Does Insurance Cover Therapy? Considerations For Affordable Mental Health Help

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated April 22, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

If you’re interested in going to therapy, one of the concerns you probably have is how you’re going to pay for it. Even if you have health insurance, you may still be confused. Does the health insurance cover mental healthcare? Many may think that law requires insurance companies to provide mental healthcare, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

The cost of a therapist varies greatly based on many things, such as the area you live in and their area of expertise. If you’re looking for affordable mental health help or affordable therapy, you need to understand your insurance company and insurance coverage.

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What To Consider When Looking At “Does Insurance Cover Therapy?”

The answers to the questions “does health insurance cover therapy?” or “what exactly does my insurance cover?” aren’t as simple as you might think. There are many different types of health insurance coverage and different insurance plans available, which means that some health insurance plans cover different things than others. Here are some things that you should know regarding insurance plans and mental healthcare.

What Health Insurance Companies Are Required To Offer

There have been some misunderstandings around how the Affordable Care Act impacted health insurance coverage. There is a misconception that law requires insurance or that law requires companies that deal with insurance to cover mental healthcare. However, that’s not entirely true. The ACA does not require insurance companies to offer comprehensive and extensive mental health care.

The ACA indeed made some great changes for those that want coverage for mental wellness services. For example, health insurance companies can’t turn you down because you have a mental health diagnosis, including substance abuse disorders. And, there are some services that you can take advantage of that are covered at no cost.

However, this doesn’t mean that your company that deals with health insurance must offer coverage or mandatory that your insurance pays for mental health. The ACA only requires “parity protection.” This means that the coverage for mental health services needs to be equal to medical or surgical coverage. So, while this sounds good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting good coverage for mental wellness services. Many people right now are on plans that provide little coverage for any medical service. This means you still aren’t getting mental wellness services covered, and you also aren’t getting many medical services covered either.

There are a lot of details to consider, and you may have lots of questions beyond “does health insurance pay for therapy?” Does my health insurance pay for prescription medications for mental health if I need and am prescribed them?? Does my health insurance pay for psychology? Does health insurance pay for couples therapy? Does health insurance pay for group therapy? Does health insurance pay for other less conventional treatments?

To answer “does my health insurance cover what I need?” you may have to analyze your current policy or keep these questions in mind when looking for insurance. When choosing insurance, it’s important to verify the type of coverage you’ll be receiving. And, if you have any questions, make sure to contact your health insurance provider to find out exactly what is covered and what’s not. You can easily find contact information for your carrier on your insurance card.

It’s important to be aware of what your health insurance covers and what it doesn’t. That way you won’t be surprised by any unexpected bills.

Here are some things to watch out for below:

Limited Necessity

It used to be more common for health insurance companies to limit the number of sessions that someone could use. While this has pretty much been done away with, other limitations still apply. For example, you may have an insurance plan that limits coverage to be “medically necessary.”

The problem with this is that many people can benefit from mental wellness services without an official diagnosis. For example, if you wanted to get counseling for marital problems or anxiety that doesn’t meet the requirements set in the DSM, your health insurance will not be able to cover the services.

Limit On The Dollar Amount Spent

Your health insurance may also include a cap on the amount they will cover in any given year. This means, even if you could use continued services like sessions with your therapist, they will not be covered if you have reached that dollar amount.

Not only could this limit the number of sessions that you do in a year, but it could also influence what professional you choose to work with. Those with higher costs will be harder to work with because you’ll reach your limit faster.

Restricted Options On Who You Can Work With

Another way that coverage with your health insurance is limited when it comes to mental wellness services is that you will work with certain mental health professionals and some that you won’t. Your health insurance company may not work with the provider that you want to work with. This means that you will either have to pay out of pocket for your sessions, or you’ll have to choose a different provider that your insurance will work with.

Why Some Therapist Won’t Accept Your Insurance

You may run into a situation where you wonder, “why doesn’t my therapist accept my insurance?” Sometimes it’s not your health insurance company that is refusing to work with a mental health professional. There are many mental health workers, such as psychologists that will not work with insurance companies. This is because the insurance companies refuse to compensate the professionals for what they consider a fair price.

So, you will want to check with your therapist to see what type of plans with your health insurance they work with, if any. Depending on where you live, you may need to do some looking to find a therapist who will accept your insurance. Contact your insurance provider with any specific questions or to understand what your options are.

Alternative Options For Therapy

If you don’t have coverage with health insurance or are interested in alternative options, there are several that you can choose from.

Things You Can Do At Home

You can do some things at home on your own to improve your mental health challenges, depending on what it is you’re facing. Some of the things below have proven beneficial for people with anxiety and depression and can also help treat other mental health disorders.

Self-care – Practicing self-care includes eating right, exercising, meditation, rest, journaling, etc. It’s pretty much any activity that helps you to take care of yourself in a healthy way. Everyone needs to focus on self-care each day, and if you have a mental health challenge, doing so becomes even more important. This can help you reduce anxiety and improve your chance of overcoming depression.

Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy with the right essential oils can help to reduce anxiety and boost your mood. This can be a great alternative treatment to try in addition to other more traditional forms of treatment.

Pet therapy – Some people find support from emotional support dogs, and others enjoy horse therapy. If there’s an animal that you enjoy that helps you to relax, it can be good to spend time with it. It can help you to relieve stress and anxiety and calm down.

Free Or Low-Cost Alternatives

If you’re looking for free alternatives to affordable mental wellness services, there are some options that you can look into. For example, some churches provide free counseling services. While these services can be helpful, you will want to ask questions about the person's credentials that are providing the therapy. Likely, they will not have the same experience as a mental health professional such as licensed therapists or counselors.

You can also try looking to see if there are any free clinics in your area. Many health centers offer free screenings or therapy for those that qualify for services.

There are also online forums that you can join. You can find one full of others working through the same challenges that you are. This can be helpful because it lets you know that you’re not alone. And, you can receive tips and advice from others that know exactly what you’re going through because they have been through it too.

If you attend a university or are a student in school, you may have access to free counseling through your school. Schools understand that students face a wide array of challenges and often provide free or very affordable counseling options.

One final option for finding affordable mental wellness services is finding a therapist that offers a sliding scale fee. This means that the price you pay for your session will be dependent on how much money you make. That means if you don’t make a lot, you’ll be able to have a smaller session fee. This is something that therapists do to help make therapy sessions more affordable for everyone.

Online Therapy

Another option for affordable mental wellness services is online therapy. These sessions have several benefits over traditional therapy sessions. They can be more affordable, for starters. But they can also be more convenient. You don’t have to take the time out of your day to travel to another location to talk with a therapist. You have access to your therapist from anywhere that you have access to the internet or your phone.

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Online therapy is also a great option if you are worried about sharing personal details about your life, actions, and thoughts. Being able to meet not face-to-face helps some people open up and share more without feeling judged.

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