9 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Therapy When You Don’t Have Health Insurance
Mental health issues will affect one in four people around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Currently 450 million people worldwide are battling mental illness.
In 2001, WHO recommended, “Public education and awareness campaigns on mental health should be launched in all countries… to reduce barriers to treatment and care.”
How to Afford Care and Treatment for Mental Health Issues
When you have poor or no health insurance, you might prioritize other issues over mental health care. This could mean ignoring undiagnosed issues or skipping treatment you know you need.
Even if you don’t suffer from mental health issues, you might neglect your need for support through a major life event when you see the cost of therapy.
As with any physical ailment, not seeking mental health care could be detrimental to your health in the long term.
Instead of foregoing care or winding up in debt over medical bills, try these options to find affordable or free counseling and other mental health care services.
1. Get Affordable Health Care
If you don’t have employer-sponsored insurance coverage and can’t afford private insurance on your own, you could be subject to a fee under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
For assistance, apply at Healthcare.gov. You could receive help covering the cost of insurance, or you may qualify for free health insurance through your state’s Medicaid program.
If you don’t want state-sponsored health care, you can also try a health care ministry like Medi-Share to cut costs. You’ll have to be an active member of a Christian community to join, and the program is best for those in generally good physical health.
When insurance fails you, here are some more options to get the care you need.
2. Find a Training Clinic
Like other areas of health and medicine, practitioners need to practice working with the public before they become clinical or counseling psychologists.
That’s good news for any of us who want to save money on therapy.
Training clinics are usually located near or as part of universities. You’ll attend sessions with a graduate student supervised by a licensed psychologist. These clinics typically charge on a sliding scale (which could be as low as $0, if that’s where your scale slides…)
To find one near you, you can browse the Association of Psychology Training Clinics for member clinics. Or just search “[your city] psychology training clinic.”
3. Visit a Community Mental Health Center
“Community mental health centers provide free or low-cost therapy options and services covered by Medicaid insurance,” says Julie Hanks, LCSW, at Psych Central.
Find a center through the Department of Human Services at your state’s government website.
You can also find services through private non-profit organizations. YMCA offers low-cost/sliding scale behavior health and family services for kids and adults.
4. Attend a Support Group
While you miss out on the personalized care and complete anonymity of private sessions, support groups can be the perfect solution for free or low-cost therapy.
Organizations like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) host free community support groups in person or online.
If you want to work with a particular therapist but can’t afford private sessions -- because you lost insurance coverage, for example -- ask if they offer group sessions. These should come at a lower rate you could potentially afford out of pocket.
5. Negotiate and Ask for Discounts
You might not realize it, but your medical bills are totally negotiable. By a lot.
Don’t be afraid to lowball here -- this isn’t a business deal, so you don’t have to worry about making a bad impression.
When you receive a bill for services, contact the hospital to simply let them know you can’t afford it. They may be willing to cut the cost by more than half if you can pay a chunk upfront.
If you don’t have the cash handy, ask for a payment plan. Get on it before the bill goes to collections, and ask for a monthly payment you can handle to avoid a hit to your credit for late payments.
6. See a Doctor Online
You may be skeptical, but telehealth (or telemedicine) is legitimate and could save you a ton of money on health care.
Through an app like Teladoc, you can meet with a healthcare professional (for physical or mental health issues) for a fraction of the cost of a trip to the clinic.
Telemedicine doctors can diagnose, recommend treatment and even prescribe medication if necessary.
You can even get your therapy via text message -- any time you want -- through Talkspace! Get unlimited text therapy for $128 per month.
Or go the group therapy route with NAMI AIR, a free app that connects you with a community of people living with mental health conditions and their caregivers.
7. Lean on Your Spiritual Community and Leaders
If you’re involved with an organized religious group, you could find the help you need within that community.
Does your organization host free support groups or retreats where you can connect with others in your situation? Maybe your preacher or other leaders in the community offer free individual or couples counseling.
If you’re worried about opening up about your struggles within a small community, remember: Everyone coming to group therapy is looking for help, just like you are.
8. Use Services at Your School or College
College or university students (and faculty) likely have access to health care services through their schools. Your tuition and fees subsidize them, so you might as well take advantage!
Children enrolled in a K-12 school may have access to sessions with a school counselor as well. Lean on these options when your family can’t afford private mental health services.
9. Consult the Internet
Going online to self-diagnose your ailments can be troublesome.
But if you already know what you’re dealing with, consulting a relevant association’s website could help when you have questions and lack access to a doctor.
For example, if you suffer from anxiety, you can find reliable resources at these websites:
Some people also find online forums like Reddit or Facebook groups useful for connecting with other people who understand your situation.
Just be careful to take advice from random individuals with a grain of salt, and never rely on them for a diagnosis.
If you prefer to speak with someone directly, you can call the NAMI Helpline to get answers about symptoms, treatments and resources. The Helpline itself doesn’t offer counseling, but it can help you connect with programs in your area.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).