Cost and Effectiveness of Individual and Family Therapies

The mental health field is comprised of various disciplines that range greatly in cost and efficacy. But few studies have looked at how these different disciplines compare to each other with respect to overall large scale cost effectiveness and treatment viability. In an attempt to fill this void, D. Russell Crane, Ph.D., analyzed four years of mental health claims data from CIGNA healthcare. “The purpose of the study was to explore the practice patterns and subsequent cost-effectiveness of different types of professionals providing individual and family therapy within one behavioral health care management system,” said Crane, Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. The data included over 5 million claims specifically for psychotherapy services obtained by members ranging in age from birth to 103.

Crane’s study revealed several findings. First, the majority of claims filed were for mood (34%) and adjustment issues (36.2%), followed by PTSD and anxiety (12.2%). “In terms of outcome as measured by the success and recidivism rates, patients treated by MFTs had the highest success (86.6%) and lowest recidivism rates (13.4%) compared to the other mental health professions,” said Crane. “The next most effective professional group was nurses, with 85.8% success and 14.2% recidivism rates. The professional counselors’ patients experienced a success rate of 85.6% with 14.4% recidivism. Next were MDs, whose patients averaged 85.5% success and 14.5% recidivism rates. Finally were MSWs with 84.3% success and 15.7% recidivism and psychologists with 84.2% success and 15.8% recidivism rates.”

Additionally, the study revealed that family therapy, followed closely by individual therapy, had the lowest rates of recidivism. “Results demonstrate that overall, using family therapy exclusively was the most cost-effective form of psychotherapy.” Crane added, “It demonstrates that all disciplines provide successful and cost-effective treatments. The data also show that family therapy is a more cost-effective treatment modality than individual psychotherapy and should be included as a covered service in behavioral health plans.”


© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jolene

    November 10th, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    hmmm Commissioned by an insurance company. I would be hesitant to automatically believe those findings for sure!

  • Justus

    November 10th, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    I’m not too fond of the idea of “recidivism”, as if going back to counseling is bad. I see more and more successful people seeking out and developing relationships with therapists and themselves, finding more about their core self and not just seeking “cures”.

  • Jim

    November 11th, 2011 at 9:04 AM

    Actually, the article did not say the study was commissioned by the insurance company, only that their data was used. This is an important study for those of us who provide family therapy because several large insurance companies still do not cover this modality. For those that do, it is usually quite limited in scope. In addition, insurance companies typically do not cover marital or conjoint therapy at all.

    The data on recidivism is important as well. I don’t think it suggests going back is bad, but it does inform insurance companies about cost. They are more likely to support modalities that can prove long-term effectiveness for treatment. Insurance companies provide coverage for medically necessary issues. If someone wants to seek therapy for their own personal growth and insight, that is certainly up to them. However, insurance companies have not paid for this type of issue for years anyway.

  • Morgan

    November 11th, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    Find it interesting, and hopeful, that now, finally, the validity of mental health is being looked at as really being important for overall well being. For so long it has felt almost taboo to even bring up anything related to one’s mental health and now it is everywhere. I am glad. It can finally start to bring some things out of the shadows that many people have struggles with for years but have felt some fear in addressing or were made to feel like it was something they could just control alone. Mental health is not like that. It takes some hard work to keep it focused and centered just like the other health issues in our lives.

  • DocLC

    November 12th, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Something is always better than nothing, and it looks like there are many professional fields that are having pretty good success rates with people with mental health issues. What I would like to see would be better ways to match people who are needing help with a provider that is best going to fit their needs. That is something that can be hard to determine at the outset of treatment and may contain a little trial and error. But if someone is persistent it is obvious from this study that more likely than not there will indeed be patient overall improvement along with a much higher quality of life.

  • emily

    November 12th, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    family therapy has time and again been viewed as something beneficial for not only gives all members of the family a chance to get help but also gives the professional a wider view of each individual by talking to the other members as well.

    but it does have its own share of problems too-not everybody would be interested and comfortable with it.

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