“Cheaper than therapy” is a common caption for images of hiking trails, steaming cups of tea, plates of comfort food, running shoes, and so on. In these instances, it’s not wrong. It definitely is cheaper to exercise or enjoy a treat than it is to pay a mental health professional. But it is troubling when socializing or relationships are casually hailed as “cheaper than therapy.”
In some ways, this is true. Friendships tend to be less financially taxing than therapy, and casual flings or outings most certainly are.
In many ways, though, therapy is cheaper.
A therapist might charge a hefty copay, but she will never require her client to bring her meals when she falls ill. She won’t ever call her client sobbing. She won’t ask for prayer or company in difficult moments. She won’t take up any of her clients’ time even if they must pay for hers. Her clients will never have to bear her burdens, grieve her losses, or struggle with any conflict between them. Therapy is a potentially helpful but definitely one-directional relationship.
A therapist might cost money, but the exchange stops there. In every other way, the cost of a deep friendship exceeds the cost of a good therapist.
In therapy, people invest in themselves and, through this, might better serve others. In friendship, we learn about ourselves as we serve others, and we sort out our own burdens by helping others bear theirs. In therapy, a client pays for a service. In friendship, we serve one another. I admit that sometimes I would rather pay an occasional fee than accept all the mess, stress, and inconvenience of authentic relationships—but this will impoverish my spirit in the end.
Counseling and therapy are excellent resources but they cannot become our only source of conversation, processing, and relationship. Friendship might be glibly captioned “cheaper than therapy.” In the end, though, deep relationships are infinitely more costly…and valuable.