Insurance for Mental Health Therapy
Updated: 4 days ago
Mental healthcare is quickly becoming an unavoidable conversation when so many are struggling across the province and world. People in Alberta can choose between public and private support, but questions often arise around paying for private therapy services with insurance. Read on to learn more about the mental healthcare and insurance situation in Alberta.
Public Mental Health Services
In Alberta, we have a public health care system providing many free programs for residents. Alberta Health Services offers free walk-in counselling, and Access Mental Health offers free crisis and wellness counselling. Some physicians and psychiatrists offer mental healthcare covered by Alberta Health, and Primary Care Networks offer free therapy services. The Government of Canada launched Wellness Together, a free mental health support, and Alberta Health partnered with Togetherall, a free digital support service.
Local free crisis and distress resources include:
Alberta Helpline (211)
Health Link (811)
Family Violence Info Line (3101818)
Mental Health Help Line (18773032642)
Edmonton Distress Line (17804824357)
Distress Centre Calgary (4032664357)
Kids Help Phone (18006686868)
There are also many non-profit organizations sponsored by government funds and private donations offering subsidized mental health counselling therapy. A few include:
With financial support, these government and non-profit organizations can offer free, low cost, and affordable counselling, therapy, and psychology services. When mental health professionals practice outside of publicly funded programs, they are no longer funded by the public. Our provincial health coverage (Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan) does not cover private therapy or psychology services.
Private Mental Health Services
Private mental health providers include employer programs (Employee Assistance Programs - EAP), private practice clinics, and private practice solo therapists. Whereas EAPs limit the number of sessions, private practice therapists often have more freedom, control, and flexibility to work with clients from their own unique approach. Like all businesses, running a private therapy practice has a price. Because they do not receive any corporate or government funds or donations, private therapists pay for all their own business expenses.
Therapists in private practice typically charge for services in alignment with their association’s fee schedule. The Psychologists’ Association of Alberta (PAA) recommends Psychologists charge $200 per 50-minute individual, couple, or family therapy session. This cost can add up quickly, especially if you are seeing a therapist weekly or bi-weekly for an extended period, depending on your concerns. There are several options available to help you pay for private therapy:
group insurance (group benefits, extended health benefits, or a health spending account) from yours or a partner’s or parent’s employment or education institute
privately purchased insurance or benefits for individuals, families, small businesses, self-employed business owners, or corporations.
your own or the other driver’s auto insurance if you have been injured or distressed from a Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)
cultural or faith communities may cover or co-pay members’ private therapy
Insurance Coverage for Private Therapy
While most Canadians have mental health insurance benefits, few use them. Many plans offer a minimum of $500 per year in mental health coverage, however, more companies are recognizing the impact of mental health on employees and increasing the coverage for therapy. Canada Life, EY Canada, Starbucks, RBC, and The Co-Operators now offer employees $5,000 annually, Manulife offers $10,000 and SunLife offers $12,500 annually.
You can ask a therapist which insurance policies they accept, but it is important to know within an insurance provider, each group and individual plan varies in what services and professionals they cover. It is helpful to check with your own plan before you receive services to ensure coverage.
You can find out the details of your own insurance coverage by contacting your HR, calling your health insurance benefits provider, or creating an account and logging into your online insurance profile. You will usually find mental health therapy coverage under extended health benefits or a paramedical services category. You might want to find out:
the types of mental health professionals covered
the total amount covered per year ($500 - $12,500)
the portion or percentage covered per session ($50 - 200 or 50 - 100%)
if sessions are limited per year (6 - 12)
if coverage amounts are different for treatment, assessment, or documentation
if coverage is for individual, couple, family, or group therapy
if family members or dependents are covered
when the insurance renews/rolls-over (Jan, July)
if a prescription, diagnosis, or report are necessary for therapy
if coverage is limited to Alberta therapists
Insurance Coverage of Mental Health Professionals
There are a variety of mental health professionals in Alberta. To cover private therapy, most insurance providers require the therapist or counsellor to be licensed and have a registration number with a professional regulating college or association. You might want to ensure which professional designations your insurance covers before starting therapy. A few of the common mental health professionals in Alberta include:
Registered & Provisional Psychologists: Licensed with the College of Alberta Psychologists (CAP)
Registered Social Workers: Licensed with the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW)
Canadian Certified Counsellors: Licensed with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA)
Your insurance might also cover art therapists, play therapists, marriage and family therapists, and other registered counsellors.
