Dr. Anna Charbonneau

Therapy for people living with stress, depression, and medical conditions

What are options for low cost therapy?

by Dr. Anna Charbonneau | Tags: therapy

Many people find themselves wanting help, but unsure whether they can afford it. The cost of therapy can be high, even if you have insurance in the US. While it frustrates me that lack of money would keep anyone from getting help, let's get real. Lack of funds can be a major barrier to seeking out help. So let's knock it down as much as we can.

Can you get therapy for low cost?

The short answer is yes, there are a few ways to do this. It might take time (like everything else). Expect to make more than 5 phone calls. Expect to have to do a bit more paperwork. But with a little bit of patience and persistence, you at least give yourself a chance.

Low-cost therapy in Community Mental Health Clinics

You can look for community mental health clinics, which usually offer reduced fees as low as $10-$30. Usually, they will require some paperwork. The reduced fee or low-cost system in clinics is usually called a sliding scale.

Open up a search engine and type in "Community Mental Health" + the closest city to you. Try a few different nearby towns or cities. When you call, ask about the cost of therapy. Ask "Do you offer a sliding scale?"

Low-cost therapy in Training Institutions

You can also look for mental health training institutions; often they provide counseling for free. You see someone who is in training and who is supervised by a licensed professional.

Seeing a student could have some downsides (less experience) but it also has a lot of upsides (they are very careful, are learning all the latest research, and are very closely supervised, and they are much less likely to be burnt out).

Look for colleges and schools nearby. Go to those websites and look for "school of psychology" or school of social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy. Look for master's degree programs and doctoral programs. Email or contact the person at the front desk and ask "Does your training program offer free counseling?" The worst they can say is no.

Low-cost therapy online (and a cautionary tale)

There are a few new companies online that have been popping up. Seven cups of tea, for example, provides listening from peers; no one is licensed or trained. BetterHelp and Talkspace advertise licensed therapists. All of these offer lower cost therapy, but do your research and be aware of what you're paying for.

Many times they offer lower cost because they are compromising on something. When I looked into BetterHelp last year, they were advertising therapy services to their paying customers. They had no clear policies in place to protect client privacy and confidentiality. Back in 2015, they were also demanding therapists sign a contract that states specifically the therapist couldn't treat or diagnose clients.

What exactly is the therapist doing on these sites, then? I have no idea, but I certainly wasn't going to sign up as a therapist to find out. There were clear ethical questions all over the place. Ethical problems that were easy for me, as a trained clinician, to spot, but harder for people who aren't sure what good therapy should look like. I plan to do an updated review of these services in the next few months, so I'll keep you posted on what I find. At this point, I don't even feel comfortable linking to their websites without being able to give you more info.

The High Cost of Free; A Cautionary Tale

I follow a few online forums where people post questions about therapy. I recently saw a post from someone asking "Is this ethical?" Long story short he was looking for low cost therapy and decided to go with a therapist offering her services for free in another country. Spoiler alert: he was getting terrible and unethical therapy. But because he was in another country and unsure of this therapist's training and licensure, there was nothing he could do about it. There can be a high cost to free.


Self-help can be really great. Research has shown that some people can improve problems with self-study, reading, watching videos, and practicing new skills on their own. But it doesn't work for everyone. Factors like how long you've been struggling and how deep your emotional pain is running are important to consider.

It might not be the best course to try and go it alone, here. And there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone needs help sometimes. It doesn't mean you're weak-willed or somehow deficient, it means you're human.

Other Resources for Low Cost Therapy

I wrote a bunch more on how to find low cost therapy, how to get referrals, and how to find a good therapist in my book, which you're welcome to check out.

Whatever route you decide to take, give yourself a chance to get the help you deserve. Invest in yourself. Love yourself enough to give yourself time, attention, and resources to get better.

PS Ready to just get started with feeling better in the meantime? I've made a simple free seven day email course to help you take small steps towards feeling better right now.

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