How To Pay for Therapy and Other Care (and How To Make It Affordable)

A frustrated woman is chatting with her mental health doctor.
FatCamera / Getty Images/iStockphoto

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. According to a recent APA poll, Americans are more stressed than ever. For example, 51% of adults disagreed that their life has gotten healthier over the course of the pandemic and 42% said they have relied on unhealthy habits to get themselves through the last two years. The majority say the biggest stressor is money-related.

And affording mental health care is different from going to the doctor for a checkup or seeing a dentist. Talk and other forms of therapy can be a commitment, with multiple visits being the norm. If you’re concerned about the cost of mental health care, the truth is that it can be expensive. However, the good news is that there are plenty of options to get the mental health care you need without breaking the bank.

How Much Does Mental Health Care Cost?

Mental health care can be quite affordable or it can cost hundreds of dollars per session. The most expensive type of mental health care is private pay psychotherapy. 

“Private pay psychotherapy can a major expense on any budget,” said Renelle Wolff, a clinical social worker and licensed therapist. “Depending on geographic area, prices per session (45-60 minutes) can range from $100 up to $300.” 

How Many Sessions Are Usually Required To Recover?

“Research points that clients and families need an average of 15-20 sessions; however, it is not uncommon for clients to stop attending after six to eight sessions,” Wolff said. “Recent research indicates that, on average, 15 to 20 sessions are required for 50% of patients to recover as indicated by self-reported symptom measures.”

Make Your Money Work for You

The Importance of Getting the Mental Health Care You Need

“Mental health care is vital for our overall well-being and even our physical health,” said Brent Metcalf, a licensed clinical social worker practicing at Tri-Star Counseling. “I think we are in need of quality mental health care now more than ever. We’ve been in a global pandemic since late 2019, and just now slowly seeing a very dim light. We’ve been on multiple shutdowns, quarantines, separated from our friends and family, and some have even lost their jobs or experienced loss of loved ones. The impact and stress of COVID has been significant, and we may need some help processing that and the strain it has caused on our lives: physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually.”

For Immediate Mental Health Care Help

If you need help immediately, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357), 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The helpline provides English and Spanish speakers with mental health treatment referrals as well as information about mental disorders, including prevention and recovery information. 

You can also dial 800-273-8255, 24/7, to reach the National Crisis Prevention Lifeline to get free and confidential support for you or a loved one who is in a crisis or emotional distress. 

Options for Mental Health Care for the Insured

Most individual and small group health insurance plans, including those on the marketplace and through Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. 

Make Your Money Work for You

You can also check with your employer. “For those who have insurance through their employer, individuals may want to check and see if they have Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits,” Metcalf said. “Typically, EAP benefits pay for a certain amount of therapy/counseling sessions at no cost to the individual.”

Options for Mental Health Care for the Uninsured or Underinsured 

Even if you are uninsured or underinsured, it’s still possible to find affordable mental health care. Here are some options to consider. 

Inquire Locally About Sliding-Scale Rates

Find a local therapist who takes sliding scale payments. “Identify several therapists you may be interested in seeing, then contact their offices to inquire about sliding scale rates,” said Kassondra Glenn, LMSW and contributor at Prosperity Haven. “Therapists who offer a sliding scale are able to charge a lower fee for sessions to those in need of it.”

Use a Directory Service To Find an Affordable Therapist

“Affordable mental health care options are a must for the majority of the American public,” Wolff said. “A professional favorite option for private pay mental health is Open Path Collective. Open Path Collective is a non-profit organization [that] provides a directory service to members for a one-time membership fee of $59. Clients using Open Path can select their therapist who has agreed to see clients for a reduced rate of $30-$60 a session. Open Path is an option for people who are underinsured or have no insurance and have a household income of under $100K.”

Utilize Online Therapy or Telehealth Programs

“The best and most affordable mental health care option available today is online therapy,” said Chaye McIntosh, clinical director of ChoicePoint Health. “You can access it any time during the day and get the best advice from mental care experts. With the skyrocketing gas prices, it’s high time we start saving traveling expenditures. With telehealth, there is no need to travel to a clinic, stand in lines and wait in waiting rooms.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Services like Cerebral offer weekly therapy sessions with a licensed mental health professional for $99 for the first month and $259 per month thereafter. 7 Cups offers unlimited online therapy with an experienced, licensed therapist for $150 per month. You can message your therapist privately in an online chat room 24/7. Therapists will reply once or twice per day, Monday-Friday.

Seek Out Services From a University or College Health Center 

“If you are a student, you can access your university’s health center to find out what counseling services they offer,” McIntosh said. For example, at Lousiana State University, you can receive mental health counseling for a fee of $20, whereas at California’s Orange Coast College, students pay one $18-$23 health fee per semester and can receive mental health counseling at no additional cost.

Join a Mental Health Support Group

The best way to get ongoing mental health care for uninsured individuals is to join support groups,” said Dr. Lea McMahon, licensed counselor, adjunct professor of psychology and chief clinical officer at Symetria Recovery. “You can search online and in-person programs to overcome your personal challenges with people facing similar problems.

“There are some mutual support groups, which may be free of cost or charge a small fee to pay for the donuts at the end of the meeting. You can get advice from the people who have already conquered those issues and help you through the difficult journey. The trained facilitator can further assist the conversation in a positive manner that encourages everyone to open up.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Visit Mental Health America to search for mental health support groups near you. 

Other Options for Mental Health Care

Here are some other options for nonemergency mental health care. 

  • Look for listings in your state, county or city for mental health support services.
  • Ask your local hospital if financial assistance is available for the mental health programs it offers. 
  • For LGBTQ-focused mental health care, reach out to The Trevor Project
  • For anxiety and depression issues, visit the Anxiety & Depression Association of America

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