I’m a firm believer that everyone should try therapy at some point. But the cost of therapy prohibits some people who need it from trying it out. I did some research and developed a list of free or super affordable options. Here’s how to get free counseling, including both free or affordable options.
Benefits of Counseling
Before I jump into free counseling options, I also want to talk about the benefits of therapy in general.
Like I mentioned—I firmly believe that everyone should try therapy. I’ve been to therapy during several phases of my life, but the longest and most impactful phase was when I was in my twenties. I abused alcohol at the time (but didn’t know it), and I also kept getting into really painful relationship situations.
After having coffee with a friend, she strongly recommended I see a therapist.
But the MAIN thing that stopped me was the cost. I didn’t want to spend money on something when I wasn’t sure what the benefit would be.
Then she introduced me to a friend of hers that just started his own practice and used a sliding scale for his pricing. I finally decided to try it, and the next few years were life changing in all the best ways.
I dug deep into family-of-origin stuff, became much more self aware, and learned how to process my feelings and life circumstances in much more constructive ways. You can read more about all of that in my post dedicated to my BetterHelp review.
Benefit 1: The Effects of Therapy Persist Long-Term
One reason therapy impacted my life so intensely involves the fact that the benefits stuck with me. They didn’t go away as soon as I decided to take a break from therapy.
And most or all therapists adopt this mindset. Their goal is to teach you the tools you need so that you don’t need them anymore.
One of my fears with starting therapy was that it would be like a diet pill. I feared it would work GREAT, but the moment I stopped, things would go downhill again.
That was definitely not the case. Ten years later, and I’m still utilizing the tools I learned from my first therapist.
Benefit 2: Repressed Emotions Released
The problem with repressing emotions is that even if they don’t come back to haunt you, they still manifest themselves in your health, self esteem, relationships and professional life. Even if you’re not always aware—they’re there.
Going to therapy helped me identify my emotions and also find ways to process them. I also came to really enjoy just having a SAFE space to share what was in my head, no matter how weird it seemed to me My therapist listens without judgment and helps guide me in identifying clarity and next steps.
Benefit 3: Learn to Deal With Anger and Conflict
One of the things I was in denial about was anger. I prided myself on not being angry. I’m sure it was a message I learned somewhere—that I wouldn’t be loveable if I was angry. But instead of getting angry, I became codependent and responsible for every one else’s feelings.
My therapist taught me how to process anger and resentment in a constructive way. We’d talk about what happened, the story I made up about it, what I would have liked to happen instead, and what action I should take moving forward.
This method of conflict resolution and dealing with anger is something I included in my eCourse: The Tiny Happiness Project. The course is very low cost, and teaches a lot of the foundational skills I used in therapy.
Benefit 4: Avoid Self Medication
one of the things I was doing that I didn’t realize was self medicating. Instead of processing my feelings or determining my values, I would just do what other people told me to and then self medicate.
Becoming self aware and aware of my actual needs helped me learn other ways to meet my needs.
And determining my own values and boundaries, and then actually ENFORCING them raised my self esteem tremendously over time.
But the process of doing so was incredibly challenging and painful, and I couldn’t have done it without support.
Benefit 5: Know You’re Not Alone
Another thing I learned in therapy was that I’m not alone. In the beginning I resented this idea. I wanted to be completely unique and special in my pain. And I am unique and special. But claiming that my pain was unique or special was just an excuse I used to avoid dealing with it. Knowing that others have been through what I have, felt what I have, and then recovered and grew is now a comfort to me.
And as I get older, this becomes increasingly comforting to me.
Benefit 6: Rewire Your Brain
Lastly, therapy helps require your brain. My favorite book, The Habits of a Happy Brain, talks about this a lot, but this is tremendously comforting to me.
No matter how messed up your life circumstances are and how negatively they affected you, you can change.
Even if you have bad habits and ways of thinking that you developed when you were 5 years old…it’s not too late to work through them.
As you get older, the process of rewiring your brain takes longer, but it can still happen.
Free Counseling And Affordable Therapy Options
Before checking any other route, double check what benefits your insurance provides. You might be pleasantly surprised!
At my last job, my coverage was mediocre at best, but I was able to find a therapist covered by my insurance (in my office building by the way) that only cost $30 per visit.