Paying for Therapy with Insurance
Once you’ve confirmed you have insurance coverage for private therapy and with whom, knowing your total benefit amount will help you determine the number of sessions you have covered dependent on the cost, and any out-of-pocket expenses you will need to pay. Benefits either cover a dollar portion of the cost of the session, a percentage of the cost of the session, a limited number of sessions, or the full cost, up to the maximum amount. Some providers count the total session amount against your max, even if they only pay out a portion of the cost, so it is important to keep track of your remaining coverage.
Insurance providers sometimes differentiate their coverage between treatment, assessment, and documentation services, while others specify whether coverage applies to individuals, couples, family, or group therapy. You can use your own insurance, or you might also have access to a partner’s or parent’s insurance, if you are a minor or in post secondary education and still qualify as a dependent. If you have more than one benefit, you can receive coverage first from your own primary insurance, then any remaining balance from your secondary insurance. Some benefits plans renew annually in January, however, some rollover in a later month. Knowing when your benefits renew can help you plan when you will have access to your full max again.
Sometimes your insurance requires you have a prescription from a doctor for therapy to be covered. If you find this out after attempting to submit for direct billing or reimbursement, you are usually allowed to get a prescription that will retroactively cover the sessions that have already occurred as well as future sessions. Except for auto and disability insurance, no diagnosis or assessment is required for insurance to cover therapy and your therapist doesn’t need to submit reports to your group or individual insurance. For MVA and disability coverage, your assigned worker will likely need a prescription and private psychological assessment report to approve the number of treatment sessions proposed to facilitate recovery.
Most insurance providers require therapists to be registered in Alberta, and Psychologists and Social Workers registered in Alberta can only see clients living here. In Alberta, online or virtual therapy is covered by insurance the same as in-person services, therefore, you have access to a wide range of therapists and counsellors with a variety of specialties and approaches.
Direct Billing Insurance
Most insurance companies now offer direct billing for mental health therapy. You can give your policy and plan numbers to your therapist who can submit an e-claim for the service cost and receive payment directly from the insurance. If your plan covers 100% of your session, you don’t pay anything out of pocket. If your plan covers a certain dollar amount or percentage, you pay the remaining balance directly to your therapist and receive a receipt for that amount.
Some of the better-known insurance providers that offer direct billing in Alberta include:
Alberta Blue Cross
Medavie Blue Cross (RCMP, Canadian Forces, Veterans Affairs)
Alberta School Employee Benefit Program (ASEBP)
Canada Life (formerly Great West Life)
Chambers of Commerce Group Insurance Plan
Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services (iAFinancial Group)
Other companies still provide mental health coverage but do not allow therapists to direct bill. You will need to pay your therapist directly, receive a receipt, and submit your receipt for reimbursement with your insurance. Most companies reimburse by direct deposit in a few days. Members are encouraged to appeal their provider to begin offering the convenience of direct billing for psychologists and therapists to save the client and company time and resources!
Some of the better-known insurance providers that DO NOT offer direct billing include:
You might find certain therapists also choose not to offer direct billing to any insurance and require clients to always pay upfront and submit for reimbursement.
Paying out of Pocket
If you don’t have insurance coverage, and want to access a private practice therapist, you can pay their full session fee or access sliding scale services. Many private therapists offer reduced fees based on household income and ability to pay. Offering sliding fees reduces the barriers clients face to accessing private therapy services. You can find more information on the clinician’s website or by contacting them directly.
If you see a psychologist or social worker, your therapy services are GST exempt, and you can claim any portion you pay out of pocket for psychological services as a medical expense to reduce your income tax. If you pay your therapist but are reimbursed partially by insurance, you can claim the amount you were not reimbursed for on your taxes.
Finding a Good Therapist
Try to find a therapist who satisfies your insurance benefits requirements, and more importantly - seems like a good fit. The relationship with your therapist is the biggest contributor to change in therapy. You can search Google or Psychology Today, the largest mental health directory, for a therapist based on numerous factors:
location (Alberta, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, or your city)
local in-person services or province-wide online services,
issue (anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, etc.),
types of therapy (attachment, mindfulness, cognitive, emotion-focused, somatic, EMDR, etc.),
To get a feel for whether a therapist is a good fit, you can often watch their short introduction video, read their profile and website, email them, and arrange for a free phone or video consultation. Take your time finding someone who is qualified, knowledgeable, relatable, and communicates in a way that you feel understood. Reaching out for therapy isn’t always easy - you are not alone. If you have questions or need any assistance in your search for a therapist, please email email@example.com or visit our website.