope while waiting for therapy, or as an alternative to NHS care.   

We recognise it may not be affordable for everyone, but many private practices offer lower cost options. At Altum Health, we certainly do, and it’s always worth asking.

Follow us on Instagram for helpful tips and techniques, or contact us to discuss how we can help.

It’s important to point out that recently there has been a concerning rise in the number of unqualified practitioners posing as mental health professionals. When looking for private therapy, make sure that:

  • Psychologists: they’re registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You can check the register here.
  • Psychotherapy practitioners: they’re registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).


  • Registered charities  

There are many excellent charities offering help and resources for those suffering with their mental health. 

The mental health charity, Mind, has a range of strategies to help you cope with a mental health crisis. They also have a ‘Local Mind’ service, helping you find Mind where you live.

Those suffering with eating disorders can find a host of resources via the charity, Beat.

Always make sure any charity you approach for help is registered


  • Self-care

Notice if you are making changes to your normal self-care routine as this can be a sign of a dip in your mental health. Changes could be as subtle as not taking the time to do your hair. Or struggling to take a daily shower. If there’s a change in your usual self-care routine, take a look at that, and plan some ways to help readjust the balance.

  • Take a soothing bath
  • Listen to music
  • Get outside for a walk
  • Try gentle exercise
  • Engage in a guided meditation or breathing exercise
  • Do a creative task, such as colouring or knitting.


  • Exercise

Regular exercise is a great way to help cope while you wait for therapy. As well as the physical benefits, it will improve your mental health by reducing anxiety, stress, depression and intrusive thoughts. 

Those suffering with an eating disorder may find this post useful. It helps to develop a new understanding and relationship with exercise and movement during recovery.  


  • Workload

While waiting for support for your mental health, try to reduce your workload as much as possible.

The pandemic has created a new ‘working from home’ set up, and this might mean you’ve not had as much time away from work as you used to. Book some annual leave, even if it’s just to stay at home and focus on you. You may also find our post on tips to avoid work from home burnout a useful read.


  • Recommended reading and resources

There are tons of great resources out there to help you cope while you wait for therapy. I often recommend as a fantastic resource for self-help books, audiobooks, downloadable materials, and apps.

The books on this site are largely based on a CBT approach, and are authored by psychologists, psychiatrists, trained therapists, and counsellors, each of them a leading expert in their field. Take a look and see if there’s anything that could offer you some support.

There are also some amazing apps out there to support you.  

To help you feel calmer, be more present, and cultivate a more compassionate mind, try The Self Compassion App

For those of you struggling with eating disorders, you might also try Recovery Record or Rise Up + Recover. Both of these apps are specially designed to support you in developing a healthier relationship with food and your body. 

I hope you’ve found this post useful as a way to cope while waiting for therapy. To discuss how we can help, please get in touch to book a free consultation today.


Take care,

Dr Courtney

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