How to Save Bags of Money On Counselling (Or, How To Stop Making Your Counselling More Expensive Than It Needs To Be)

It’s no secret that counselling is expensive, particularly if you don’t have private coverage; if you’re one of the lucky ones who has found a private psychiatrist (medical doctor) who also provides psychotherapy, than this will typically be paid by your provincial health plan. This is not the case however for the majority of people seeking counselling in Canada.

Because counselling comes at a financial cost and also requires a significant emotional investment, it is important to look at factors which could make counselling more costly than it needs to be.

I’d like to review those here and look at some alternative solutions. Experiencing counselling as a satisfying, worthwhile experience, should be a key part of determining whether counselling was a justifiable expense.

And an important disclaimer: I am talking about personal counselling for non-life threatening situations. If you are in a crisis that exceeds the scope of the service a 1:1 counsellor can provide, please connect with a crisis service.

Cost Factor #1: You are philosophically opposed to counselling.

Sometimes we think we “should” go to counselling but deep down, it’s not something we agree with. This can sometimes change over time—in fact, I’ve seen numerous examples of this over the years—however, counselling generally isn’t that effective when you don’t really want to be there; the cost can add up if you continue to attend when you’d rather not, particularly if more sessions are added in an effort to see better results.

Alternative response: Connect with people and activities that do support your personal growth.

Cost Factor #2: Everyone else thinks you need counselling.

You may be attending counselling under duress like an ultimatum or alternatively, a desire to please someone else. Counselling is rarely effective in such circumstances and can often make people feel like they have wasted their money. One exception is when there is a trusting relationship between you and the person who is wanting you to enter counselling: you may actually hear (and ultimately agree) with their suggestion. This is an individual thing, however.

Alternative response: While it can be valuable and important to hear what others have to say, you are in charge of the decision to attend counselling, or not. Be honest.

Cost Factor #3: You agree with counselling but you’re “not ready” and you go anyway.

You technically know that counselling will help you but you just haven’t hit a point where you really feel ready to go. You might go to the counsellor’s office and just sit there, unsure of what to say, and your counsellor can’t seem to get you to elaborate. You leave the office feeling confused and uncertain.

Alternative response: Ask yourself why you are not ready. Is there something that needs to be taken care of or resolved first? Do you need more information about the counselling process so you better know what to expect? Would it help to talk with a trusted friend or family member who has had experience with counselling? Another option is to take advantage of a free consultation before an official session to help you determine when counselling might be right for you (or not).

Cost Factor #4: You choose the first counsellor you find and hope for the best.

Sometimes we can feel such a need to get started in counselling that we skip the research end of things; I can’t say it enough: finding the right fit in an counsellor is vital to therapy success. To do otherwise could result in numerous false starts until you find someone whom you work well with.

Alternative response: Research local options, ask friends and family who they used (understanding of course that the right fit for them might not be right for you) and take advantage of free consultations with counsellors, particularly if you have a chance to meet with them. Short of that, a phone call can be very helpful too.

Cost Factor #5: You’re too busy in your regular life but you jam in some counselling sessions anyway.

Often we may really, really want counselling (especially if we’re overwhelmed) however practically, it’s a bad idea. You may be working multiple jobs, have too many childcare demands, be caregiving, working and going to school or just in general have too many conflicting responsibilities. When you’re in session you’re focused on understandably venting your stress and there is no time or mental focus to work on deeper issues and patterns.

Alternative response: Pair back on life responsibilities if at all possible or delay counselling until there is room in your schedule. Unless you are seeking counselling for a specific issue that is likely to be brief, ensure that you can meet on an ongoing basis if needed.

Cost Factor #6: You want to tackle a big issue(s) in session over a small amount of time (See also #7, below).

Perhaps you have a few weeks of vacation, or you’re briefly in between jobs but there’s something big that you want to deal with and you want to wrap it up in the time you’ve got. This may work (or not). Depending on the magnitude of the issue, bringing it up in a time pressure situation (let’s say 2-6 sessions) can sometimes open a pandora’s box that can be hard to close in the time you’ve allotted and leave you with a less than satisfying counselling experience. Also, feeling under the gun to resolve something quickly can put pressure on the counselling experience, for both client and therapist, and can feel rushed and unpleasant.

Alternative response: You can consult with the counsellor before getting into the details. In the therapist’s professional opinion, do they think that the issue can be dealt with in the amount of time you have available? If not, would there be an opportunity for the counselling to be continued once the larger chunk of time is over?

Cost Factor #7: You want to get the most “value” you can out of a session and bring up everything that is bothering you.

