Aug 18, 2008

Lots of good reasons for self pay for psychotherapy

Are there good reasons to bypass your insurance company for psychotherapy benefits and pay directly for your psychotherapy?

In a word, yes.

A few years back, a University of Illinois study of Fortune 50 corporations found that fully half of the companies surveyed used employee medical records in making employment-related decisions. And of those, nearly 20 percent didn’t inform the employee. A 1991 survey of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment found that almost a third of the employers that maintained employee medical records let their personnel departments read those records without notifying the employee.

If you choose to pay the bill yourself directly to the therapist – the private pay option – you have lots of other benefits:

You may pick the psychotherapist of your choice, rather than having a business telling you who to see.

You will have flexibility in the kind of treatment modality that you receive determine your own goals and length of treatment.

You will not receive a mental health diagnosis because the therapist will not be reporting to your insurance company.

You will be assured of complete confidentiality. Your health records will not be shared with anyone without your written permission. Your spouse, parent, significant other, boss, brother or friend will not know that you are seeking psychotherapy unless you tell them.

You will not "bump into" co-workers who may be seeing the same therapist because that person is the only therapist contracted with your place of employment.

You will not have to worry that a record of a mental health diagnosis may affect your future capacity to obtain health or life insurance.

You will be able to stay with your psychotherapist, even if your insurance plan coverage changes.

At first glance, some folks may have difficulty believing that private pay is a realistic option. Yet counseling or therapy compares well with the price of other important services and personal needs – auto repairs, health club memberships, dental work – and is related to present and future happiness and life satisfaction. People who genuinely want to make changes in their lives manage to identify priorities and budget their money differently.

Here are some ways people are able to afford to pay privately for therapy:

Examine your budget closely and determine what expenses you can defer in your life for six months or a year. Fewer new shoes and faraway airline tickets? Less stops at your favorite coffee shop or big-ticket restaurant? More modest gifts at Christmas, weddings and other holidays?

Ask about a payment installment plan. Ask your psychotherapist of choice if he or she is able to identify other payment plans for you.

Some psychotherapists offer reduced fees to students and others, such as activists, artists and low-income people. Sometimes reduced fees are also available for highly motivated people who can come to daytime appointments or other off-hours times rather than evening hours, which are usually at a premium.

Discuss with your therapist how you can extend the value of your psychotherapy treatment. This may mean that you will have fewer appointments (perhaps once every three weeks) and participate in other activities such as journal writing, self-help groups, reading and structured talks with a trusted friend or mentor) to keep the momentum going.

Keep in mind that psychotherapy can also save you MORE money in the long run. Benefits can include less money spent on stress-related illness, less problems at home that may cause a financial drain and improve your job performance. For more on specific benefits of therapy, click here.

One last note regarding confidentiality and special circumstances to consider:

There are a handful of situations where therapists are “required to act” that apply whether you have signed a release of information or not and whether insurance is utilized or not. These include: court-subpoenaed records, in the case of child or elder abuse or in the case of harm to yourself or others. In these cases, the therapist is required legally and ethically to protect the involved parties. In most cases, you and your therapist will be discussing these situations as a part of your treatment to decide how best to handle each individual case.