By Adam Wright, Clinical Psychologist.
In the context of medicine, psychological therapy is relatively new. Therapy as we know it today has really only taken off in the last 45-50 years. In Australia, the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme, which made Medicare rebates for therapy available (and seeing a psychologist affordable for many Australians) has only been around since 2006.
As a result of its relative newness, a lot of people really don’t know much about therapy, and so approach the idea of seeing a psychologist with some trepidation. One major barrier to seeing a psychologist is still the cost. Despite Medicare making therapy more affordable than ever, therapy can still represent a significant amount of money, as usually multiple sessions are required to achieve the goals of therapy.
With any financial decision, it is important to weigh up costs and benefits. For today’s post I thought I would present three reasons why therapy can be considered a good investment.
- Therapy has been proven to be more effective than you might think.
All medical treatments are routinely researched to determine how effective they are in improving health outcomes. This is usually done through clinical trials, where researchers apply a treatment to a group of individuals under experimental conditions and monitor the effects. This has been done for the many different type of therapy that are available today.
Another aspect of medical research is called a meta-analysis, where researchers take the results of hundreds of different studies and use statistical methods to determine whether the entire body of evidence suggests a treatment is effective. In 1977 researchers Mary Smith and Gene Glass took 400 studies of therapy and found that overall, an individual who has therapy is better off than 75% of individuals who didn’t have therapy. This effectiveness statistic is actually better than what medical research has found for fluoride in terms of your dental health, and equivalent to bypass surgery for heart problems!
- You might not need as many sessions of therapy as you think.
The image of therapy that gets popularised by the media is the kind where the person lies on a couch and talks incessantly while the therapist writes notes and doesn’t say anything back. And it seems like on TV, everyone who sees a therapist is in for years at a time. This image has been helped, no doubt, by Woody Allen’s neurotic comedies of the 70’s and 80’s where his characters seem to find it normal to be seeing a therapist for 15 years!
While it is certainly possible for some people or some therapies to require many sessions, for the majority of people the amount of times you see a therapist would be much lower. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the main treatment used in Australia, typically suggests treatments go for no more than 20 sessions. One study by Krause and Orlinsky in 1986 found that 60-65% of people felt significant symptom relief within one to seven visits, 70-75% felt relief after six months and 85% at one year. So for the majority of people, therapy is ultimately a short term process rather than a years-long endeavour.
- The cost of therapy may offset other hidden costs
A concept well-known to economists is that of opportunity cost – the idea that a cost can be the loss of a benefit a person could have received but gave up taking another course of action. In therapy, this can occur, for example with work stress and depression. Early intervention with CBT or other therapies can provide a person with the skills to manage their mental health at work more effectively, which could result in them being able to either return to work more quickly or not have to stop working at all. But later intervention when the symptoms are at their strongest could mean having to take holidays, extended leave or even leaving a job entirely, with obvious potential loss of income. In this example, the early investment in therapy can result in dividends in quality of life for the future.
Overall choosing to see a therapist is a deeply personal decision with a lot of things to consider. I hope by reading this blog it has prompted you to understand more about the benefits of therapy and help you come to the right decision for you.
Adam is a Clinical Psychologist, a practitioner at the Resilience Centre and a regular contributor to this blog. Find more about Adam here.