THE BLOG
10/25/2012 02:04 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Making Therapy Affordable: The Open Path Psychotherapy Collective

We know that mental health care is expensive. For most it's more expensive than they can afford. I didn't begin to fully experience the disparity of wealth in our country until I set out to build my private psychotherapy practice six years ago.

I launched my practice with some naïveté: I wanted to help as many people as possible. I took on clients at a low fee. But gradually reality dawned: I couldn't afford to take on too many low-fee clients. I just wasn't going to be able to provide for my family if I did.

One night a woman called me in crisis. As we talked I realized that I wasn't going to be able to help her: My waiting list was already too long. Heart sinking, I referred her to the mental health agency in my county. I felt like a cog in a system I didn't embrace. She would probably encounter delays and uncertain care there: Very likely she made too much money to qualify for their services.

It was a pivotal moment for me. And I had too many other moments like it. I started to think about how to solve the problem. I looked at my local farmer's market. If the small farmers in my area could help each other reach the public, why couldn't therapists in private practice?

We've all seen therapists depicted on television shows. They seem harbored in office islands unto themselves. These depictions are almost always oversimplified, but there is something television gets right: Private practices are for the most part private, isolated from each other.

I started to think: What if psychologists, psychotherapists, and social workers working privately could band together on the Internet -- and make themselves available for low-cost sessions in their local area? I found a wonderful group of therapists already doing this in Boulder, Colo. where I'd received my graduate training. Why not try to do this on a national level?

Why not, indeed? Some 44 million American adults are suffering from a mental health problem, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and in a 1995 study 90 percent of people with access to psychotherapeutic services and subsequent treatment reported significant long-term improvements. [1]

That's why I'm founding the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, to meet Americans in our current common space -- the Internet -- and offer them a match with a mental health clinician practicing in their area who is willing to see them at a reduced fee.

Here's how it will work in a nutshell: Under the auspices of the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, all clinicians who sign on to the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective will be vetted in an extensive screening process. Quality control is of the utmost importance to us, and we will do everything within our means to ensure the Collective is populated with quality, experienced clinicians.

After the Open Path website goes live and the first core group of clinicians are recruited, individuals seeking low-cost therapy will be matched by Open Path with a participating clinician in their area. After we connect clinician with client, the client will pay $30-50 per session. Open Path will take a small administrative fee ($10/session). Open Path will have no part in the therapeutic relationship between clinician and client.

One line from our former President Bill Clinton keeps resonating with me. He said in his eloquent speech at the DNC: "In the real world, cooperation works better." He's right. I could continue to offer a few low-cost sessions in my private practice and leave it at that. Many clinicians are out there doing the same. What if we could reach out to each other and inspire more to join us? What if our involvement -- our public advocacy of this kind of involvement in providing affordable psychotherapy -- could encourage the next generation of private mental health clinicians to do more of the same?

It can work. But I need the help of those who believe in the cause of affordable psychotherapy.

I hope you'll help me in this real-world response to a real-world crisis. For more information, please go to the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective today: http://indiegogo.com/oppc.

Reference:

1. Consumer Reports. (1995, November). Mental health: Does therapy help? pp. 734-739

For more on mental health, click here.