Mental healthcare is not accessible. Stop asking therapists to fix it.

One of my favorite (somewhat dark?) side effects of the pandemic is that the conversation about the importance of mental healthcare skyrocketed. It was already on an upswing, and oddly enough, a massive global crisis really kicked that into high gear!

It’s important to take care of your mental health. Agreed? Agreed.

This whole idea centers on therapy, rightfully so. Therapists are trained (and AWESOME) professionals whose job it is to help you work through all the reasons it’s hard to be a human. I’m especially excited that so many people have come around to the idea that you don’t need to be in crisis to go to therapy and have begun thinking of it more like going to your primary care physician or your regular workout class.

This would be a happy end to the story, except…

There’s a huge accessibility problem in mental healthcare.

First things first: we ARE fixing the problem.

Well, at least as much as we can. It’s common practice to offer sliding scale (lower cost) fees as well as helping clients get reimbursed from the insurance companies that won’t pay us enough money directly. I can speak on my own behalf and say that we pay someone to make sure that process goes smoothly and clients are getting what they are entitled to. And for a lot of people, that’s the end. It makes it feasible to attend therapy and that’s that.

But before we even get into the fact that it STILL isn’t a good option for so many people, let’s examine that a little further.

Re-read what I just said.

Therapy isn’t accessible, so therefore, we offer to take a lower fee than what our time and expertise is worth AND we take another hit so we can pay someone to help our clients navigate insurance. Oh okay. Cool.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to help. I became a therapist to help! I help people who don’t even want to be helped. Don’t worry, I’m talking about friends and family, not people on the street. At least not yet.

Anyway, I digress. I want to help my clients. I genuinely care about them and I happen to think we provide pretty damn good therapy, so therefore, I want as many people to have access as possible.

But why are therapists the ones taking the hit to fix this problem?

We weren’t the ones who decided to devalue mental healthcare, especially compared to other medical specialities. We ALREADY get paid less than, let’s say, a pediatrician. Now we’re going to take even less because your insurance company (and the US government, let’s be real, because Medicare for All could be a thing!) doesn’t think your mental health is as important as your high blood pressure.

Let’s dive even deeper, shall we?

The mental health field consists of mostly women. If you’ve ever tried to find a therapist that identifies as a man, you probably aren’t shocked. If you work in the mental health field, you definitely are not shocked. But just in case you thought that women were also dominating the highest levels in the profession, don’t worry, we’re not!

You might already see where I’m going here. The healthcare field that is dominated by women is also the one that makes the least amount of money? Oh okay. And not only that, there’s an expectation that the women in the field need to be the ones who make up for the fact that society has made it difficult (if not impossible) to actually get care? EVEN BETTER.

Art imitates life, right? Or in this case, healthcare imitates life?

Stop expecting therapists to take the hit.

It’s not on us. Well, it is, because we’ll carry this problem on our backs as much as we can. It’s who we are. But we shouldn’t have to.

The next time you think about how you want to try to solve the inaccessibility problem, pause and ask yourself if your first go to is to find a therapist who will take a “reduced fee”. If so, you’re essentially asking someone to work for very little money – far less than what they’re worth. You’re asking someone to take a hit in another area of their business or their life.

Would you work for half of what you’re worth?

If your boss asked you to work half of your day at a rate that’s 50% less than what your standard hourly pay is, you’d probably find that atrocious. That’s what insurance companies ask therapists to do. It’s what the world we live in asks therapists to do. “Will you reduce your fee?” is usually the first thing we think of when we’re trying to figure out how to get someone the help they need. What you’re asking is “Will you sacrifice your own finances and worth as a professional?”, so I turn it back to you. Would YOU?

This isn’t the solution. You, single person reading this, probably can’t wave a magic wand and fix our broken healthcare system. You can make sure you’re not putting a heavier burden on those of us who are already carrying a lot.

Vote for elected officials who prioritize healthcare for everyone – including mental healthcare. Understand why therapists aren’t always able to accept less money for their services, and if they do, recognize the generous gesture that it is. Do some research before you ask if a particular rate is doable. Is it actually a reasonable decrease, or is it significantly less than what the “standard” therapy fee is in your area?

We want to fix this issue too! We just don’t want to do it alone.

We’re making therapy as accessible as we can. Find out how here.

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Viva provides clients with individualized, holistic, and culturally competent care. We focus on working with the whole person and firmly believe that a healthy lifestyle looks different on everyone.

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