Seeing a therapist in an office is not affordable for most Americans. This is an unfortunate reality for all those who have looked past the stigma of therapy and committed themselves to living happier lives but are still unable to get help. So how much is therapy exactly? Prices can vary based on the state you live in and what your insurance covers. The average individual therapy session costs $75-150 an hour, and, if you live in a place like New York, that range jumps to $200-$400.
People may be worried about high prices, but you aren’t stuck paying for therapy you can’t afford. Learning why therapy might be so expensive is the first step toward searching for alternatives and paths to affordable therapy. If you are seeking help, you need to find affordable therapy that can support treatment without breaking the bank.
Becoming a Therapist Costs a Ton of Money
Think about how expensive it is to hire a lawyer. Clients are hiring someone with years of schooling on the subject in which they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the same deal for a therapist — all licensed therapists have completed undergraduate and graduate school, with either a master’s or doctorate degree, plus thousands of hours of work to sit for their licensing exam and engage in post graduate training on specific counseling theories like CBT or DBT, etc. — but misconceptions about therapy prevent people from seeing it this way and seeking counseling. Remember, you are not paying to chat with a friend; you are hiring a mental health professional who is there to help you with mental health, mental clarity, or anything else you want to work on.
Therapists Don’t Get Paid for Every Hour They Work
When people work a typical 40-hour week, their company pays them for every hour they work. Therapists, on the other hand, can only bill for the time they see clients.
Most therapists cannot manage 40 clients a week, said therapist Sarah Lee. If they fill up all their time with sessions, they would not be able to organize their clients’ information, market themselves, or perform administrative duties such as negotiating rates with insurance companies.
Imagine if your company only paid you for 25 of the 40 hours you worked each week. You would need to increase your hourly rate to break even.
Then there are the cancellations, the many cancellations.
When therapist Angela Essary worked as a community mental health counselor, she booked 12 sessions a day but only saw five of those people.
“It’s a big commitment for clients and there can be lots of no shows,” she said.
Therapists put lots of time and effort into preparing for your session, and then writing their clinical documentation after each session, filling out paperwork for insurance companies, continuing education classes, reading the latest research, etc. They are not paid for all of the administrative and license work that is required to provide ethical clinical care.
Who Pays the Rent for that Nice Office with the Comfy Couch?
Think about how much your rent or mortgage payments cost. OK, now double that and add some more for good measure. This is what many therapists — at least those not affiliated with an online therapy network or firm — have to do because they have no company to pay for the spiffy office they host clients in. Some buildings don’t even cover their utilities. Then there are office supplies such as the tissues they keep handy and office phones. It adds up for a working mental health professional.
The office often costs more than their home’s rent or mortgage payment. So what is a licensed therapist supposed to do? Increase their counseling cost in order to create a safe space for their clients.
Therapists Pay More Insurance Too
Therapists use liability insurance to protect themselves in case a client sues them and to help maintain their licenses, but it is yet another cost that a licensed therapist can’t use a company to buffer.
That’s only one kind of insurance. They may have insurance for their office in the same way people buy renters or homeowners insurance.
Those Certificates on Their Walls Have a Sort of Interest to Pay
Therapists don’t stop their education once they receive those fancy degrees you see framed on their office walls. Maintaining a license or certification means investing in annual training such as continuing education fees [CEs]. Therapists need to keep up with advances in their field the same way doctors need training on new medical technology and treatments.
Some therapists are able to have companies or firms cover their CEs while others spend more than $1,000 a year on them said Talkspace therapist Jennifer Fuller Gerhart. Here are some other training and certification maintenance expenses she and Foster mentioned:
- Professional development courses (not necessarily part of the CE and can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.)
- Therapy-related books for self-study or homework for clients
- State-licensure fees of up to several hundred dollars a year, varying depending on the state
- Fees for additional credentials tend to cost several hundred dollars a year
- Fees for professional association memberships
- Insurance billing services or payments to an assistant or billing specialist ($500 to $1,000 or more)
Therapists Need Therapists and a Supervisor
A good therapist will stay calm during sessions and not show how much the client’s issues are impacting him or her. Still, it’s not like that stress magically evaporates. For a therapist to do their best work for their clients, it’s in the client’s best interest that their therapist also speaks to a therapist or a supervisor (who is also a therapist or licensed mental health provider) to ensure they’re doing everything in their power to be as supportive as possible.
