How Much Does a Good Therapist Cost (and why it’s so hard to find one that takes your insurance)?
It always cracks me up when people ask for a referral to a “really good” therapist as if anyone wants a just okay one. There’s finding the right fit, but how do you know if someone is “good” and what is that worth?
Contrary to popular belief, therapists are not rich (especially if they take insurance)! In fact, Salary.com reports that private practice therapists in the Seattle area make slightly more than public school teachers! But therapists are part of what’s known as a “gig economy” — a free market system in which the opportunities are temporary in nature (think independent contractor or freelancer), and in which the worker must provide their own benefits. A therapist in private practice has to think about how to factor in their own health insurance, paid vacation, sick time, maternity/paternity leave, taxes, saving for retirement, etc. There are many benefits to being part of the gig economy, but mastering it takes a lot of foresight.
Unfortunately, while there’s an urgent need for mental health care in this country, it is not valued by the mainstream medical model. Insurance plans reimburse therapists well under their established rates and do not provide a living wage once you’ve factored in the aforementioned benefits. Therapist’s rates may seem arbitrary or high, but think of it like a hotel room. It feels like you’re getting all these free amenities, but they’ve actually been factored into the nightly rate. Therapists spend more than just that 50 minutes on your care. There’s paperwork, trainings, treatment planning, research, consultation, referrals, and the secondary trauma that can occur when doing this delicate work. The struggle [for balance] is real — and it effects how “good” the therapist can be when our main tool is ourselves.
This might come as a shock, but therapists struggle just as much as you do with things like self care and finances. Personally, I want to know that my therapist practices what they preach, that I can look up to them and respect them — that they essentially value themselves.
If your therapist is struggling to make ends meet, this will impact the therapy. They may become resentful of their clients, burn out faster, or have to take on more work, leaving them depleted when it comes to their work with YOU. Is that a “good” therapist that you can respect and admire? Is that someone you can trust to lead you through your own journey to self actualization? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that we all need basic security before we can reach our highest potential.
If a therapist chooses not to take insurance, it is often because they are choosing to care for themselves, their basic needs, establish a living wage, and can in turn provide you with that “good” care you’re looking for. Can you put a price tag on finally feeling understood?