As the daughter of a mental health professional, I view therapy as a normal activity that every human should try at least once. I’ve also seen a lot of my friends suffer through breakups, professional turmoil or the death of a family member, but shrug off therapy as “too expensive” without knowing what it actually costs.
It’s true the price tag is something to consider: Of the 30 million American adults that don’t get the mental health care they need, 45 percent cite cost as a major obstacle. But, not only is it OK to spend on self care, managing mental health can also keep issues from snowballing into more serious, and expensive, problems. Research shows that people are happier after spending on therapy than if they had allotted those dollars for other things. Plus, therapy could help your finances: If you’re more confident and less stressed, you’ll probably have an easier time finding work you love, excelling at it, making more doing it and achieving the mental clarity it takes to manage your money effectively.
So before you decide therapy’s just not in your budget, here are some ways it might work for you.
HOW MUCH DOES THERAPY COST?
There’s no set industry standard, so costs can vary widely. According to therapist directory GoodTherapy.org, as well as web therapy resource Talkspace, mental health providers in many cities charge roughly $75 to $150 per 45-minute session, while rates in New York City can be upwards of $200. Therapists typically recommend meeting weekly, so based on these estimates, you’d be looking at a minimum out-of-pocket cost of $3,200 per year. Though its efficacy is still up for debate, web therapy can be significantly cheaper: Talkspace, for example, offers unlimited access to a therapist via text, audio chat and video starting at $32 per week.
Financial planning can be complex, but you don't have to do it alone. Connect with a financial advisor.
Perusing therapist profiles on Goodtherapy.org, and other sites like Network Therapy and Psychology Today can help you get a better sense of the cost in your city, but since many therapists don’t list their fees, you may need to contact them directly to get a quote. If you have insurance, your provider can tell you the UCR (Usual, Customary and Reasonable) rate for therapy where you live.
WHY DOES IT COST SO MUCH?
If these estimates are giving you sticker shock, here’s why they’re so high: Therapists undergo extensive training. The profession requires a master’s degree at minimum and many invest in doctorates, medical degrees and other forms of specialized study. Simply maintaining a license requires costly ongoing education; therapists in private practice also cover their own liability insurance and office rentals.
HOW DO YOU PAY FOR IT?
The good news is there are several ways to cover the cost or bring it down in the first place.
Here are our tips:
Find out what your insurance will cover. Ask if you receive mental health benefits. Then confirm the cost of your co-pays, as well the number of sessions your insurance will cover. If you have a deductible, benefits will only kick in once you’ve met it, so factor that number into your budget, too (especially since deductibles averaged a whopping $1,478 last year). If you’ve found a therapist you like who doesn’t take insurance, find out if your plan offers out-of-network benefits. If so, you’ll need to pay your therapist out-of-pocket but can file monthly claims to be reimbursed for a percentage of the cost. Reimbursement percentages vary from plan to plan so confirm the amount of cash you can expect to get back and check if there’s a cap on the annual reimbursement total.
Know your student benefits. Most colleges and graduate programs include on-campus therapy with tuition. As a student, you’ll generally be eligible to see a therapist twice a month for a total of ten sessions at no cost, after which you’ll be referred out to an affiliated and affordable professional in the area.
Check if you receive additional perks through work. Many large companies have Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) that offer confidential counseling for staff and their families. If your company provides a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), find out if that money can be applied to mental health services. You can also use a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexing Spending Account (FSA), which can help you plan ahead for out-of-pocket therapy expenses, while bringing down your taxable income.
Negotiate your fee. While many therapists don’t take insurance, some have a “sliding scale fee,” which means they’re willing to treat patients who couldn’t otherwise afford it for less. Negotiating a lower fee can feel a little intimidating, so New York City-based psychotherapist Judy Pardo, LCSW, suggests approaching the conversation with a specific number in mind. Taking your income and expenses into account, figure out how much you can afford on a monthly basis and then divide by four. Tell the therapist that this is the number you can spend per weekly session. If the therapist feels that fee is too low, he or she should clarify the lowest amount that’s acceptable.
You don’t, however, need to reveal specific details about your finances, and according to Pardo, it’s not appropriate for the therapist to ask. “I think most therapists appreciate the honesty and directness of this approach,” Pardo says. “It makes it very simple to figure out if the fee will work for both of you.”
Seek out lower-cost treatment centers. If you can’t agree on a fee, ask the therapist to recommend more affordable options in your area. Community mental health clinics typically have lower fees and accept all insurance types, while training institutes can match you with a mental health intern who, under the supervision of an experienced professional, will provide therapy at a reduced rate or even free of charge while working towards the experience hours required for licensure.
Consult the internet. Search for centers in your area and you’re likely to come across directories like the Health Information Tool for Empowerment (HITE), which, for example, offers information on affordable treatment in the Greater New York area. The websites for national non-profit Mental Health America and the U.S. Government’s Health Resources & Services Administration can also point you to low-cost services near you.
Try group therapy. If you’re willing to share the stage, you can often pay half what you would for individual sessions. Search the American Group Psychotherapy Association.
The bottom line: There are lots of ways to cover the cost of therapy, so don’t let financial limitations keep you from getting the help you need.