Most therapists have a supervisor who helps them treat clients, address ethical issues and ensures that they follow the rules of the bodies that licensed them. This supervisor is often a more experienced therapist who charges even higher rates.
According to Gerhart, therapists pay supervisors directly if they are in a private practice, while agencies pay the supervisor if they are part of one. These fees can be additional or included in the supervisor’s salary. Online therapy networks pay their therapists for supervision services as well.
But Don’t Despair — Here’s How to Receive Affordable Therapy
We want to defend great mental health professionals from accusations of being unreasonable with their prices, but we do agree that therapy is too expensive on average. The overpricing is a systemic issue, but there are ways to beat the system in order to afford your therapy visits.
Online therapy has the same efficacy as in-office therapy and is generally more affordable. Part of the reason is because online therapists don’t have as many overhead costs as therapists who only work in an office. You can use an online therapy network like Talkspace to find a therapist or check if a therapist you know provides online mental health service.
Ask the therapist for a discount or look for therapists with sliding scales
Most therapists are not in it for the money. If you tell them you can only afford a discounted rate, they might oblige and offer a sliding scale.
There are also therapists who use a sliding scale for all payments. Before sessions begin, check for this information on their website, therapy network or profile.
Schools or universities often offer discounted or free therapy
Some students are not receiving the mental health care they need. If you’re a student and want free or discounted therapy, ask your student health center for more information as free therapy is often offered by institutions for a semester or quarter. It is a good temporary solution to have until you can find a long-term therapist online or in your area. Also, be sure to check out our Talkspace partners to see if Talkspace services are offered at your university for students and staff.
Therapy practices tend to be more affordable
Therapy practices — sometimes called agencies or firms — are usually more affordable because more than one person is chipping in for the extra rent. These practices often have interns who charge even less for their mental health care.
Not using health insurance might save you money
It is popular for people to use health insurance for therapy because they assume it will lower the overall cost. Actually, circumventing insurance might be cheaper on average, especially if you use online therapy networks. Many therapists choose not to use insurance coverage because they feel the cost of doing business with the opaque insurance companies is not worth it.
Check if your insurance company offers coverage for Talkspace services here.
Federally-funded health centers often have mental health resources
Beat the Fees and Get the Help You Deserve
People should know that living a happier and mentally healthier life is an affordable option for everyone, not just a privilege for the wealthy. It costs a little more than your Netflix subscription, but the happiness it brings will be priceless.
If you’re ready to sign up for a therapy session with a trusted mental health professional, our experts can help. Sign up for Talkspace today to get matched with a licensed therapist.
Commonly Asked Questions
Online therapy is significantly cheaper than in-person therapy since it does not involve many of the overhead costs of traditional brick and mortar therapy like rent and insurance. A study of online therapy discovered that text therapy is 42.2% the cost of traditional services. The same study concluded that online therapy is an ‘acceptable and clinically beneficial’ medium; the efficacy of online therapy is consistent with that of in-person therapy.
Online therapy is legitimate as long as therapy is performed by a licensed mental health specialist and facilitated by a trusted, secure platform that uses licensed counselors. A 2017 study of online therapy concluded that ‘asynchronous text therapy with a licensed therapist is an acceptable and clinically beneficial medium for individuals with various diagnoses and histories of psychological distress.’ Also, the study’s participants reported ‘high satisfaction’ from the ‘affordability, convenience, and effectiveness’ of online therapy. Online therapy enables users to connect with a licensed therapist at a significantly cheaper rate than in-person therapy, anytime and anywhere.
Although there are some free online counseling services offered, one should be very weary of these services. An offer for ‘free online therapy’ should raise skepticism. Consider whether it’s a sales tactic to get you to provide your information or use the service. Can you trust the service? Are the counselors licensed? Most free counseling services aren’t scientifically backed and work without licensed counselors. These are some titles that suggest unlicensed individuals: Life coach, Health and wellness coach, Listening services, Life consulting, EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques, Counselor (unlicensed). When looking to improve your mental health, it’s important to trust licensed professionals with expertise in the field in order to avoid a setback. It is more effective to choose a trusted online therapy provider such as Talkspace, which offers an affordable, safe, secure and effective service for improving mental health.