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Therapy Options for Paying Customers

The Mental Health Outlook Is Good for Fee-for-Service Consumers


Thursday, March 8, 2007

I explored in a feature article the lay of the land when it comes to low cost mental health services. The consensus was that although there are excellent community counseling centers hereabouts and County Mental Health, which receives very mixed reviews, is trying its best to bring services up to par for the more seriously impaired or financially restricted.

But if you do have cash in your pockets, it looks likes you are in good shape for finding help for your various mental health needs. Santa Barbara is lousy with private practice therapists, which is actually good for the “fee for service“ consumer.

I conducted an ad hoc survey of both masters level therapists and doctoral level psychologists, and it shows that there is a wide range of fees and practice procedures. Here is the skinny on the S.B. shrink scene.

Fees for individual psychotherapy by psychologists ranges widely from $100 to $250 per session, according to my survey of the members of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. The most common fee (40%) clusters in the $170 to $185 range. One-fifth of the psychologists who responded charge less than $140, another fifth charge $150, and another fifth charge more than $200.

Other options exist for those seeking private practice psychotherapy. There are an abundance of masters level therapists in town (usually licensed as Marriage Family Therapists, or MFTs) due, in part, to the fact that Santa Barbara has several graduate programs in counseling. According to my survey of the members of their professional organization (SB-CAMFT), a huge percentage are female and practice only part-time. Their fee range appears to be lower: $75 to $150 per session. One third of the MFTs see clients under $100, one fourth bill out in the $130 to $150 range, and the most common fee (40%) is in the $100 to $125 range.

A consideration for many who seek therapy from a private practitioner is whether or not the therapist slides their fees, accepts insurance payment directly from the insurance company, and is on a HMO or PPO panel. Surveying over 50 therapists in town, I found that 80% of them do offer sliding scales. Less are willing to work with insurance. Only 40% accept insurance payment directly from the insurance company and only half of them are on preferred provider or HMO panels.

One serious problem that is widely noted is that we are underserved by psychiatrists in Santa Barbara. This presents a problem for not only the seriously mentally ill but the community at large because, in California, this is the the only group of mental health practitioners that can prescribe medications. Patricia Cooper, of the Community Counseling and Education Center, feels that the local private practice community has been responsive to low fee clients. Yet, Cooper explains, “There is a big gap in terms of psychiatric services. It is a problem that the (mental health) community needs to come together on and address.”

Jagwar Ma

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