Mental Health Online Counseling

The Cost of Therapy: A Cost Comparison of Therapy in the US

In the U.S. (and elsewhere), we tend to treat our mental health as separate from our physical health. People are much more likely to have a family doctor, or at least know the location of the nearest emergency room than know of an available therapist. But what about therapy? We tend to treat our mental health as “lesser then.” How much does a therapist cost? Few people can answer.

Because we’ve been led to believe that our mental self isn’t as important as our physical self, most people don’t know how much is a therapist. They’re too nervous to ask. Considering the benefits talk therapy provides for individuals, and for society at large, it should be a constitutional right. It should be easy to find resources and affordable.

No matter how vital talk-therapy for the health of the nation, there is little information available about how much therapy costs in one state, compared to another. Or what accounts for the vast differences from one provider to the next.

Young woman is sitting on sofa during the psychotherapy session

The Financial Burden of Mental Health in the U.S.

No matter what we have been lead to believe, mental health concerns are well worth our time and financial investment. There is a substantial body of evidence these days telling us just how much mental health issues cost the U.S. and the world. The statistics are staggering.

Think about the last time you had to take a sick day from work because of your mental health. Maybe it was an exceptionally low day of depression, a peak of anxiety, or a struggle with substance abuse. These are all common reasons why people call in sick to work, but it costs both the individual and the economy a substantial amount.

In 2018, Meri Davlasheridze and Stephan J. Goetz published The Effect of Mental Health on U.S. County Economic Growth. Through an analysis of information gathered between 2008 and 2014, the authors determined mental health sick days “may sap billions of dollars from the country’s income growth.” For the country, one mental health day a month may mean a loss of $53 billion less income annually.

In other areas of the world, it’s more of the same. For example, “The economic costs of mental disorders,” published in 2016, reported that 165 million people struggled with mental health disorders in the E.U., like anxiety and mood conditions.

The total costs are hard to estimate, but some experts place the entire global burden of lost income somewhere around $16 trillion. The financial impacts of mental health issues are so vast they are challenging to grasp. In most places, the financial burden of mental health is much more significant than chronic somatic diseases such as cancer or diabetes.

Mental health isn’t just about emergency room visits. There are tangible costs when people finally reach out to physicians and healthcare providers for care. Poor mental health impacts productivity, financial independence, family relations, and so much more.

There are trickle-down impacts of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, which often go unaccounted for. While we might not immediately connect the dots between mental health and financial struggle, the two are intimately connected.

What’s More Affordable: Psychologist, Therapist, or Counselor?

Although psychologists, therapists, and counselors all provide support within the same sector, there are educational and licensing differences between each that can dictate price.

A counselor is the broadest term, often used to cover a wide range of services. For example, a therapist may provide counseling services or counseling services that might be available from a community organization. In most jurisdictions, counselors are not governed by a regional office, and there is no requirement for education or specific training. Counselors provide a wide range of support services, under many different therapy models.

A therapist is usually a protected title. This means there is a requirement for training and higher education. A regulator governs their individual practices and licensing. Therapy may work with families, marriages, a within social work. They typically work using behavioral therapy techniques.

A psychologist requires a Master’s degree in psychology and is licensed by state regulators. They may work closely within the healthcare system, and alongside psychiatrists. Usually, their clients have clinically diagnosed mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder. They make clinical evaluations and diagnoses of these disorders.

Progressively, the more education required and more regulated the profession, the more expensive it becomes. This reflects the skill and training behind the position, but also the growing scarcity. Psychologist prices are usually higher than a lesser-trained counselor.

How Much Does a Therapist Cost?

US dollars in the jar.

Therapists’ cost varies from one place to the next, based on several essential factors all including rural vs. urban divides, regional divides, scarcity of professionals, qualifications, and state licensing.

Generally speaking, you should expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour for a licensed therapist. In urban centers, like L.A., this price might be even higher, upwards of $200. The sky is the limit when it comes to therapists’ costs, but there are also some affordable options available.

Check out the services offered by counselors, who may not have a Master’s degree required for the title of a therapist, but are still qualified with work with you on your wellness. Speak with your doctor or local organizations like a women’s center, about other affordable options. They should be able to direct you towards low-cost or free options available in times of crisis. Many counselors or therapists offer a sliding scale.

There are also a growing number of online therapy options, which provide remote counseling sessions via phone, text, chat, or video platforms. These platforms have extremely low overhead, meaning no office rentals or administration costs, making the service much more affordable than in-person meetings. You can expect a fraction of the cost of crisis support and text-based therapy.

Why is Therapy So Expensive?

Several factors influence the answer to how much does a therapist cost. First, the insurance structure in the U.S. doesn’t mesh well with therapists. Huffington Post recently reported that only 55 percent of American therapists accept insurance payments.

With still more than 28 million people uninsured across the country, as per the most recent statistics, that means many people cannot afford therapy because they don’t have insurance or their insurance isn’t accepted.

Secondly, counselors, therapists, and psychologists’ prices are all reflective of their administrative overhead. The full hourly rate doesn’t get pocketed by the counselor, far from it. As one therapist outlined to the Huffington Post, she has to cover office rent, business insurance, malpractice insurance, office expenses, and payment processing fees, among many other expenses.

While $140 per session sounds steep, Ackerman says it helps cover $2,500 a month in rent, the cost of business and malpractice insurance, advertising, office equipment, and credit card processing fees.

There are other considerations, like the cost of a Masters Degree (and the growing student loan crisis). Plus, the paperwork associated with a single session can take just as long to process, if not longer. This time also much be accounted for.

No matter how urgent the need for accessible and affordable talk-therapy, there are currently no structures in place to help with either accessibility or adorability. It’s one of the reasons why more and more therapy is moving into the online space.

No Rock-Solid Cost Comparison

Although big cities like New York and Los Angeles will have many more counselors and therapists than rural areas, often therapy will come with big-city prices. On the flip side, rural areas may only have a single psychologist or therapist serving thousands of people. This also makes their services costly and inaccessible.

There is no tried and true way to determine how much does a therapy cost unless you pick up the phone and call around. Finding a therapist does take work, but the payoffs are well worth it in the long run.