Does health insurance cover therapy UK? 2024 Guide

Kirsty France
Personal Finance and Healthcare Expert
Kirsty is a personal finance and healthcare expert who enjoys demystifying legal and insurance topics for a wider audience. She’s a former solicitor with a personal injury and insurance background.
Kirsty France
Reviewed by
Chris Steele
Founder and Editor
Cert CII (F1, IF7 & I10)
Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert. He has over a decade of experience writing about private medical insurance and treatment. He's Chartered Insurance Institute qualified and is regularly quoted by the national press.
Chris Steele
Reviewed by
Updated on
Jul 11, 2024

Therapy can support your mental health when life's ups and downs become overwhelming. If you're considering investing in health insurance, you might wonder whether it will provide therapy if needed. This article explains what mental health support and therapy health insurance can provide.

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Does health insurance cover mental health therapy?

Health insurance often includes a level of mental health support and therapy, but precisely what that is will vary between providers and policies. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Core Cover: Most private medical insurance policies include access to talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), often limited to a set number of sessions per policy year.
  2. Optional Extras: You can often pay a bit more for more full mental health cover, which can increase the number of therapy sessions you can access and allow you to see other types of mental health specialists.
  3. Helplines and Online Support: Many insurers provide helplines for health and lifestyle guidance, with some also providing specialist mental health support, like Bupa's family mental health helpline or Vitality's Togetherall service.
  4. Preventative Support: Some policies may include online resources, self-help tools, well-being assessments, and member rewards aimed at improving overall mental health and preventing future issues.

So, while health insurance often covers therapy, the extent of cover will vary, and checking the details of each policy and speaking with a broker before buying will help to ensure that your cover meets your needs.

How can therapy help?

Trained counsellors and therapists use therapy sessions to give patients time to talk about their mental health and offer support. Talking therapies include counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

One of the main benefits counselling offers is the opportunity to speak with trained counsellors who will help you without judgment. It can be easier than talking to a friend or family member who may have your best interests at heart but can also have preconceived ideas about what will help you.

There's no guarantee that therapy will resolve your problems, but it can give you the tools to look after your mental health and manage the challenges life can bring your way.

Therapy can help with mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression. It can also treat eating disorders, addiction, self-harm or more serious conditions such as schizophrenia. It can help you with long-term mental health issues, stressful life events or physical health conditions.

Can I have therapy sessions with the NHS?

You can self-refer for talking therapies with the NHS without seeing your GP. The NHS offers therapy for adults and children for various mental health conditions. You can choose from face-to-face treatment, video or telephone appointments or an online course. The NHS website also signposts you to other resources and organisations providing mental health support.

While long NHS waiting times have made headlines, the picture for adult talking therapies is more positive. 92.1% of patients started therapy within six weeks of their initial referral, making NHS treatment a good option if you don't have health insurance or can't afford private treatment.

What mental health support does health insurance provide?

We'll look at the type of mental health support health insurance can provide in more detail shortly. The mental health support your health insurance covers varies depending on your chosen provider and the coverage level your policy includes.

Most health insurance policies include access to counselling and CBT and offer mental health support articles and online resources. The number of available treatment sessions depends on your policy and whether you add optional cover to increase financial limits and widen your treatment options.

Most health insurance provider offers telephone helplines, some providing specialist mental health telephone support.

Graphic explaining often used in private health insurance jargon in the mental health space.

How does health insurance work?

Health insurance provides quick access to private treatment. A health insurance provider typically offers a basic policy, which includes access to in-patient treatment, cancer care, limited out-patient treatment and mental health support. It also includes services such as a 24/7 virtual GP, telephone helplines and a member rewards program. You can pay an additional premium for extended coverage, such as extra mental health insurance cover, if needed. Most health insurance also includes basic out-patient treatment such as diagnostic tests or out-patient procedures, but not full cover for things like out-patient physiotherapy.

It's a good idea to request quotes from several providers and compare each policy carefully to check what's covered. The best policy for your needs depends on your circumstances. When you're happy with your health insurance cover, you pay a monthly or annual premium to start it. As long as you pay your premium, you can contact your insurance provider to claim when you need treatment.

What therapy does health insurance provide?

As mentioned, your health insurance provides different levels of mental health cover depending on your chosen policy and how much optional cover you decide to include. Here are the various types of mental health support you can expect your policy to provide depending on the level of coverage you choose.

You should also bear in mind that different providers vary in the types of treatment they include in their standard cover. Checking the policy carefully when you receive a quote will show you exactly what mental health cover each policy provides.

Core coverage

Every health insurance policy includes some mental health cover, typically talking therapies such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. You can refer yourself for therapy without speaking to your GP first.

These counselling sessions can help with common mental health conditions or stress, making them a convenient way to access support for a mental health problem quickly. However, basic mental health insurance typically only provides between eight and ten sessions. This can give valuable short-term support but may not be suitable for more serious mental health conditions. If you need more treatment when these sessions end, you must pay for private treatment or turn to the NHS for further support.

Optional extras

By paying for additional mental health insurance, you can extend the amount of mental health cover your health insurance provides. Enhanced mental health cover increases the number of therapy sessions and broadens the range of available treatments. Additional mental health cover lets you access in-patient psychiatric care if needed.

