Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Is Mental Health Counseling Frugal?

Since I started posting a few times recently about therapy and mental health counseling in general, a few people asked me to write about the frugality or lack-thereof of mental health counseling. To be honest, it is a topic that is really near and dear to my heart, because two things that are really important to me are being able to live within your means, as well as taking care of your mental health.

For many years, I realized I needed mental health counseling, but it was just so expensive. For years and years, therefore, I buried my feelings and ignored my mental health issues, while they just compounded and got more and more debilitating. Finally, it got to a point where I was not managing, and I knew therapy was something I needed to do, no matter the cost.

So the first question, "is mental health counseling frugal?" needs to be answered with the question "is it frugal to not go to therapy?"

Why Therapy Can Pay Off Financially

I know that at least for myself, when I get to a really bad place emotionally, it is very unfrugal. I can't manage to get work done, so our finances suffer. On top of that, I don't have the capacity to do the frugal things I usually do, nor even the "normal" things, so I end up spending more money on "fast food" like buying cold cuts and frozen french fries and bagged salad and cherry tomatoes because I don't have the ability to do any cooking. So, if I pay money to go to therapy to prevent myself from getting to the non functioning depressive state, or at least to learn how to function even when I'm not in a good place emotionally, it ends up paying off financially. Even if I am paying more for therapy, it still ends up being a better financial decision for our family.

Another example would be for someone paying to go to marriage counseling. If, for example, a couple isn't on the same page financially, with one spouse being a spendthrift and one spouse being a penny-pincher, it can really wreck havoc on a family's finances. Marriage counseling can help a couple get on the same page financially and improve their finances. Not to mention that if a marriage is on the rocks, marriage counseling makes it more likely to survive, and divorce is certainly expensive, so marriage counseling can be the better option.

Some people have a really hard time being frugal. They may have mental blocks or emotional reasons why they spend above their means. Being in therapy to explore the reasons for their overspending can help them resolve these issues and end up living within their means.

But even if therapy won't save you money or cause you to earn more money, life is not just about spending as little as possible no matter what. I truly believe in spending money on things that will enhance your life, and therapy is one of those things that can make a world of a difference, and is worth doing even if it won't "be frugal".

If you decide you want to go to therapy, that it would be the best decision for you or your family members, there are ways, however, to keep down the costs.

Minimizing the Costs of Therapy

Student Therapists
Fortunately, when I first decided to go to therapy, I found out that locally there is a therapy training program for therapists who are already certified, but just want to advance their training. Instead of the usual $85 to $100 per session or more that private therapy locally usually is, the sessions through this program are $29 per session, which is much more affordable. I'll admit, even the extra $114 a month wasn't always easy to come by, but I definitely appreciated being able to have more affordable therapy. I have even heard of them discounting it even more for people in need.
For people that need therapy but can't afford it, I suggest looking into getting therapy from people in training programs. These students have supervisors advising them on how to best help you, so its not bad therapy or anything, and it can be quite helpful.
There are some down sides with this, though. If you need specific modalities of therapy, you might not be able to get that with this discounted therapy. (My discounted therapist did only the standard talk therapy.)
Additionally, while these people are licensed therapists with experience, they don't necessarily have as much experience as you'd need.
Another down side is that at least where I went, the programs were yearly programs, so when the therapist graduates from the program at the end of the year, you needed to switch to a new therapist. For people who need therapy at the lowest price possible, this is definitely something worthwhile. However, if someone has trouble trusting a therapist and building good rapport with them, it can be quite hard to have to end with one therapist and switch to another because you reached the cut off date. There can be regressions in therapy because of these issues. Because they have yearly programs, many places only start around September and end in July or August, so if you need to start therapy at a different time of year you might have even less time before you need to switch to someone else.
To find one, you generally can find training clinics as part of a university. Search the internet for "psychology training clinic [your city]" to find one near you.

