by April R. McDowell, Ph.D., LGMFT
Deciding to start therapy, whether it’s individual, couple, or family therapy, is often a big decision! Many factors are taken into consideration before taking this step, not the least of which is cost. Even though many people realize its value and the significant investment that it represents for themselves and their relationships, it is not at all uncommon to hear clients express concern about affording therapy before beginning.
If you find yourself in this position – wanting to begin therapy but worried about cost – you should know that there are some simple ways that you can stretch the dollars you spend for therapy and maximize your value along the way. Here are 5 things you can do to help get the most bang for your therapy buck:
First, be clear about your goals before beginning therapy. This means giving some thought to not just your problems, but what changes you hope to achieve with the help of therapy. Being aware of your goals and sharing these with your therapist upfront buts you in a better position to get more return on your financial investment for therapy. Remember to keep these goals in mind along the way and think of how the topics you want to discuss each session relate to your larger goals. By doing this, you’re staying focused and keeping the big picture in mind which will make your therapy more effective and thus give you more return on your money spent.
Second, avoid false starts. In other words, be sure that you’re ready to begin therapy and attend sessions regularly from the onset. You may feel nervous and not know what to expect at your first session – especially if you’ve never had therapy before – but this is perfectly normal! With the right therapist, you’ll walk away from a first session feeling more at ease and knowing that you’re in good hands. However, if you begin therapy and find that you’re not in the position to commit beyond one or two sessions – for example, because of work schedule conflicts or unreliable babysitting arrangements –you likely not make any progress toward your goals. Furthermore, you may come out of it feeling like your money spent didn’t go far and give you the results you’d hoped for.
Third, be sure to show up for your appointments on time. Many clients find themselves not getting the most out of their sessions partly because session time is wasted from tardiness. Of course, we all find ourselves late to appointments from time to time from things we can’t control – late work meetings, traffic, sick kids, etc. However, when you consider how much you spend on therapy per session (and per minute!) you can easily see that you’re wasting money spent on therapy by being late for sessions. Being punctual will give you more time in session addressing your needs and help stretch that therapy dollar as far as possible. In the event that your therapist cannot start your session on time (which is common during busy office times like the evening hours), rest assured that you’ll still receive your full session time. We know your time spent with us is valuable!
Fourth, do the work of therapy in between sessions, not just during sessions. For some of you this may mean formal homework assignments given to you by your therapist. In the absence of formal assignments though, you can still continue your work by simply giving more thought to the issues that were discussed during sessions or by actually making the changes you discussed making during sessions. It’s no secret that most of the work of therapy takes place outside of therapy room. Knowing this upfront and actually committing to this part of the process will help you maximize the money you spend for therapy and most importantly, help you actually reach your goals!
Finally, know your options for covering therapy costs. Most people are good at asking about session fees and payment methods (e.g, acceptable credit cards) when shopping for therapy services, but you also want to be clear about the insurance-related options that may help cover your costs. For example, many insurance plans offer flexible spending accounts (FSA) or similar financial accounts which can be used for medical expenses such as mental health services. FSA funds are typically tax-exempt and thus not subject to payroll taxes as is the rest of your income. Therefore, you may be able to stretch your therapy dollars by using this option. Also, you should know your options for using your health insurance benefits to cover therapy costs. While some therapists are “within network” with insurance companies and can directly bill your company for services (which means you only a co-pay during visits), even for those therapists who are not within network you may still be able to save money by knowing if you have “out of network” benefits. With these types of benefits, you have the flexibility and freedom of choice to choose the therapist whom best fits your needs while also saving money by receiving reimbursement for the money you spend on services. As you consider beginning therapy and search around, don’t be shy to ask potential therapists about these options. We want our clients to have free choice and the best service possible, and this includes helping you get the most bang for your therapy buck!
- Be clear about your goals
- Avoid false starts
- Show up for appointments on time
- Do the work of therapy in between sessions
- Know your options for covering therapy costs
© April R. McDowell, Ph.D.
April McDowell holds a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and a Doctorate in Family Science. She is a licensed MFT in Maryland and sees couples, families and individuals as an associate with Laurel Fay & Associates in downtown Silver Spring.