There’s no denying therapy is a huge financial burden: Affordability was the top reason people avoid mental health services, according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Depending on where you live and what kind of insurance you have, the price can be upwards of $80 to $200 for one 45- to 60-minute session. (And depending on your city, that cost can be even higher. In New York, for example, it’s not uncommon to pay around $300 per session.)
This happens for a number of reasons. Insurance is a big one. Many companies don’t often support therapists’ diagnoses or don’t provide adequate mental health coverage under their plans. Therapists also often can’t afford to accept insurance, meaning most of their clients have to pay completely out-of-pocket.
But here’s the truth: Therapy doesn’t have to be expensive in order to work. There are multiple options to get the help and treatment you deserve.
“Mental illnesses do not just ‘go away’ on their own, and they usually do not get better over time without treatment,” Leslie Swanson, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told HuffPost. “One of the major benefits of therapy is that you will learn skills that you can use to manage your mental health and well-being throughout your life.”
Below are just a few ways you can fit therapy in your budget.
1. Try sliding scale therapy.
One of the most common ways to slash costs is to see a therapist who will do what’s called sliding scale therapy, in which the price per session is essentially negotiable based on your current income.
Swanson advises asking a therapist if they have low-cost services during your initial session or when you call to set up an appointment. You can also do some research to find an organization, such as a psychotherapy training program, that offers sliding scale payment options forthright.
2. Look into university counseling centers.
Some colleges offer mental health clinics that serve the community, Swanson said. These programs are usually staffed by graduate students who are in psychotherapy training and supervised by licensed mental health professionals.
“One advantage of these clinics is that because they are training clinics, they are likely to offer evidence-based psychotherapy, with some clinics utilizing more cutting-edge therapies than what is available in the community,” Swanson said.
These centers are sometimes free for current students and may be a low-cost option for those who don’t attend the school.
3. Research free therapy options.
Swanson says a free session is rare, but it does happen. “Some psychotherapists in private practice offer pro bono therapy or sliding scale fees for a proportion of their caseload,” she explained. Like with all treatment options, research is important. It never hurts to ask.
4. Look into participating in research studies.
“Participating in a research study is another way to receive psychotherapy for free, although in some cases the treatment being tested may be new and not yet evidence-based,” Swanson said. This means unproven methods may be used during your session, as opposed to well-known techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy.
To find potential research studies in your area, head to clinicaltrials.gov.
5. Go to a community-based organization.
Mental health is important to the structure of a community, so nonprofits or religious groups may offer affordable sessions for people who are seeking help.
“In some communities, organizations such as Catholic Social Services or Jewish Family Services provide non-faith-based, sliding scale psychotherapy services to the community at large, regardless of religious affiliation,” Swanson explained.
6. Try group therapy or a support group.
If you don’t mind talking in a group setting, group therapy may be an affordable option. “Group therapy can sometimes be less expensive than individual therapy, because the cost is spread out amongst the group members,” Swanson said.
Support groups may provide a similar, cost-effective solution. Studies show that individuals attending support groups find the entire process empowering and can diminish feelings of isolation. You can expect to be in the room with other people who are experiencing similar struggles, and each person is encouraged to share their story.
But make sure to do your research: Some support groups aren’t led by trained mental health professionals. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to spend some time finding one that’s run by a therapist.
7. Look into an online program.
Believe it or not, online mental health programs can have real benefits.
Virtual sessions typically employ cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, which is one of the most effective forms of talk treatment. While online options should not be used as a substitute for in-person treatment, they can complement other therapies, reducing overall cost.
Program offerings range from one-on-one consultations with therapists for a fee to apps you can use by yourself. Talkspace, for example, allows you to connect with a licensed mental health professional and chat with them online. If you need to speak with someone right away, programs like Crisis Text Line are free and available at any time of the day or night.
Ultimately, however you decide to seek therapy is up to you and your budget. What’s important is that you’re taking steps to better your mental health, Swanson said.
“Mental illnesses are the same as physical illnesses. No one chooses to have depression ― or anxiety, or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia ― just as no one chooses to have cancer,” she explained. “Fortunately, we have very good treatments for mental health conditions that enable individuals with mental illness to receive relief from their symptoms.”
You Should See Someone is a HuffPost Life series that will teach you everything you need to know about doing therapy. We’re giving you informative, no-B.S. stories on seeking mental health help: how to do it, what to expect, and why it matters. Because taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Find all of our coverage here and share your stories on social with the hashtag #DoingTherapy.
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