How to Obtain Affordable Psychotherapy

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If you’re a member of Generation Y then odds are you’re stressed out. In fact, millennials say they’re more stressed out than any other generation according to surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association. Our stress levels are so high that we’ve even been dubbed “generation stress” by the media. Because we’re so stressed out, we also get a lot of advice about what to do about our high stress levels: go to yoga, get more sleep, eat healthy, think positive… the list goes on. While sometimes this kind of advice can be helpful, often advice from friends, family members, or the internet isn’t enough. If this is the case for you, then it may be a good idea to seek professional help from a psychologist so that you can learn about what your triggers are and how to best manage them.

Unfortunately, finding a psychologist can sometimes be much harder than it sounds and many people quit before they even walk into a psychologist’s office. On top of the fact that finding a psychologist can be a challenge, therapy can be really expensive. In New York City for example, the going rate for a “therapy hour” (45 minutes!) is $200-250. Because it’s important to go to therapy weekly and consistently at least for a few months to give it a real shot, the cost of therapy can add up to several thousand dollars pretty quickly. Obviously, most millennials can’t afford to shell out that kind of cash (kudos to those of you who can). Fortunately, if you’re willing to put in a bit more leg work on the front end there are ways to find good psychotherapy without spending a fortune.

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Call your insurance company: A lot of psychologists and psychotherapists (people with a master’s degree in psychology or degree in social work) accept insurance. It’s definitely worth the 20 minutes on hold with your insurance company to get a list of psychotherapy providers that accept your insurance. If you’re able to find someone in your area who accepts insurance, this could bring down the cost of each session to just your copay (about $20-$30 depending on your plan). Be sure to ask if there are limits on the number of sessions covered when you call and to also double check with the provider that they do in fact accept your insurance. Also, get more than one name. Finding a therapist you click with is a lot like dating; it can take a few tries to find the right chemistry, so you want to have more than one option.

Find a Training Clinic: If you live near a university or large hospital system, you may be able to find a provider who charges a very low fee. Graduate students in psychology or social work usually work at a training clinic or hospital before they get licensed. Students are supervised by licensed psychologists or social workers with a lot of experience, so this can be a good way to get really good and affordable psychotherapy.

Set your own rate: Some psychologists have a sliding scale policy (e.g., pay what you can). You can ask over the phone or at the first appointment about any “low fee” services. You can also bring up at the first appointment that you are really interested in psychotherapy, but that given your finances you are only able to pay a certain amount. If the therapist isn’t able to offer you a lower rate, be sure to ask them to refer you to any colleagues that do work with a sliding scale.

College counseling: If you’re a college or graduate student, it’s always a good idea to start your search right on campus. Most universities offer free mental health services for students (this doesn’t go on your college record and is kept confidential). The extent of services depends on your school. Some schools allow up to 10 individual sessions per semester while some only have group psychotherapy services. If you don’t feel comfortable going to the college counseling center because you may run into other students, call the counseling center to ask about other providers in your area who may offer low fee psychotherapy to students or accept insurance.

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Support Groups: Look up different support groups in your area. This is easier to do if you are in college or live in a large city, but you may be surprised at the kind of support network you can tap into just by searching. If your stress stems from a specific issue, try to search for groups of individuals who also identify with your problem (for example, substance abuse). It’s also a good idea to contact local religious institutions if you identify with a particular faith, since sometimes free support groups are available.

Finally, it’s important to think about your priorities. Decreasing stress and improving your mental health is an investment. A lot of us are more than willing to buy a $5 coffee every day or hand over $100 for a new pair of lulus… but we might be better off if some of those funds were spent on our wellbeing (you can always bring along home-brewed coffee and wear last seasons’ yoga pants when you meet your therapist for the first time).

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Melina Sevlever, PhD is a child clinical psychologist. Dr. Sevlever is on faculty at Columbia University Medical Center where she specializes in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in the Pediatric Psychiatry Department. She also works in private practice at Manhattan Psychology Group. In her free time she enjoys frequenting art museums and galleries around New York City.

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