How much should I pay for therapy?

So you’re interested in seeking help from a mental health professional, huh? First off, hats off to you! You are taking a step into the right direction, even though I’m pretty sure you’ve got some questions that deserve answering. Questions such as how much should I pay for therapy?

Before answering this question, let’s take a look at a few things to understand the complexities of investing your time, energy and funds in working with a therapist.

I drive a 90s white pickup truck with over 250,000 miles on the odometer. It’s gotten me from point A to point B and then some, for decades. I use synthetic oil to keep the engine running as smooth as possible. I check the tire pressure often. Clean and detail the interior and exterior. I’ve upgraded the parts of the truck that were running their course. This truck runs as well as it did since day one to say the least. But things didn’t used to be this way.

There was a time, scratch that, a good long time where I found myself sitting on the side of the road because I had forgotten to put gas in the tank. Where I found myself coughing up thousands of dollars because I didn’t take my vehicle into the shop until things had gotten really bad. There were even times when I used Uber because I had a feeling things were not just going to work out in driving that truck some days. It’s pretty sad that I let something I cared so much about get that bad, and I didn’t even realize it.

Most often, therapy is approached this way, and it makes total sense. We move forward after traumatic experiences without processing them, continue to stay in that unhealthy relationship because we either feel trapped or feel that it’s the best thing we have, and we think that no one wants to understand what the heck we’re going through. We’d rather put things off, take the easy way out or ignore what’s really going on. I did the exact same thing with my truck, but now we’re talking about your life here.

Who you are now and who you wish to become have much more importance than some story about a vehicle, but it gets the point across. I dropped thousands of dollars on taking care of my vehicle after I put things off for a very long time, why is it I had such a problem thinking about the payment of therapy? Answer:

I didn’t view therapy as an investment because I solely viewed it as an expense.

Yes, I do understand the initial mental argument many of us have within ourselves: “It’s just talking. Why would I pay X amount of dollars to just talk?” And with that thought process you’re likely to show up to one session and call it quits, or likely to not show up at all. This is exactly why I had to shift my mindset to view therapeutic services as a true investment.

Many have told me they spent large amounts of cash in the beginning when working with their therapist. But, overtime they started going less often (about twice a month) because their debilitating issue was no longer a prime concern. Just like how I had to drop tons of money from the get go with my truck, many do spend a pretty penny in the beginning of investing into their self-care, but the process of this isn’t permanent. It’s just new. And perhaps, overtime you’ll find yourself going less often because you and your therapist have completed your initial treatment plan.

No worries, I didn’t forget to dive into the actual numbers, we will get there. But, before you continue, really ask yourself if you see therapy as an investment for your livelihood, and not just another expense to fuss over. I cannot tell you how and what to think, but all I’m suggesting is to wonder about what brought you to this particular blog post. Perhaps, it’s to understand why you think you need therapy? Or, maybe it’s about seeing if what you pay already is normal? Maybe, you’re like me and read all over the internet to see what others think before making a calculated risk of spending your hard earned money for such a service?

The important thing is you’re here, and for some good reason. Perhaps, for the benefit of your mental health.

And now, the big finale. I’ve comprised the following information from personal experience, hearsay, national averages and from different therapy platforms. Here’s what I’ve learned about the numbers when it comes to how much people pay for therapy:

  1. One of the most popular numbers I hear often that clients will pay are between $60-$80. However, these same individuals have transitioned into other brackets near $100-$120 over the years.

  2. The current national average for therapeutic services is around $132. This is a combination of both high and low costs all over the United States. Take it as a single point of reference.

  3. Cost of services may depend on cost of living in your particular area. For example, because it’s usually expensive to live in San Francisco, CA, it isn’t surprising that the average cost of therapy would be around $160, and I feel I’m being generous. In order for therapists to keep their shop open, they have to keep their prices at a specific range. The same formula goes for less expensive places as well.

  4. Your insurance may cover the full-fee of therapy services, but it’s not as common as people would think. Sometimes, your insurance may only cover a certain percentage and you must foot the rest of the bill. Other times you will be charged a co-pay or full-fee and your therapist may give you a thing called a super bill. Google it. Pretty cool stuff.

  5. Many choose not use their insurance to cover therapy as they are more comfortable not having their personal information disclosed for reimbursement to these companies. So, they go the private pay route.

  6. Some people pay more for specialty services. This is when your therapist is trained and certified in certain areas (e.g., EMDR, TEAM-CBT, etc.) which are backed by evidence-based research to help with specific issues.

You might be saying to yourself, “Well, I still don’t know how much I should pay for therapy.” And that’s okay! Some people look at places such as PsychologyToday or TherapyDen and take an average of what others are paying. Many contact their insurance company to see how many sessions they can get reimbursed for. I’ve often heard how much people pay based on word-of-mouth, too.

Do we want affordable mental health services? Of course! Do we want the therapists treating us to make a living? Again, of course! Is there a way to make both possible? Perhaps, but this is tough right now. If it means anything, there are small steps moving toward that direction of mental health services. From an optimistic viewpoint, I do see a substantial change happening within insurance industries to have a more wide range of services covered, including an increase of sessions with a therapist of one’s choice. But, I can only dream at this time.

In the meantime, you might have to just give it a shot yourself, with or without insurance. And how much that is going to cost you will depend on where you live, insurance coverage, type of therapy and if you perceive it as an investment or an expense. Of course, there are many other variables we could cover, but I think I’ve made my point. Mindset is important.

Again, hats off to you for stepping into this direction in understanding what it might take to enter therapy. Sure, money is important because without it, it’s tough to function or maneuver throughout live; however, when it comes to self-investing into personal well-being, how much you pay doesn’t seem so much of a burden.

Jacob Kountz is the founder of Kern Wellness Counseling, a mental health blog, in Bakersfield, CA. His works have been featured on USA Today, Thrive Works, Fatherly, Martha Stewart Weddings, Thrive Global, and is a Charlotte Counseling & Wellness contributor. His blog has also been ranked as one of the top 60 Mental Health Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2018. Currently, he is a full-time graduate student and a Clinic Manager of a mental health training clinic at a local CSU where he provides therapy for individual adults, adolescents, and children, couples and families. He aspires to one day open a private practice in Bakersfield, CA so he may continue to serve his local population.

Jacob Kountz