Multiple times per week, I receive phone calls from potential patients who are interested in psychotherapy, and many of whom are in great need of obtaining mental health treatment.  Of these inquiries, at least once per week I also hear from one of these potential patients that “therapy is too expensive,” “I’ll just wait because I have some big expenses coming up,” “I can’t afford to do therapy right now,” etc.  Now, keep in mind, these statements are made after the person reached out to inquire about services, fees, and available appointments, which suggests the individual recognizes their need for help but is willing to readily minimize it.  Why might that be?  Well, based on these facts, it stands to reason that delaying mental health treatment typically comes down to cost (aka-money).  However, cost is the surface issue.

The truth is that delaying treatment based on cost speaks volumes about how one values psychotherapy, how important or effective they believe psychotherapy can be, and how a person prioritizes their mental health and obtaining treatment.

It is important to note that it is likely that some of these individuals truly cannot afford therapy services due to timing or general financial limitations.  It is also as likely that many of these individuals simply view therapy as a luxury and something which they can put off “for a little longer.”

Psychotherapy is NOT a Luxury

The importance of moving away from the “therapy is a luxury” mentality cannot be overstated.  When therapy is seen as a luxury, it is viewed as something that is not needed but only done when you want to treat yourself well, or give yourself a little something extra.  Related to this, I previously wrote an article comparing therapy to spa treatments.  The point made in that article is that many people will spend money for a luxurious spa treatment, however will put therapy on the back burner despite the effectiveness, (yes-) lower cost, and longer-lasting results that come from therapy.

Not only is therapy not at all a luxury, it is most definitely a necessity for some individuals.  People attend therapy sessions in order to improve their mental and emotional well-being, relationships, careers, and lives.  Not only are these significant factors in living a functional and productive lifestyle, but these are elements that are empirically proven to be intertwined with our physical health.  Therefore, neglecting your mental health may seem harmless, but the accumulated effect of neglect can lead to far greater issues, including physical health problems, absenteeism and other work/career problems, significant relationship troubles including the dissolution of relationships, substance abuse, and suicidality.

Why is viewing therapy as a luxury harmful?

Approaching psychotherapy as a luxury creates many problems, from a personal level to a more societal (large scale) level.  The following is a list of reasons why viewing therapy as a luxury is harmful and false:

  1. Minimizes the importance of treatment. Viewing therapy as a luxury suggests that the process is ineffective, or not based on science and proven results.  When you view therapy as a luxury, not only are you dismissing the effectiveness of treatment, but you are sending the message to yourself and to others that taking care of one’s mental and emotional troubles is not worthwhile and is a futile effort.  This could not be farther from the truth.
  2. Minimizes others’ problems. Related to #1, to suggest that seeking psychotherapy is a luxury minimizes the importance, significance, and impact of others’ problems in their lives.  It is equivalent to saying “that’s not a real problem,” which again, is entirely false.  This type of invalidation could be the core reason for which the person is seeking help.  Therapy has been proven to be life changing for many individuals, which suggests that their problems are real and that they can be helped.
  3. Minimizes your own problems. Others may be able to look the other way, or perhaps even laugh at the idea that therapy is a luxury.  The greatest impact this approach has is on you.  When you approach such an important aspect of your well-being as lacking in importance, you are far less likely to seek and obtain the help you need.  Contrary to belief, minimizing problems does not get rid of them.  They actually tend to grow, and can be far more difficult to manage or resolve if neglected for too long.
  4. That’s an excuse. When you dismiss therapy as not being a necessity, it is often the case that you are really making excuses for not dealing with an important issue or engaging in a process where, yes, you feel vulnerable.  (However, there is a difference between feeling vulnerable and being vulnerable – therapy is a confidential and nonjudgmental process, so the only real vulnerability is that of being vulnerable with yourself).  Again, making excuses for not seeking help does not equate to the problems or difficulties going away.
  5. It is effective. Psychotherapy works.  Conducting a brief search of the research literature on the internet will yield many, many studies demonstrating time and again the effectiveness of psychotherapy.  This effect is enhanced further when evidence-based treatments are utilized.  Psychotherapy can change lives in profound ways, and can be the difference between not getting out of bed and living a life full of meaning, productivity, and happiness.  Psychotherapy is not a luxury.

Relative Cost of Therapy

Given that the number one (surface) reason people tend to delay or neglect treatment is due to cost, it seems important to share some insight on this topic.  First, if you recognize the inherent value in engaging in therapy (whether prior to or after reading this article), it is likely you will come to the belief that the literal cost is not much of one.  Certainly not when you consider the priceless gains that can be made.

However, if you are still on the fence about the specific price of therapy, let’s make a comparison.  When you attend a therapy session, you are meeting with the doctor for an uninterrupted 45-50 minutes.  During this time, the doctor is mentally and emotionally engaged while they are assessing, analyzing, educating, and helping you.  Compare that to going to your general practitioner, or an urgent care center, where you most likely will spend 10 minutes (at most) with the doctor, and the billed amount for time spent and services performed is likely up to be upwards of $300 just for the office visit alone (and not including any tests or procedures).  Therefore, the monetary value of a psychotherapy session simply in terms of dollars per minute, even on the high end of psychologists (~$250 per session), is far greater than that of meeting with almost any other type of doctor.

Change your approach to therapy, and change your life.

One of the greatest difficulties with mental health problems is that they are generally invisible illnesses.  However, just because you can’t see your depression does not mean it is any less important or damaging.  You wouldn’t neglect going to the doctor if you were sick with a cold or if you broke your leg; why would you neglect going to the doctor to work through mental and emotional troubles, which are the backbone of our lives and which help us to function better during periods of stress, including when we are physically ill.

As a doctor, and more specifically a psychologist, who has spent many years in school and clinical training settings (ten years total be specific…) to help others resolve crucial life issues, myself and fellow mental health practitioners could become easily bothered when given the message that psychotherapy is a luxury.  If it were a luxury, and not a critical aspect of one’s health, why would the educational, training, and licensing requirements for therapists be as stringent as they are?

It is important as professionals that we educate our communities and individuals about the effectiveness, helpfulness, and importance of seeking help for psychological difficulties.  It is also important to recognize that the invisible nature of these troubles is a huge factor in explaining why many individuals view therapy as being a luxury.  It is often those who have experienced mental health troubles them self, or those who have been impacted by others around them struggling with mental health, that recognize therapy is not a luxury, but often a necessity.

So the next time you have to pick between buying a new outfit, going to the spa, paying for an overpriced meal out, or buying a new gadget, ask yourself: Which purchase is more important?  Can I really afford to put off my mental well-being “for a little longer?”

Going to therapy is not a luxury, but an investment in your mental health, which is an investment in your overall well-being and your happiness