Does this actually work? The typical outcome in such scenarios is that clients end up raising too many issues to adequately address in the allotted session time and end up feeling scattered by the end. This can often be related to anxiety: a fear that these issues will not be dealt with or forgotten, intense internal pressure causing issues to spill out all over the place or a desire to have resolution NOW. Such reasons are all very understandable and sometimes, especially in a first session, it can be helpful to finally get certain things off of your chest. However when every session goes this way, it’s typically not effective and long-term, can leave you feeling like you’re not getting anywhere in counselling.

Alternative response: give your therapist the heads up as to which issues you would like to deal with in counselling; ask for their help in helping you prioritize them. They can also help with pacing over the course of your sessions.

Cost Factor #8: You’re a perfectionist when it comes to counsellors.

Sometimes you see the therapist’s humanness and you don’t like it or sometimes you didn’t approve of something they said—regardless, it’s time for a new therapist. Or is it? It can be a frustrating scenario to have gotten to know a therapist (who has subsequently gotten to know you) and then have something happen in the session that irks you and makes you want to start anew.

Alternative response: Sometimes, yes, it’s exactly the right thing to choose a new therapist and it’s always the right thing to do if you believe that your rights have been violated however if you’re bailing because you’re afraid of bringing up the issue with your therapist, I’d recommend you try, unless you don’t feel safe doing so. Paradoxically, processing counselling ruptures can often be the gateway to a better therapeutic relationship and ultimately a better counselling outcome for you. And starting over and over with yet another therapist, especially when this happens multiple times, can become a slow road to nowhere.

Cost Factor #9: You’re a bargain hunter.

You’ve done your research and you’ve priced things out. You’ve found someone whose offering counselling at half the cost what most therapists are charging. What gives? Sometimes they tell you, sometimes they don’t. Maybe they work out of their home with little to no overhead, maybe they’re getting started and want to bring in clients quickly, perhaps it’s a contribution to the community of offering lower-cost counselling. Some may not have counselling training at all , or minimal training (counselling is unregulated in BC after all) so there are no student loans to pay off. There could be a number of reasons for this cost savings.

Alternative response: If you’ve researched and interviewed the counsellor beforehand and you believe they are a good fit for you, this could be an excellent option. However, if they’re not a good match, despite the up-front cost savings, it’s more expensive to purchase counselling that doesn’t end up helping you—kind of like buying sale items that you never end up using.

Cost Factor #10: Fewer or infrequent sessions = more savings?

Sometimes we think that spacing out our sessions so that we’re attending counselling infrequently will be effective. While this may work for a one-off consultation about a smaller, specific issue, this strategy seldom has the results that we seek as it can be very difficult to achieve momentum across sessions where client and therapist find themselves reviewing the current situation since it has been so long since the last meeting, leaving little time to work on goals.

Alternative response: Consider shorter but more frequent sessions, or talk with your therapist about supplementing in-between session times with other therapeutic activities such as group therapy or other wellness classes.

Cost Factor #11: You don’t know what type of counsellor you’re seeing but assume you’re covered under your benefits plan.

It’s relatively common to assume that counselling is counselling and therefore all counsellors are the same. It’s frustrating to attend one counselling session, only to find out that your claim has been rejected by your benefits provider and to make matters worse, you now need to start again with someone who is covered. And it’s also important to mention again that the the medical services plan in BC (BC Care Card) does not cover counselling.

Alternative response: If you’re seeking to claim your counselling sessions through your extended health insurer, check first to see what type of counselling professional(s) you are insured to see.

Cost Factor #12: Your expectations never seem to get met in a session and you feel like you’re getting nowhere.

Ideas and expectations abound when it comes to counselling and these may or may not be realistic or possible within the context of counselling; in extreme situations, such expectations may be more in line with fantasy or wizardry.

Alternative response: Use a free counselling consultation to spell out some of your expectations for counselling and check with the counsellor to see if this is something they can work with. If they can’t, is there a helping route they feel might be more productive? I recommend that clients take charge of what they want to get out their session and not be shy, by expressing this to the counsellor at the outset.

Cost Factor #13: Counselling makes me look cool.

While I will unabashedly express my belief that counselling IS cool, it’s an expensive strategy for image management. Maybe we want to impress a relative or come across as an enlightened individual.

Alternative response: Take out a self-help book from the library and see if some of the ideas or strategies are interesting to you. If they are, seek out a consultation with a counsellor to help you determine if counselling might be for you.

Cost Factor #14 : You go to counselling just to see what it’s like. Nothing’s really wrong.

While this is certainly not illegal, such counselling sessions are often stilted, with nothing much to say on your end and the counsellor feeling puzzled about why you are attending.

Alternative response: Do some journalling about your reasons for seeking counselling, do some research about the counselling process or ask friends or family about their counselling experiences.

Here’s to you getting the best counselling value for your money!