How to Find Affordable Therapy When You're Broke AF
Friends are great for keeping your head on straight, but sometimes problems and situations need more professional guidance than unloading over wine can offer. But we all know good help doesn't come cheap — or does it?
"People tend to only think of expensive, private therapy, but there are so many options of how to get help when you're struggling with difficult situations and emotions," says Theresa Nguyen, L.C.S.W., vice president of policy and programs at the nonprofit Mental Health America.
It's true, seeing a psychologist can definitely create a black hole in your budget. But there are actually a heckuva lot of affordable therapy options for getting treatment at just $50, $25, even for free. "Money should never be the sole factor keeping someone from getting help," adds Nguyen. (And if you're not convinced you need one in the first place, read this: Why Everyone Should Try Therapy at Least Once)
Here, nine ways you can find affordable therapy, so you can talk things through with someone more qualified than your friends.
Call your insurance.
If you have insurance, you there's some good news for finding affordable therapy. With the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act in 2008, every insurance plan — including those under the ACA — includes mental health coverage, and it should be the same co-pay as your other doctor's appointments, says Nguyen. The only problem: There are far fewer therapists in-network than out-of-network, meaning the professionals your insurance will cover are booked out for months. But it's definitely worth calling the providers who only charge that co-pay.
If you want immediate help, look at out-of-network clinicians who accept your insurance. You'll have to hit your deductible before your insurance company will start covering anything, and even then, you're probably still fronting close to half the cost. But who knows — that might be enough of a discount to get your bank account on board. If not, keep reading. (Much more, right here: How to Decode Your Health Insurance to Find Affordable Mental Health Care)
Ask about cash rates.
If you want to see a bona fide therapist ASAP, you're probably looking at a professional who's out of network or who doesn't take insurance at all (like some 30 percent of psychologists). It's definitely worth it to highlight your limited income and ask if they have any more affordable therapy options or alternative payment plans, says Nguyen. A lot will discount if you pay in cash, though keep in mind psychologists set their own rates, says Nguyen. That means if he or she is in high demand, their cash rate isn't necessarily the cheapest therapy option out there. (Related: How to Find the Best Therapist for You)
Ask about sliding scales.
Another affordable therapy option if you're limited financially is to ask about a sliding scale. Not every therapist has one, but some will charge, say, $20 an hour and offset that with other clients who can pay more, explains Nguyen. You can typically filter for this option when searching for a therapist on a database. If you don't want to or can't put in the legwork of finding someone with a sliding scale on your own, consider joining Open Path Psychotherapy Collective. You pay a one-time subscription fee of $50 to be matched up with a therapist near you who will only charge between $30 and $50 per session.
Look at college services.
If you're in undergrad or grad school, your university likely offers mental health services, and you'd be talking to someone who understands your community and your life, says Nguyen. And this is an awesome way to get cheap therapy — most of the time, it's free.
Work with a pre-licensed professional.
Signing up with someone straight out of school rather than an official L.C.S.W. or Ph.D. may work to your financial advantage. Pre-licensed professional train under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and may charge less for clients. That doesn't necessarily speak to the quality of their work, adds Nguyen. "Feeling like you can have rapport with a person is more important than their degree." It's definitely a good affordable therapy option, but you should still do research on this person just like you would anywhere else, she adds.
Call a warm line.
"A warm line is a completely free, telephone-based way to have a chat with somebody if what you need is two or three conversations, but you don't need regular therapy sessions," says Nguyen. The lines are typically run by the local government and manned by people who aren't licensed clinicians but who have had training in essentially how to listen compassionately to help provide clarity. Check out this database to find your local number.
Use a digital therapist.
Technology has made it even easier to find affordable therapy — cheap online therapy is quite easy to come by these days. "The nice thing about a telehealth app is you have much more control over finding someone you like. It can be scary to break up with a therapist face-to-face, but with the apps, you can try out different listeners and therapists and find one that gives you the support you need," adds Nguyen. Plus, they're typically a lot cheaper than in-person therapy. (Related: 11 Signs It's Time to Break Up with Your Therapist)
Digital therapy apps run the gamut of who you're connected with. Some, like Talkspace or BetterHelp, match you with a licensed counselor whom you can text or video chat with anytime, any day for a flat monthly rate. Others, like Happy, are "compassionate listening" services, connecting you with someone who has been trained to lend a sympathetic ear as you pay, typically, by the minute. (Related: The Best Therapy and Mental Health Apps)
Find a digital support group.
Whatever you're struggling with, chances are someone else is going through the same thing — that's the basis of support groups on Facebook and apps like Huddle, which is essentially a place for modern chatrooms for people struggling with anxiety, body image issues, postpartum depression, and most anything else you can think of. "There's a little bit of everything for everyone, and suddenly you're connecting with people who really empathize and become a great support system," says Nguyen. This probably isn't the best affordable therapy option if you need someone to work through a really complex problem with you, but if you have questions you're burning to know but don't necessarily need answered immediately, digital support groups can be great. Plus, they're free!
Opt for group therapy instead of private.
Private or public group therapy is like the mental health version of AA and is often free, says Nguyen. These are typically peer support groups hosted in a variety of ways — sometimes local mental health organizations will hold group talks that anyone can drop by, often themed based on issues like depression or sexual assault; some health care companies will host, say, stress management group talks at your office. Check out your local Mental Health America affiliate, who can direct you to support groups in your area. (Next read: How to Know When It's Okay to Stop Therapy)