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Finding a therapist is a huge step in taking charge of your mental health. But, unlike a cold or the flu, mental health conditions — like anxiety and depression — can take some time to heal.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says there’s a big range of sessions needed. Some people find improvement after eight sessions, and others after 6 months. Sometimes, for more severe cases, a year or two may be needed.
What this means: Therapy is a commitment, and, depending on your health insurance coverage, it can be costly.
Unfortunately, having health insurance doesn’t guarantee you won’t need to pay upfront for therapy. Plans with high deductibles won’t cover any medical costs until the deductible has been met. Until that time, you’ll need to pay out of pocket for your appointments.
Unlike a $10 to $30 insurance copay, many therapists may charge between $65 and $150 per session. In most areas, the cost of therapy is about $100 to $200.
In expensive cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, however, therapy can cost as much as $200 per session or more.
Luckily, for people who want to book with a therapist but don’t have the means to shell out a significant amount of cash, cost-effective services are available.
To help you get started, we provided a list of affordable mental health care options.
You can find free or low cost therapy in a number of different places. The following list includes resources for where you can find one-on-one appointments, group therapy, online offerings, and much more.
Sliding scale therapists
Sliding scale therapists are psychotherapists, psychologists, and social workers who adjust their hourly fee to help make therapy more affordable for the client.
Finding this type of therapist may be a good option if you need to pay out of pocket for counseling or if your insurance provider doesn’t offer referrals to specialists.
All mental health professionals are trained to treat general conditions, like anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders, but not all specialize in treating other conditions, like postpartum depression, complicated grief, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People seeking help for these types of conditions may benefit from finding a specialist who will slide their scale.
Mental health directories, like FindTreatment.gov, allow you to search for sliding scale therapists who practice in cities across the nation. Rates will be determined by your income. There’s also an option to search for free services.
Another option is Open Path Psychotherapy Collective. It’s a nationwide network of mental health professionals who charge between $30 and $80 per session. Unlike more extensive mental health directories, this website only includes sliding scale therapists in the searchable database.
Free or low income mental health services
If you don’t have health insurance, and you can’t pay out of pocket for mental health care, low fee or free community mental health clinics can provide the care you need.
These clinics are staffed by psychotherapists and psychologists but often are able to expand their services through the use of student psychologists, student mental health counselors, and student social workers who are supervised by licensed, experienced professionals. Services are often provided at no cost or at a remarkably reduced rate.
At the clinics, mental health professionals offer a variety of services, including individual and family counseling, medication management, and substance use disorder counseling. They’re also trained to treat a wide range of psychological conditions, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
To find a clinic in your local area, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine or go to
Therapy apps, like Talkspace and BetterHelp, let you connect with a therapist online or via text. Busy business and healthcare professionals, new moms, and students often find teletherapy appealing because they can talk with their therapists from anywhere.
Before signing up for online therapy, you complete a mental health questionnaire. Based on those results, each new client is matched with a psychotherapist.
Don’t know where to look? Here are some places to get started:
Similar to in-person therapy, fees for online therapy vary. Talkspace fees are as low as $65 per week, while BetterHelp charges between $60 and $90 per week. However, some apps might also have hidden fees or additional subscription fees.
According to the APA, online therapy may be as helpful as meeting with a therapist in person. However, this type of care isn’t for everyone.
The APA cautions that people with more serious mental health conditions, like schizophrenia, PTSD, and substance use disorder, often need more attention and care than remote treatment offers.
In addition to online therapy, mental health apps, like Calm, Headspace, and Expectful, can teach meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises. Not only do these apps help people create a daily habit of self-care, but
People experiencing eating disorders, postpartum depression, alcohol and substance use disorder, and grief or loss may benefit from attending a support group.
There are both local and online options depending on your needs. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, online support groups have risen in popularity to keep patients safe.
You can find groups for various conditions, including:
- depression support groups
- anxiety support groups
- bipolar support groups
- sobriety support groups
- OCD support groups
- eating disorder support groups
- PTSD support groups
Different from individual therapy, support groups connect people with others who are going through a similar experience. While individual therapists often steer clear from giving direct advice, support groups allow people to ask for others’ opinions.
It can also be healing to hear other people share their stories because it reminds you that you’re not alone. This can be especially helpful if you’re coping with a disease, like cancer, or supporting a loved one with a chronic health condition or mental illness.
Similar to individual therapy, it’s important to find a group that meets your needs. Before joining a group, it can be helpful to ask the group leader about the group dynamic (i.e., how their participants engage with one another) and to find out about the structure of the group.
Open-ended groups, like new mom support circles, allow participants to share at any time during the session. Structured groups, especially those that teach participants a set of life skills like mindfulness, may follow a set curriculum each week.
Mental Health America lists specialized support group resources on their webpage. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with a health condition, like cancer or diabetes, hospital social workers can also provide a list of support groups in the community.
Finally, costs for support groups can vary. Addiction support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are free of charge, while other groups may charge a small fee.
Local colleges and universities
Many colleges and universities with mental health practitioner programs may have clinicians-in-training that offer reduced rates. These clinics are usually open to the public, and they offer sliding scales fees that can be as low as $1.
These graduate students are working under the supervision of experienced professionals, so there’s nothing to be wary of. Plus, because they have a limited caseload, they’re likely to spend a lot of time thinking about how to help you.
Some colleges may even have licensed professionals with a master’s or doctoral degree who offer free, time-limited, short-term counseling.
Find an in-network professional
If you have health insurance, call your insurance provider to find out whether they cover mental health services. If they do, ask for the contact information of local service providers who accept your insurance plan.
Many online therapy services take insurance, but it’s important to double-check and ask if everything is covered or if there are any copay and deductible amounts for these.
If you need support for a specific condition, ask for professionals who treat that condition. Your insurance plan may allow you to work with a mental health expert who’s out of network, but at a higher cost.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
Your employer may offer therapy services for free through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This voluntary program is set up by workplaces to provide a number of confidential services, like assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and even follow-up help, for free or low cost.
These services are intended to help with any issue that affects your mental or emotional health and, therefore, your work performance. This may include things like:
- alcohol or substance use
- psychological disorders, like anxiety and depression
- other family issues
Services may be internal (offered onsite at your company) or external (referrals to help in the local community). To find out what services are available where you work, contact your human resources department.
Free therapy may also be available in your local community. Finding it may take a little digging. Places like community centers, hospitals, and schools may run free programs, like support groups. Local places of worship — churches, synagogues, temples, etc. — are resources where you might find these types of programs as well.
Contact these organizations directly for more information or keep your eyes posted for flyers or online advertisements. You may even hear of these programs by word of mouth or through a healthcare professional.
Publicly funded state-run services may be another option for free or low cost therapy. If you qualify, you will have access to certain providers that participate in your state’s program. Contact your state’s department of mental health for more information.
Mental health emergencies — like suicidal thoughts, sexual assault, and domestic violence — require immediate care and attention.
If these crises arise, hotlines can be called at any hour of the day. These hotlines are staffed by trained volunteers and professionals who provide emotional support and can connect you with assistance.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Interested in other resources for mental health?
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Finding low cost mental health professionals can be a challenge at first, but there are plenty of resources available. Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and it shouldn’t have to take a huge toll on your finances.
If you need help right away, consider looking for a support group or calling your local university. If you have a digital device and an internet connection, telehealth services may also be available to you.
Choosing the right mental health professional doesn’t have to be expensive, and the benefits of having support will be well worth it in the long run.