People who choose online therapy may do so for a number of different reasons. For many, it’s more convenient, because you don’t have to spend time traveling to a therapist and sitting in their waiting room. Also, online therapy can help you to find more specialised help – especially if you live in a smaller town where there aren’t many therapists to choose from.
However, there’s another reason you might seek support over the internet – namely, to save money. In some situations, getting therapy online can be cheaper than in-person counseling in the United States.
In this article, we’ll compare the cost of online and face-to-face therapy. We’ll explain when each type of therapy is cheaper, and how health insurance affects what you’ll pay.
Cost of in-person therapy
The cost of face-to-face therapy can vary quite substantially, based on the following factors:
- Where you live, and what the general costs of living are
- What type of health insurance coverage you have for therapy
- Whether you qualify for sliding-scale support, and can find a therapist who offers this
Before health insurance coverage and any other discounts are applied, in-person therapy typically costs about $125–$200 per hour, depending on the city you live in. This means that for a 45-minute session, you’ll pay about $100–$150, before any discounts or health insurance coverage is applied.
More experienced, more specialised therapists with more qualifications will typically charge a higher price. If you seek help from a psychiatrist for example, this will typically cost more than sessions with a psychologist.
Health insurance coverage
Some health insurance plans cover visits to therapists. If you are covered, your insurance will pay most of the cost, but you’ll still have to cover the ‘co-pay’ – the proportion of the cost that you pay out of pocket.
On average, you’ll pay about $20–$50 per therapy session, depending on your health plan.
The issue is, not all therapists accept health insurance, because the health insurance companies don’t pay therapists enough, compared to a direct transaction. Therefore, if you want your insurance to help you pay for therapy, the number of therapists you can choose from will be significantly reduced.
Sliding scale therapy
Some therapists charge based on a sliding-scale system. This means that you’ll pay at a rate according to your income level and/or financial situation, rather than a flat fee.
To determine the sliding-scale fee, therapists may assess your income level, and/or any other financial hardships that you face. For example, some therapists will take into account your dependents when determining a therapy price.
To access this type of therapy, you will need to seek out therapists who offer sliding-scale pricing. You may also need to prove your income level or expenses in order to qualify for this type of therapy.
Cost of online therapy
The cost of face-to-face therapy mostly depends on the therapy platform you choose, and the services they provide to you. For example, some services just provide access to a counselor over text message. On the other hand, other online therapy platforms offer a weekly therapy session over a video call.
To find the best price given the service you need, it’s important to compare a few different online therapy providers and the therapy packages they each offer.
Typically, online therapy costs about $80–$100 per week, including a weekly online therapy session, with a service like BetterHelp. Talkspace, another online platform, is a bit more expensive, assuming you would like to have a live video call session each week.
Health insurance coverage
Most online therapy services are not covered by health insurance companies in the US. However, some are – Talkspace for example provides services through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
If you are covered, you can expect online therapy to be very cheap or even free, depending on the type of insurance or EAP you have.
The issue is, in the vast majority of cases, online therapy is not covered by health insurance companies. Therefore, if you do have a health plan that covers therapy, it’s likely a better idea to seek in-person support.
Sliding scale therapy
For those facing financial struggles, the best way to save money on online therapy is to seek help from a platform that offers a financial assistance program.
Some online therapy providers offer discounts for those on low incomes, unemployed persons, veterans, students, and other people facing financial stress. For example, BetterHelp offers this type of support, and they also offer discounts if you have unavoidably high expenses, due to health issues for example.
To get access to financial aid, you normally have to provide some extra details about your monetary situation when you sign up for therapy. In most cases, the platform will then offer you a lower weekly price – although you may need to prove that your income and/or expenses are as you have described them.
If you are eligible for assistance, you can expect to pay about $40-$60 per week for therapy, depending on the level of financial hardship you are facing.
Which is cheaper – online or in-person therapy?
The answer is – it depends.
If you have a comprehensive health insurance plan that covers therapy, then in-person therapy will likely be cheaper. This of course depends on your co-pay, and assumes that you can find a therapist that accepts your insurance near to where you live.
On the other hand, if you don’t have health insurance that covers therapy sessions, then online therapy may well be cheaper. It will likely be much cheaper if you only want to speak with a therapist via text message.
If you are on a low income, and need financial assistance, the cheapest option will depend on the types of therapy assistance you can get where you live.
If there are lots of good therapists nearby who offer sliding-scale pricing, then this may be the cheapest way to get support. You may also be able to get help from support groups, or other community organisations.
On the other hand, if these types of resources aren’t available in your town or city, then online therapy financial assistance programs can help you to get affordable mental health support.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.