What is the Present Value of Therapy?

As an undergraduate, I majored in economics. I’ll never forget sitting in my first lecture class, listening to the professor discuss “present value.” I had no idea what he was talking about. After class, I went home and studied my textbook until I understood that “present value” means the amount you are willing to pay today for some amount of money in the future. The present value is less than the future value due to the ability of money to earn interest over time. It is possible to draw a parallel to the concept of the “present value” of therapy.


Although it is not as easy to measure mathematically, it is important to consider the “interest” your present investment in therapy will earn over time, in terms of life satisfaction and relief from distress. What is the present value of enjoying one’s life with greater ease, both now and in the future?

Does Money Buy Happiness?


Christopher J. Boyce and Alex M. Wood, two researchers in psychology, conducted a review of studies published in law, economic, psychology, and medical journals, in order to compare the effect on reducing psychological distress of mental health treatment versus monetary compensation. Specifically, they were interested in whether or not courts should award money to victims of crime, accidents, and so forth, vs. providing psychological treatment. They concluded that mental health treatment could be at least 32 times more effective at relieving psychological distress than financial compensation. Even four months of psychotherapy has been correlated with measurable reduction in symptoms. Granted, this conclusion is not based on the results of a controlled experiment, however, it strongly suggests the value of a personal investment in psychotherapy.


Emotional distress can contribute to physical health problems, disrupted relationships, addictions, and lost time from work, all of which directly translate into financial costs that can affect a person’s life for years to come.

You Have Choices


I am not minimizing the absolute expense of psychotherapy nor the sacrifices that might be made in order to participate in it.   Another concept I studied as an economics major was “opportunity cost.”  “Opportunity cost” is a term for the tradeoff between two mutually exclusive alternatives. If you choose to pay for therapy, the opportunity cost is the benefit you would enjoy by spending that money on something else.


Therapy can be included in your monthly budget, just like any other expense.  Often, there are budgeting decisions that can be made that defer non-essential purchases, or eliminate wasteful spending. Even saving $20 per week translates into over $1000 a year, which can pay for a significant number of therapy sessions.  In many cases, modifications to one’s spending habits can be made in ways that produce little actual deprivation.


The decision to pay for therapy is indeed a choice, representing an investment in yourself, one that is potentially 32 times more effective at improving your life than the possessions that could have been purchased instead.  We have only one opportunity to live this particular life.  If you are unsatisfied with yours,  given this multiplier, the opportunity cost of NOT investing in therapy could arguably be unaffordable.