When you’re concerned about your mental health, getting professional help is often an important step toward feeling better
But among the barriers – such as stigma and lack of available therapists in some places – many people also can’t afford the cost of care, and they find that they somehow have to pay for it out of pocket.
The average cost of a therapy session is more than $180, according to a report from Zencare, a website where people can browse for therapists. Prices rise even higher in parts of the U.S. with a higher cost of living. The cost of therapy can be an added stress, on top of whatever other mental health challenges you’re dealing with at the time.
Federal law requires health insurance provided by large employers or via the health care marketplace to cover mental health treatment at levels similar to those at which it covers physical health. But fewer than 40% of therapists are in-network with even a single health plan. That can make it hard to find a therapist that takes your insurance.
If you go through an in-network provider, the therapist will bill your insurer directly and you’ll be responsible only for your copay or coinsurance fee, after your deductible. If you use an out-of-network provider, the insurer may cover a smaller portion of the fee, depending on your policy, but you’ll need to pay the cost upfront and then file for reimbursement.
Keep in mind that insurers will typically only cover your treatment if you have a medical diagnosis, to treat a condition such as depression or anxiety. But you owe it to your mental health to find out exactly what resources are available.
If you’re hoping to use your insurance to help offset the cost of mental health treatment, here’s what you need to know.
Start With Your Insurer
Log into your insurer’s online portal or call the number on the back of your health insurance card to confirm whether your policy covers mental health treatment and whether there are any requirements you need to know.
If you get your insurance coverage through work, you might also consider asking your human resources department to clarify your mental health benefits, if you’re comfortable doing so.
The insurance company’s portal should also let you search a directory of in-network therapists, filtering for things like specialty or location.
Once you’ve found a few potential therapists, call their offices to confirm that the information from your insurer is still accurate. Many therapists offer potential clients a free 15-minute consultation, where you can discuss the issues you’d like to address, get a sense of their style, and talk about pricing and payment. You’ll want a therapist who’s convenient for you to get to regularly (or who offers appointments online) and who has worked with people with conditions similar to yours.
“The number one thing is to feel comfortable,” says Elizabeth Jarquin, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and an adjunct professor at Northcentral University. “If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with them, you may want to keep looking.”
Try Online Therapy
Since so few therapists accept insurance, even if you can find one that takes your insurance, they may not be accepting new patients. You may have more options if you’re open to working with a therapist via telehealth.
“People should understand that telehealth via phone or video conference can be as effective as in-person psychotherapy,” says Lynn Bufka, PhD, the American Psychological Association’s associate chief for practice transformation. “These modalities may open up a larger universe of potential providers, since you can see anyone licensed in your state.”
Telehealth can be a particularly helpful option if you live in a rural area or another part of the country with limited in-person options, and more insurers began covering such services during the pandemic.
Consider Lower-Cost Options Without Insurance
If you’ve tried but can’t find mental health treatment through your insurance, you might still have other affordable options.
Most large companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to their employees, and some offer free access to counseling for short-term mental health issues.
Another option is to ask a potential therapist whether they have a sliding scale for their fees. Some therapists will lower their prices for people facing financial hardships or other challenges and can’t get help via insurance.
Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) may also offer free or low-cost mental health and substance abuse treatment to patients. There are more than 400 across the country, and you can find one using this online tool.