Insurers differ in their approach to additional coverage. Some offer a package of optional extras, and you can select the treatments you value most. Others let you tailor your policy more closely by setting financial limits on each type of policy cover. The most common approach is to offer different set levels with increasing financial limits so you can choose the one that fits your budget. Choosing the right level can be complex, so speaking with a specialist broker can help you consider your options.

Telephone helplines and online support

Most health insurance provider has a health helpline providing general health information and guidance. Most of these telephone helplines are staffed by nurses who can signpost you to appropriate support. They can help you understand what mental health treatment your policy covers. However, they can also provide information on other sources of support if you've already used the counselling sessions your mental health insurance offers or if your policy doesn't cover your mental health condition.

Some providers offer specialist support. Bupa has a family mental health helpline where you can seek guidance if you're concerned about your child's mental health or emotional well-being. It's run by trained mental health specialists and nurses, and you can call them even if you haven't added your child to your health insurance.

Vitality also offers the Togetherall service, an online community providing 24/7 expert and peer-to-peer support.

Are there any exclusions on mental health coverage?

All health insurance has exclusions, meaning your policy doesn't cover every health issue. Each provider has a list of standard exclusions that apply to every policyholder regardless of their circumstances. Some exclusions vary and depend on your medical history.

Here is how health insurance exclusions work and apply to mental health conditions.

Chronic conditions

Health insurance covers acute conditions that arise after you buy your insurance cover. Acute illnesses are curable conditions that will respond to a course of treatment. They can include cancer, a broken ankle or a mental illness.

By contrast, chronic illnesses have no known cure and need long-term management and monitoring. Chronic physical illnesses can include diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure. A mental health condition can also become chronic if doctors consider it will last long. Insurers vary in how they classify chronic mental health issues, so it's wise to check the small print.

Chronic mental health conditions also include dementia, learning disabilities and behavioural or developmental conditions such as autism or ADHD. Your health insurance may provide other support but not the treatment itself.

Pre-existing conditions

Pre-existing conditions are illnesses you had before you bought health insurance cover. Insurers define a pre-existing condition as a condition for which you sought medical advice or treatment during the five years before purchasing the policy. Pre-existing conditions are excluded from cover for the first two years of the policy. However, if you stay symptom-free during that time, your insurers can remove the exclusion so you can have treatment in the future.

If your policy has full medical underwriting, you must complete a questionnaire with medical history details so your insurers can confirm any exclusions from the outset. It's best to be honest, as insurers can ask to check your medical records if they have any concerns. If you have moratorium underwriting, your insurers will check your medical history when you claim to see if there's a pre-existing condition. For example, you might be diagnosed with depression and contact your health insurer to seek therapy, only to have your claim denied because you saw your GP with low mood after a bereavement a couple of years before.

However, some insurers have removed pre-existing condition exclusions for mental health conditions, meaning this isn't a concern.

Standard exclusions

Standard health insurance cover exclusions typically include emergency treatment, straightforward pregnancy and birth and cosmetic surgery. Mental health exclusions usually include chronic conditions.

However, most policies also exclude treatment for substance abuse and addiction. This includes any form of addiction, such as alcoholism, drug addiction or behavioural addictions. There are some exceptions. Bupa's mental health cover includes treatments for addiction, including in-patient rehabilitation if needed. They view addiction as a mental health issue but believe that substance abuse and addictive behaviours can also lead to mental illness if left untreated.

Can health insurance help improve your mental health?

Mental health insurance provides access to treatment when needed. However, most providers also offer resources to act as preventative measures and support your mental health. These tools can prevent mental health issues and assist your recovery alongside therapy.

Support services include online resources, perks and rewards, and tailored advice and guidance. Depending on your chosen policy, here are some resources your mental health insurance can provide.

Well-being tools and resources

Most insurers provide online resources, including articles, self-help advice, and self-assessment tools. Some focus on mental health topics, while others offer general advice on ways to improve one's well-being, which can positively impact one's mental health.

Many insurers provide health assessments so you can discover any areas of concern and take action to improve them. Assessments often come with tailored support to help you reach your goals.

Living a healthier lifestyle has many mental health benefits. Physical activity releases happy chemicals in your brain and boosts your mood. It can reduce stress, improve concentration and self-esteem and help you sleep better. Research shows that time in nature can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, so combining physical activity with time outdoors brings more significant benefits.

Member rewards

Most insurers have a rewards program for their members, offering perks and discounts on various products and services. These rewards often support good mental health by providing access to meditation and mindfulness apps and discounts on spa days and holidays so you can take a break.

We've mentioned how health assessments can help you improve your physical and mental health. Member rewards often support these goals with discounted gym memberships or fitness-tracking technology.

Some rewards are available to all members, while you must earn others by hitting your well-being targets.

Getting professional advice

We hope this guide has helped you learn more about how health insurance can support your mental health. MyTribe guides offer general guidance, but they're not a substitute for professional advice. Contact us for a comparison quote, and we'll introduce you to a high-quality broker for tailored advice.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

This article was written by:
Kirsty France
Personal Finance and Healthcare Expert

Kirsty is a personal finance and healthcare expert who enjoys demystifying legal and insurance topics for a wider audience. She’s a former solicitor with a personal injury and insurance background.

Article reviewed by
Chris Steele
27 June 2024

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