Access Issues to Mental Health: Part 2
Access to quality mental healthcare can come with many barriers. Cost and availability being the main issues. Mental healthcare is also different from physical healthcare because it can be subjective and does not promise results. The alliance between the client and the provider is an integral part of progress. In fact, it is the most reliable factor in predicting outcome and thus the reason for the ubiquitous mention of “best fit” (1). Mental health services can range from short term to long term depending on many factors such as diagnosis, severity, frequency of visits, financial constraints, client emotional investment, medical necessity, etc.
In the best case scenario, a client overcomes two major barrier such as finding someone who accepts their insurance and also has availability that fit with their schedule. However, the client may come to conclusion, after a few sessions, that the therapist is not a great match for them. The client is then faced with the option to stay with a provider they can afford but may not make much progress, or start back at step one and try to find another provider. Another possible scenario is if the client’s employer switches insurance and client have to decide to either stay with their current therapist who may now be out-of-network, or start the process all over again and find an in-network provider. These are very difficult decisions to make, not to mention the mental stress, time and financial investment it requires.
If this experience feels familiar, know that you are not alone. This is a common issue that many have expressed in accessing their mental health benefits. According to the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008, insurance companies are required to provide mental health benefits. However, how they provide these benefits are up to them. Carve outs and multi-payer plans cause great confusion for both providers and clients. Below are a few suggestions to help you gain access to an in-network therapist.
Tips on finding an in-network therapist:
- Contact your insurance representative to understand your mental health benefits (See Part 3: Understanding Benefits)
- Search online directories such as Psychology Today, Good Therapy, etc. Refine your search by insurance plans
- Use the network’s directory (usually found on their website)
- Contact at least 3 therapists
- Take advantage of free consultations to get a sense of the therapist. Try not to focus on specific techniques/credentials but focus on asking yourself questions like:
- Do I feel safe with this person?
- Do they seem to understand my struggles?
- Do they have experience with my issue?
- Do they appear genuine and authentic?
- If you’ve tried your best and still unable to find a therapist, call your network representative and ask them to search for you. This is a right you are provided as a policyholder
Difficulty accessing mental healthcare is a multifaceted issue and not one that is easily resolved within the near future. I hope this series will expand your knowledge and help you make informed decisions. Future topics on this series will include more in depth discussion of the cost of access, understanding your benefits, and in-network vs out-of-network benefits.