Psychotherapy is often perceived as a discretionary expense. It ranges from $15 to $45 in insurance copayments for each session, or from $60 to $250 or more if you're paying out of pocket. But if you are anxious, depressed, or distracted by personal issues, there are significant costs to avoiding necessary treatment. Some of the costs are intangible, such as a deteriorating marriage or increased chronic pain, while some are financial and quantifiable. Forgoing therapy can affect your physical health, financial decision making, personal relationships, and productivity at work.
Reducing medical costs
A number of studies have found that psychotherapy lowers health-care costs, including hospital visits and prescription medications. It has been shown to improve outcomes for people with chronic health conditions. For example, chronic pain often accompanies depression, and treating those depressive symptoms results in reduced pain levels.
Heading off financial chaos
Psychotherapy can help you make better financial decisions by helping you understand the many factors that influence your spending and investing habits. Your financial decision making is shaped by your original family's financial patterns and beliefs, other formative life experiences, your risk tolerance, and your self-esteem. Money also symbolizes psychological concepts like safety, stability, security, success, freedom, self-worth, and control.
Untreated psychological disorders have real financial costs. If you are too anxious to open your bills, you may accumulate late charges and damage your credit history. If you have bipolar disorder, you may spend recklessly during manic phases and acquire overwhelming debt. If you have impulse control issues due to attention deficit disorder or addiction, you may spend or gamble compulsively. Psychological intervention reduces the havoc created by these risk factors.
Resolving family conflict
Psychotherapy is likely to cost much less than legal expenses resulting from unresolved conflict in families, most notably around divorce and contested wills.
The cost of divorce varies widely based on factors such as child custody issues, state law, the complexity of the financial holdings, and the degree of cooperation between spouses. The average is about $15,500, according to a nationwide survey by do-it-yourself legal publisher Nolo, with many divorces costing hundreds of thousands. Apart from legal fees in the hundreds of dollars per hour, there are court filing costs, moving costs, costs associated with child visitations, and other financial disruptions.
Conflict about money is the best predictor of the probability of divorce, although issues related to parenting, sex, and relationships with in-laws often come into play. Resolving marital problems in psychotherapy, when possible, is much less expensive and disruptive for all involved parties. If divorce does occur, partners can still benefit from counseling focused specifically on finding ways to end their relationship amicably and making co-parenting agreements that reduce custody battles.
Unresolved psychological issues between family members often result in expensive legal fights over estates and inheritance. It's hard to put a number on the cost of a contested will, as many cases are settled privately out of court, but even conservative estimates are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Rivalry between siblings is one major precipitant for a contested will. Often these rivalries are due to perceptions that one or both parents favored one child over another, or that resources were not distributed fairly among family members. These unresolved issues fester over time and emerge in the form of legal disputes after the death of the parents. Psychotherapy is a less expensive way to resolve conflict than litigation.
Preserving your career
About 1 in 5 American adults has a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in any given year, according to the American Psychiatric Association's Center for Workplace Mental Health. Employees are more likely to be absent from work due to mental health and substance abuse than for physical injuries or illness.
Your workplace productivity is affected not only when you are absent or on leave, but also when you are present but impaired in your ability to perform your job, a problem known as presenteeism. One study estimated that 80 percent of losses in workplace productivity are due to presenteeism, rather than absenteeism. If you are feeling apathetic, disengaged, angry, disappointed, or resentful, chances are your career is affected. Psychotherapy can provide a supportive environment in which to resolve depressive symptoms, address patterns of substance abuse, and resolve personal concerns.
Can you really afford not to be in therapy?
Psychotherapy is a financial and emotional investment in your well-being that benefits your health, finances, relationships, and career. Balancing the benefits relative to the investment of time, money, and effort is an individual decision, based on your own calculation of your quality of life. While the expense of seeing a therapist is a legitimate concern, there are ways to reduce the cost of treatment.
- Choose providers on your insurance panel if they have the necessary expertise and experience.
- Consider group psychotherapy if you have ongoing interpersonal concerns that affect your relationships with partners, family members, coworkers, and bosses.
- Define a targeted set of goals with your psychotherapist at the start of treatment with clear timelines to assess progress.
Carol Povenmire, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Pasadena, California.