One in five adults experienced some form of mental illness in 2019, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). More and more people are stressed out, anxious, or depressed — many to the point that they need professional help, but for many therapy is not affordable.
The cost of healthcare has been rising roughly 4 percent each year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Because of this, it’s increasingly difficult to find affordable therapy and avoid breaking your budget. (And let’s face it — who wants that extra source of stress?)
When you’re concerned about money, it can be hard to spend it on your mental health.
That said, you miss more days of work and are less productive while suffering from a mental illness than when suffering other chronic conditions, according to the World Health Organization.
So make the first move toward a happier and more productive you with the following steps to make therapy affordable.
1. Check With Your Insurance
If you have insurance, your first action should be to check what your coverage is and how much it will cost you. Your co-pay per therapist visit may be more affordable than you thought.
Your insurance might also have specifications as to which providers you can see. For instance, your insurance may cover only a social worker, not a psychologist. Many social workers are trained in counseling and are excellent options for therapy, too.
Even if you know you need some form of therapy, it may not be affordable, or are currently un- or under-insured. What are your options then?
2. Ask Therapists About a Sliding Scale
Once you find a therapist, ask about a sliding scale or pay-what-you-can system before your first appointment.
It may feel awkward, but it’s okay to talk about payment. Many people are in the same boat.
The therapist should work with you. If they aren’t willing to do so, politely indicate you cannot afford their services and seek out another covered by your insurance.
3. Look for Community Resources
Many communities have low-cost clinics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a map of federally-funded health centers online. OpenCounseling can also help you find affordable therapy in your neighborhood.
I found one near me that offers primary-care health services, substance abuse assistance, mental health treatments, outpatient behavioral health screenings, and psychiatric care, among other services.
You can also use the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s online database to find affordable therapists in your zip code. Each therapist’s online profile shows whether they offer a sliding scale and which disorders they treat.
4. Consider Online Treatment or Telemedicine
Often the constraints of therapy as it relates to your money and time can be demotivating factors in getting the necessary help. Fortunately, it’s now possible to get affordable therapy from your computer or smartphone on a schedule that works for you.
Apps such as Talkspace and BetterHelp connect you with a licensed therapist and allow the user to check in daily. The cost varies depending on the state, so be sure to check your state's specific costs.
Both platforms host accredited mental health professionals, so you will get the same level of service as you would obtain if meeting with a psychotherapist in person. Additionally, both of them allow for video and audio messaging or chatting, allowing you to connect directly with your therapist.
Alternatively, the website Theravive offers a number of trained professionals who can administer mental health services via email or text.
5. Try a Training Clinic
Institutions training the next generation of psychotherapists and psychiatrists often offer discounted — sometimes free — mental-health services that are provided by the students themselves.
Call counseling or psychology graduate programs to see if they offer a training clinic.
Students who are seeking a degree, but aren’t fully licensed, work under the supervision of a licensed therapist and may be a great option to make therapy affordable.
6. Get Creative
If none of these options work, there are other resources available that can help you make therapy affordable.
If you’re religious, reach out to your congregation. Clergy can either provide counseling themselves or help connect you to another resource. Similarly, your local community center may offer therapy or other mental health services to those who cannot afford it otherwise.
There are also free in-person and online support groups through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and PsychCentral. Use these hotlines if you are in crisis. They are free and available 24/7.
Take advantage of the Crisis Text Line by texting “CONNECT” to 741741.
You can call Lines for Life if you’re experiencing intense anxiety at 800-273-8255, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance at 800-826-3632, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 in cases of intensively negative self-talk or suicidal ideation. When my roommate was suicidal, this was literally a lifesaver.
The Bottom Line on How to Make Therapy Affordable
As a former social worker, I know that addressing your mental health needs is vitally important. By doing the right research — and asking the right questions — you can find the necessary, affordable therapy (and other resources) to ensure your mental well-being.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.