Money and mental health
How much do we value counselling amidst a cost-of-living crisis?
Before starting my mental health journey years ago, the two biggest questions I asked myself were: can I afford it and is it worth it? Both valid but I’d forgotten a big one: am I worth it? That was harder to answer. My first foray into therapy was out of desperation, I had nowhere else to turn. Subsequent experiences were different. Yes, I had to assess the cost, but it was with a view to how I could make it work and not if I should make it work. I’d also finally accepted from previous therapeutic experiences and my own work that I was worth it.
Can I afford it?
Money seems to be enmeshed in the decision-making process around getting therapy. For some, where every penny goes on surviving, it’s not even a possibility – or even considered an option until it becomes life-threatening. Whether looking at wealthy or poor, or all shades in between, money plays a big role in access to therapy and, I believe for many, can be a massive barrier to successful therapy outcomes.
A big problem can be money as the provider of validation: I’ve only succeeded if I’ve got all the trappings – car, house, clothes, latest games, and so on. This is a powerful motivator and all-to-common in a materialist world that seems to be in a perpetual battle with its spiritual sister. A world where many of us measure ourselves by what we possess rather than the healthy actions we take. Judgemental of me? Yes, probably. But as a reformed collector of expensive designer suits, I’m talking from personal experience here.
Having volunteered in a homeless shelter, I’ve worked with men who were homeless and living in shelters where available cash went on food, shelter, cigarettes and occasionally drugs. This was their necessity as opposed to therapy.
And then there’s the G-word. Guilt. Indulge me a memory. Distraught, drunk and scared, I was taking a cab to an expensive, insurance-paid rehab and talking with one of my favourite cab drivers, Abdu an intelligent family man who escaped conflict in Somalia. Over the course of the journey, he told me that £800 would solve all is worries. Everything. My imminent treatment was 20 times that. My last suit had cost that much. I couldn’t get it out of my head and kept referring to it until a therapist took me aside after two days to help me process the guilt. I’m pretty sure that was when I decided that if I get well, I’m going to give back.
Is it worth it?
I’m also a believer that therapy shouldn’t be a luxury. I understand that rates will vary depending on the service provided and the market – that’s the world we live in. And there’ll probably always be the perception that more expensive equals better. In the case of counselling and psychotherapy, I don’t believe this always to be the case, with the caveat that there are complex conditions where a specialism and extensive experience is needed, and the higher cost is justified. I’ve paid full whack for therapy but I have also paid an affordable rate with a newly qualified therapist who was awesome and life changing. Interestingly, it was a seasoned and robust therapist friend who suggested that I try someone new who’s fizzing with techniques and knowledge and keen to use their training in the wild. It worked wonders for me.
Whilst I believe it’s good to be discerning in choosing a counsellor or therapist, it would be wise not to use the word ‘cheap’ in your head but instead consider ones like ‘value’, ‘affordable’ and ‘quality’. The meaning of quality as a noun to mean the standard against which something is measured, its newer use as a verb to mean good or excellent. I think the noun definition is the most important.
Am I worth it?
Today I wouldn’t hesitate to priorities money for counselling support when I need it and I look forward to the day when going to a few counselling sessions a year is as readily available and acceptable as going to your GPs for a cholesterol check. After all it is our mind that controls our body, so if that is not functioning as I need it to, all of my life is impacted.
Author: Seán Robinson, Trustee of The Counselling Foundation