Health Insurance
If you have health insurance, often you are able to get free or low cost therapy through your insurance. The problem with this is that is that you're limited to the therapists that are connected to your insurance carrier. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a therapist that specialized in the type of therapy that I need in my general area through my insurance that had any openings available for the next year. Let alone one who spoke English. Because of this, I was able to petition my health insurance carriers to pay something towards my therapist who doesn't take this health insurance. Right now its only a small fraction (about 1/4 of my fees), but they agreed to pay retroactively. I am trying to leverage connections I have with the head of the insurance to get them to agree to pay more, but right now that is still in the air.
The other down side of going through your health insurance for therapy is that you end up having your information "in the system" and it can be used against you, like having higher costs for preexisting conditions.

Organizations, Religious and Not
Though I haven't used these myself, locally there are some organizations meant to help women with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. They provide therapists who see people with a much discounted rate, and people end up staying with these therapists even years later and continue to pay the discounted rates.
Many religious organizations offer subsidized therapies, with the added benefit of having therapists that understand your unique religious perspectives that can affect your mental health.
Additionally, many clergy members are specifically trained in counseling, and often offer it free or discounted to the members of their community. One needs to be careful with this and do your due diligence to make sure that the clergy member you are going to is actually qualified to be a mental health counselor (get recommendations and do research about their education) because a bad and unqualified one can really hurt your mental health.

Community Mental Health Center
Again, I haven't used these myself, but many communities have community mental health centers that provide therapy at a discounted rate. These are sometimes tax payer funded and can be a good resource for people.

Alternative Therapy Options
There are a few other ways you can keep down your therapy costs. Some people keep down costs by having therapy less often. (For me that wasn't an option; I wish I could have it more than once a week, but at least my weekly sessions are cheaper than having twice a week as some people have.)
Others do so by using online therapy options like at Some people choose to have Skype sessions with therapists; this can be more frugal if you use a therapist from a location where therapy is cheaper than it is locally. (I know our local costs for therapy are much cheaper than in the US for private therapy, so if someone there would Skype in with a therapist in my country, it would probably be cheaper, though it would need to work around the time difference.)
Another option that some (few) therapists offer (including my therapists) is journal sharing, where you share journals you write with the therapist, and get theraputic, helpful replies. This is not as good as regular therapy, but for those that cant afford therapy, it is a decent option, and more helpful than nothing.

Therapy is definitely an investment, and a worthwhile one, in my opinion. Its a shame that many people don't avail themselves to therapy because of financial reasons. Hopefully this post will help make therapy an attainable option even for people struggling financially.
Feel good!

Have you gone to therapy before? How much did it set you back each month (in dollars) if at all? Did you do anything to keep down the costs? Do you find therapy to be frugal for you, in general, or do you find its worthwhile even if it doesn't pay off financially, in the long or the short run?


  1. Very informative article. I would add to be very cautious about getting therapy from a student who is finishing her credentials. I saw many clients during my graduate training and I would say, looking back, that I just didn’t have the breath of experience that I needed in order to fully help the patient. A friend of mine who is a highly successful therapist told me recently she feels like writing an apology letter to all the clients she saw during her training. If you must see a student, then try to ask a whole lot of questions about the student supervision, and what happens if it turns out your problems are too specialized for a brand new therapist. As far as keeping down the costs, do the things your therapists suggests (such as writing in a journal, etc.) Also take notes during your session and reread those notes during the week. Try, along with therapy, complementary activities (example prayer, Al Anon, etc) Lastly, have reasonable expectations - ex. uncomplicated grief counseling will take much less time than therapy for childhood sexual abuse.

  2. There are many clinics that offer sliding scale fees. Therapy can be a life saver..literally. Contact me with any referrals needed.
    I hope it’s ok if I post this link to the Nefesh list serv.

  3. Also, Just because a therapist is expensive, it doesn’t mean they’re ethical or proficient. Make sure they have legitimate credentials, and that they are NOT coaches. Every therapist should have supervision, from student to professional. An intern should be working in a clinic setting, and not on their own.


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