Learn About Free Counseling and Affordable Therapy Options

Learn About Free Counseling and Affordable Therapy Options

Wrinkled hands take a penny from a purse.Mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, and addiction can make life challenging. Left untreated, these concerns can interfere with your ability to work, go to school, make friends, or have healthy relationships. This can create a vicious cycle: mental health concerns can lower your quality of life, which in turn influences your psychological state. 

Mental health concerns aren’t your fault. They won’t go away on their own, and you can’t will your way out of them. Like physical health issues, mental health concerns require comprehensive support. This may include therapy, medication, and help from loved ones. 

Therapy can be life-changing. Unfortunately, the costs of treatment can put therapy out of reach for some people, particularly for people with complex issues that demand many therapy sessions. Most private practice therapists charge between $75-$150 per session depending on their services and location, but some may charge more. 

Financial challenges shouldn’t be a barrier to a healthier life. Many organizations and individual therapists offer free or affordable counseling. 

Insurance Parity and Affordable Counseling 

A 2008 federal law, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, requires most insurers to offer equal coverage for mental and physical health. This means many people with insurance may already have coverage for mental health treatment. This law includes insurers such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, employer-sponsored insurance, and plans purchased through the Healthcare.gov exchange. 

The law does not set specific rates for mental health care. However, it does require insurers to charge the same copays for similar physical and mental health services. For example, if a consultation with a primary care physician requires a $40 copay, an insurer cannot charge double that for a therapist consultation.

As with other services, insurers can limit the pool of providers customers can access. So you might have to choose from a list of therapists. You might also need a referral from a doctor or a diagnosis of a specific mental health condition before you can receive treatment. Contact your insurer for specific details on what they cover. 

If your insurer does not follow the law or if you need help to understand the law, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight may be able to help. 

Crisis Care Hotlines 

Affordable counseling providers sometimes have waiting lists. Even if you can get a prompt appointment with an excellent therapist, you might have to wait a day or two. People in crisis—those experiencing suicidal thoughts, overwhelming depression, or intense feelings of hopelessness—may want to consider calling a crisis hotline. Some crisis hotlines also offer online support. 

These hotlines don’t offer therapy, but they are free. They may also be able to help you locate free or affordable therapy resources nearby. Some communities, churches, and other local organizations offer their own hotlines. Some free national hotlines include:

Free Treatment for Mental Health Emergencies 

In a mental health emergency, you can seek treatment at the emergency room. If there is a psychiatric hospital near you, you may consider going there instead. Hospitals that receive taxpayer funding (most hospitals do) must provide treatment regardless of a person’s ability to pay. You might receive a bill later, but if you have insurance, your insurer may cover a portion of treatment. 

The law requires tax-funded emergency rooms to offer stabilizing treatment. This usually involves monitoring for 24-72 hours, and it may include medication. Emergency room physicians may also refer you to affordable mental health care resources nearby. 

Note that emergency rooms do not offer therapy. They only provide treatment for emergencies. If you are concerned you might hurt yourself or someone else, call 911 or go to the emergency room now. 

Sliding-Scale Affordable Therapy 

Most therapists enter mental health because they understand the value of therapy. They know not everyone can afford their services, so many therapists offer sliding-scale fees. This means the amount you pay is based on how much you can afford. You might have to provide documentation of your income or expenses. Since therapists make a living providing therapy, they tend to offer a limited number of sliding-scale slots. It is important to ask when these slots are available and how many sessions you can get at a sliding-scale rate. 

"Affordable therapy is important, since quality mental health care should be able to be accessed by all, says Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, NCC, a New York City therapist. “Many or most therapists provide a sliding fee scale for this reason. [They] also make every attempt to refer a client to a financially appropriate therapist if they are unable to take the client on.”

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If you search GoodTherapy.org’s therapist directory, you can find many therapists who offer discounted therapy and sliding-scale rates. 

College and University Counseling Centers 

If you’re a college or university student, you may be eligible for therapy at your school’s counseling center. Some schools also extend these services to teachers and staff. Each counseling center is different. Some provide comprehensive counseling for a range of diagnoses. Others can only treat particular issues, or they limit the number of sessions a student can have. A few refer students to outside therapists, often for free or at a steep discount. 

Therapists and Counselors in Training 

Therapists and counselors typically have to accrue a certain number of therapy hours before they can become licensed to practice in their state. Those seeking to fill this requirement typically offer discounted or free counseling sessions. These practitioners work under the close supervision of licensed therapists or counselors, ensuring people get quality care. 

Some schools that train therapists offer discounted sessions to help therapists fill licensing requirements. If there is a college or university in your town with a counseling program, contact them to ask about therapist interns. Some schools can pair you with a therapist for many sessions. In other cases, you’ll rotate among several practitioners. Ask clear questions to gain an understanding of the type of care you can expect and from whom you will receive it. 

Jimmy G. Owen, LPC, CWF, a therapist based in Dallas, Texas, urges consumers to be their own advocates when seeking affordable therapy:

“Remember, you are the consumer buying a service. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about pricing, sliding scales, and insurance. Although therapy is a highly personalized product, a smart consumer does their research and gets several quotes before acting,” says Owen.

The Association of Psychology Training Clinics can refer you to a discount clinic for therapists in training. 

Community Mental Health Centers 

Community mental health centers sometimes receive funding from advocacy groups, taxes, and nonprofit organizations. Funding enables them to offer discounted mental health services, usually based on a person’s income. The services offered can vary from center to center, but may include services like assessments, individual and family counseling, and medication management with a psychiatrist. SAMHSA can help you find a community mental health clinic near you. Follow this link for help in your search.

Peer Support Groups 

Peer support can help people with mental health issues feel less alone. Support groups aren’t therapy, but they can supplement what therapy offers. Your doctor or counselor may be able to suggest a local support group. 

For example, organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous have long supported people recovering from addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous pioneered the 12-step model of addiction recovery. You can find a support group here. Narcotics Anonymous offers support to people addicted to drugs and their families. It also uses a 12-step model. You can find a meeting here

Mental Health America offers a comprehensive list of support groups for a wide range of issues, as well as details on finding a local group. 

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers support groups across the United States. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides weekly support groups that connect people with mental health conditions to educational and advocacy resources. NAMI also facilitates family support groups for families with a loved one who has a mental health diagnosis. 

Online or Phone Therapy 

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Therapy helps people understand their emotions and behavior while supporting them to make healthy lifestyle changes. Some therapists provide online mental health services or phone counseling. These options may be available at a discount. GoodTherapy.org’s directory can help you connect to a therapist offering discounted online therapy. 

Conclusion: Locating Quality Discounted Care 

Finding free or cheap mental health care can be challenging, particularly if you already feel overwhelmed by anxiety or depression. Don’t be afraid to ask a loved one for help in your search. There are almost always resources available, but finding them can require persistence.

When you receive discounted therapy, you still have a right to quality care. Don’t shy away from asking questions about treatment goals. You can ask for a different therapist if the one you have no longer serves your needs. Getting financial assistance should not mean you have to settle for substandard care. Everyone deserves good mental health. 


  1. What you need to know about mental health coverage. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parity-guide.aspx
  2. Zibulewsky, J. (2001). The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA): What it is and what it means for physicians. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 14(4), 339-346. doi:10.1080/08998280.2001.11927785

Last Update: 01-17-2018

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