How to Access Affordable Therapy in 5 Simple Steps

Even in 2019, the path to adequate mental healthcare is paved with countless barriers to entry. Whether it’s our culture’s deeply ingrained social stigma, an unsupportive personal network, or the fact that the United States is the only developed nation without universal healthcare, it’s clear that mental health still falls to the bottom of our society’s priority list. This is all despite the fact that one in five U.S. adults experiences some form of mental illness each year, and approximately 16 million adults have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year.

Nevertheless, the average therapy session can run you anywhere from $100 and $250—with that figure being even higher in urban areas. “When someone begins the search for the right therapist, they can quickly become overwhelmed with the cost per session,” writes licensed counselor Kathleen Smith, PhD. “But meeting with a mental health professional can be an invaluable resource, so don’t cancel the hunt before you take a closer look at what’s available in your community.” Below, read up on five ways to access affordable, convenient therapy in your area.

If you have insurance, assess your existing coverage.

Before you pay out-of-pocket for therapy, always check with your insurance provider to see the therapists that are covered in your area. Consult the online directory or call and ask for a list of local in-network mental health professionals. “You may have a very small co-pay and not know it, so it never hurts to confirm with your provider,” explains Smith. “If you have out-of-network benefits, many therapists can also provide you with paperwork that you can submit to your provider for reimbursement. Just make sure that the reimbursement rate is worth paying out of pocket.” 

Utilize your community resources. 

A simple Google search for "affordable therapy" will bring up a host of resources in your area. For example, your state's Department of Health and Human Services website should have an entire page dedicated to free or low-cost mental health services in your area, including links to community health centers and free clinics. You can even turn to location-based directories like Open Path Psychotherapy Collective and Psychology Today to find affordable options in your area. Hospitals, schools, and places of worship may offer free or low-cost counseling as well. If you don't know where to start, try calling 211 to access a government-established hotline that will connect you to community or government agencies. 

Look for a therapist with flexible payment plans.

Narrow your search by only considering therapists that accept flexible payment options. For example, some mental health professionals offer a sliding scale fee, which means that your session fee will be based on your income. However, how that fee is calculated is entirely up to each individual therapist. Many therapists will indicate whether they offer sliding scale fees on their website. You can also filter by sliding scale fees on treatment locators like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Thero.org

Try online therapy.

We'd argue that the jury’s still out on the efficacy of online therapy. So much of therapy's success hinges on your interpersonal relationship with your therapist, and communicating through a screen isn't the easiest way to build meaningful rapport. With that said, it is one of the most affordable options out there. Online mental health services like BetterHelp and Talkspace can be anywhere from $40 to $50 a week, and many accept financial aid. Plus, e-therapy can feel less stigmatized and more anonymous than in-office therapy, which opens the doors to mental health treatment for many people.

Work with a pre-licensed professional.

By working with a pre-licensed professional instead of a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or someone with a PhD, you can save a significant amount of money per session. "Pre-licensed professionals train under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and may charge less for clients," said Theresa Nguyen, LCSW, vice president of policy and programs at the nonprofit Mental Health America, to Shape. "Feeling like you can have a rapport with a person is more important than their degree." She does mention the importance of doing your research, just as you would with anyone else. 

Next up: four women on what they learned from going to therapy