Therapy reality #1: It ain’t cheap, part III

Therapy reality #1: It ain’t cheap, part III

I wasn’t alone
In 2010, in the wake of the “Great Recession of 2008,” I filed for bankruptcy.

Since 2008, states have cut $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. How would you like to live in the great state of Vermont? They closed its only state-run psychiatric hospital after Hurricane Irene hit in 2011.

People who lost jobs and retirement incomes stopped paying mortgages, health insurance premiums, car notes, everything. At once banks and their lawyers were backlogged with foreclosure proceedings. Bankruptcy courts were clogged because unemployment was going up; businesses were failing; stock prices were plunging; 401ks were dying; i.e., all hell was breaking loose on Wall Street.

Small, private health care providers such as dentists, trainers, in-home support service workers, physical therapists, mental health professionals suddenly were struggling to make a living.

My therapist was not immune and becoming a bit snippy. Before I realized how bad my fiscal problems were, I wrote him two rubber checks in a row. I never wrote bad checks but it didn’t matter. The damage was done.

His practice was shrinking fast and I was no help. I was one of many big ticket items for him at $18,000 per year. He elected to work six days a week with minimum 12-hour days. He was well into a six-figure counseling practice. However, both of us were in the same boat. He was losing money, I lost money and everybody was in a bad mood.

In the beginning
When I first started therapy, I was in emergency mode. I was very suicidal, incredibly dysfunctional and major depression made my life nearly impossible to live. He told me I was only one of a few of his clients who, if I called, he would stop what he was doing and pick up the call. No one did that for me before. Nobody cared enough.

After I attempted suicide, he visited me twice in the hospital. My mother never even called while my father visited once and genuinely seemed distressed at the thought I would want to kill myself. After discharge and during intensive outpatient therapy, he reiterated his commitment to take my calls by giving me his home number. Who was this guy? Is he real? Apparently so.

Before finances dried up, I regularly threw it in his face that he was a phony pretending to give a rat’s behind about someone like me. After all, I was only one client. He insisted that he actually, genuinely cared bout me. He said he wanted to give me his full attention. I reminded him I paid for his “genuine” care and attention. I didn’t pay friends to care yet he somehow he wanted me to believe he cared despite paying full fare.

Too much compassion
When I was about to declare bankruptcy I tried to end therapy. He wasn’t having it. He wouldn’t let me go. I absolutely insisted while I was in tears trying to rationalize I wanted desperately to honor him by not expecting virtually free therapy. After all, he had a lifestyle to maintain. He reduced my fee in half.

He explained he had an ethical obligation to continue our course of therapy. Terrific. Now he’s “obliged” to give me services. I was a charity case he could boast about. However, after a few years I knew in my gut what I said wasn’t true about him.

On one hand, I felt awful  that I couldn’t pay him what he was worth. On the other hand, I knew I had something so many wish they’d had: a qualified, compassionate mental health professional. At one point I told him I wanted to repay him but he said it wasn’t necessary.

Five years ago I began paying $50 per month. He still sees me today. I know it’s a miracle. I also know he really loves and cares about me. What a gift.

Here’s what you can do
Anyone caught between a therapist and a tight budget, try reading this article. Also keep in mind that some therapists might be willing to see you via Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts. However, you should not establish virtual meetings without first meeting face to face for a period of time. Both of you need to get to know each other and build trust. The therapeutic relationship is best established in person and it is the single most important piece of talk therapy. Take the time to bond.

A friend of mine, while attending USC, had meetings every other week via FaceTime. When he came home for breaks, he would reconnect with his therapist face to face. Note: they already established a strong therapeutic relationship. For them, it made the most sense. My friend still sees him via FaceTime because he’s on the east coast in grad school. Of course, every situation is unique so don’t hesitate to negotiate for this so you can begin the process of healing.

Another alternative is the Abide app. Believe it or not, this app has several pre-recorded prayer on a variety of searchable topics. I actually heard prayers from Tony Evans and Mike Bickle. However, this is not a substitute for psychotherapy. It’s one more resource to help you stay sane and connected to God between sessions.

Also, any of these options might work well for those living in remote locations. Discuss these with your therapist and find out how much they are willing to accommodate you.

If they are willing, you may have found some gold.

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