It’s a chilly, dark evening, and I’m doing the last minute dash to the service station for milk before starting on dinner. Getting to the fridge section, I actually audibly yelp in semi-outrage as I go to reach for the milk. $7 for two litres of milk?? I know service stations put a ‘convenience tax’ on these things, but really?? My mind jumps immediately to yet another headline I read this morning across the top of the ABC news page about cost of living. They really weren’t kidding…
Many of us are being forced to cut back on non-essential aspects of our lives, and financial pressure is adding to stress levels across the country, particularly for certain groups like younger people. It stands to reason that you might begin to question whether those psychology sessions are really worth the cost at the moment. However, before choosing to pause therapy, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of therapy in a time of such intense financial stress.
How therapy can help with financial stress
The most obvious benefit that psychology sessions can provide in a time of financial stress is the support. Money worries put a lot of pressure on people that can negatively impact their mental health in a range of ways, including impacting sleep, anxiety, and mood levels. Financial concerns can also make people think twice about catching up with friends – either because you’re not in the mood to socialise, or because catching up might come with a literal cost attached if the catch up involves going out. All of these factors can lead to people feeling very isolated. Knowing that you have a person in your corner, who is really there to hear what’s going on for you and provide emotional support as you navigate the challenges can be invaluable.
Psychologists are trained in a range of different ways to help people. Aside from the aforementioned emotional support, many of us are quite good problem solvers as well. This means we can help brainstorm different solutions to your difficulties, or teach the much underrated formal skill of problem solving, which will empower you to feel more confident at tackling your difficulties both now and into the future. We can also help with other logistical difficulties, like working on budgeting and planning, and reducing impulse purchases that add to financial woes in the long run.
Financial stress rarely affects people in a vacuum – it affects us and those around us as well. This can put strain on relationships, which then fuel further declines in wellbeing (it’s enough to be worried about money, without adding concerns about how I’m snapping at my partner cos I’m so stressed, or can’t afford to do the things I’d like to be able to do with friends etc.). Psychology sessions can help explore the dynamics in our relationships, as well as teach important communication skills. This means that when conflict does arise (which is totally normal, all relationships have periods of conflict that must be navigated), you are able to avoid common pitfalls which can put further strain on both your relationship and wellbeing in general.
Some things to consider before you stop therapy for financial reasons
Although it might seem like a simple solution to budgetary woes to simply cease therapy, this can be a real risk, particularly if done suddenly. Firstly, stopping therapy obviously cuts off all the support options detailed above. Further to this however, sometimes the process of therapy can bring to the surface difficult emotions or experiences that we normally try not to dwell on in our day to day life. Suddenly ceasing therapy in the middle of this process can leave you exposed to vulnerable emotions without necessarily knowing how to contain them. If left to hold these feelings without ongoing professional support, it can add to your other stress and make you feel worse.
Research has also shown that when we feel higher levels of distress we are more likely to engage in impulsive behaviours to cope. In short, we do things in the moment to make us feel better, but often these things come at a cost in the long run, for example, retail therapy. For some people, removing a source of emotional support can make them more at risk of turning to unhelpful behaviours that increase distress in the long run.
If you do have to cut back on therapy, what to talk about with your therapist
If you are in the position of needing to cut back on therapy, it’s important to discuss this process with your psychologist first. Your situation is specific to you – both in terms of your financial position, and your goals for therapy. This means that the plan to navigate all the factors is specific to you as well, and there might be a solution that you hadn’t considered that works well.
For example, often the best course of action isn’t simply to decrease the frequency of sessions. If you want active change in one aspect of your life, you need to spend time in sessions actively discussing how to make this happen. However, if sessions become too infrequent, you often end up spending more of your precious time with your psychologist simply providing a blow-by-blow account of the intervening period since last session, without being able to do any active work. Ultimately, this means that doing infrequent sessions is in fact failing to meet your therapy goals, which in turn means you’re not getting the best value from sessions. Discussing your options means you and your psychologist could be strategic with the spacing of your therapy sessions to ensure that you are living within your budget whilst also reaping the benefits of active therapy. Your psychologist may also have suggestions of various resources that can be drawn upon between therapy sessions.
An alternative might be to do shorter bursts of regular sessions, focussing on smaller goals one at a time. This means you can be targeted with your therapy time, and then have a break from investing in therapy while you focus on other financial priorities in your life. If you can’t do regular, evidence-based sessions, this option can be the best of both worlds; you make progress in therapy, so are getting value for your time, effort and money, and you can balance this with other financial pressures.
When you do have breaks from therapy, it’s important to discuss the plan with your psychologist. It’s not a good idea to cease therapy and just ‘figure it out’ – if stress, anxiety and mood levels are a concern, it’s very important you have alternative avenues of support lined up. Your psychologist will be one of the best people to discuss this with, as they will know you and your needs well.
Medicare Safety Net
One last thing to consider is your Medicare Safety Net. The Safety Net is a system by which those with more expensive healthcare needs are supported with greater Medicare rebates once they cross a particular threshold of out of pocket or ‘gap’ fees (the threshold is available online and changes every year). While not everyone will benefit from this, if you (or others on your Medicare card) have other medical appointments, it might be worth clarifying with Medicare how far off your threshold you are. Once you have crossed the Safety Net threshold, your Medicare rebate can go up to 80% of the fee, so it’s worth checking!
So before you cease therapy altogether, weigh up the pros and cons in both the short and long term so that you feel like you’re making the best decision for your circumstances. If after reading this you decide to stop therapy, still talk to your psychologist about it, as they may be able to guide you to low-cost resources.
You can read more on how to get the most out of your therapy sessions here, and if you don’t feel you’re getting the best value, how to talk about it with your psychologist here. There are lots of lists about how to help with financial stress, but this one is a good place to start.