I know that’s not free—but it was the cheapest therapy I’d experienced up to that point.
Some insurance plans may offer free counseling, so make sure to do your research.
IAmAlive is an online crisis network. Their main focus is suicide prevention and awareness. Depression is treatable, and suicide is preventable, and that is their aim.
They have free counseling via online chat for people in crisis who need an easy way to talk to a professional right away. People need a safe place to go during moments of crisis and intense emotional pain, and IAmAlive provides that space.
They also do educational events at high schools and college to educate and spread awareness.
211 is a ting I was NOT aware of before doing research for this post. Most areas have 211 as a resource—you can call the hotline and ask for what you need, and they’ll connect you with local resources.
This hotline is…kind of amazing. They have a lot of services available, for the purpose of this post I’ll talk about how they help in crisis.
They describe their service by saying that 211 is your first step on the path to safety. They’re a confidential, judgement-free, COST FREE resource to aid women, men, teens and children who find themselves in situations of physical or emotional abuse and need help. They may be able to connect you with free counseling options in your area.
MentalHealth.gov is another site with a ton of information and resources.
They provide one-stop access to U.S. government mental health and mental health problems information. MentalHealth.gov aims to educate and guide:
- The general public
- Health and emergency preparedness professionals
- Policy makers
- Government and business leaders
- School systems
- Local communities
They have a link on their site to get immediate help, and education on what to look for an what your options are.
Mental Health America
Mental Health America is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.
They aim to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, integrated care, services, and supports for those who need it, with recovery as the goal.
Much of their current work is guided by the Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) philosophy – that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process.
If you’re looking for mental help for yourself or someone else, they have a lot of resources available.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
They have a toll-free help line, and also do other things like advocacy and education.
They have a stat on their site that floored me: One in five American adults experience some form of mental illness in a given year.
What. The. Heck.
Talk about not feeling alone anymore.
Therapist With A Sliding Scale
Like my first therapist, many others are willing to operate on a sliding scale.
In a nutshell, sliding scale therapy is paying adjusted rates of therapy according to one’s income. This isn’t free counseling, but it is definitely a way to help get affordable therapy.
In my experience and research, the cost of this is comparable to online therapy, which I’m saving for last.
This helpful post at ChoosingTherapy.com is an excellent resource to guide you to a clear understanding of the costs of therapy and how insurance applies to therapy costs.
Nearby Graduate Schools
Research graduate schools in your area offering counseling, therapist, psychology and mental health degrees.
Many of these programs may offer affordable or free mental health services.
I tried looking for options in my area and I won’t lie—this tip on free counseling is probably going to be the most research. But it could be a way for you to get the help you need AND help a student who is looking for training to finish their degree.
Local Therapy and Support Groups
I love this one—local therapy and support groups. It doesn’t qualify as free counseling per se, but it definitely qualifies as free mental health support.
Even though I no longer identify as having any addiction or alcohol abuse problems, I attended nt one but TWO 12-step programs. One of them I think I still “qualify for” and I work on, and the other I think was a mis-diagnosis from my first therapist.
Either way, I am a huge fan of 12-step recovery programs, and there are 12-step programs for a host of things. Everyone is helpful and service-minded, because that is how 12-step functions.
You local area probably has support groups too, which would be a little less structured than 12-step. You can find free support groups for grief, abuse, mental health, you name it.
Another benefit to looking for local support groups is that most encourage you to find a mentor within the group. If you need more support than a weekly meeting, I definitely recommend having a mentor or coach. I’ve had mentors for SO many different aspects of my life, and I also love BEING a mentor.
Local Spiritual Institutions
This one may not apply to everyone’s interest, but most areas have churches or other spiritual and religious institutions that offer support groups.
Actually, many of the local therapy and support groups I mentioned above might even be hosted in a church, because its an easy way to the church to provide a service to the community and further their aim in helping people.
In person therapy was amazing, but the therapist that my insurance covered wasn’t nearly as impactful as the therapist I found on my own a few years earlier.
When looking for affordable therapy options this year, I discovered BetterHelp, which is an affordable therapy option.
To see my full review of BetterHelp, check out this post.
I’m an affiliate for BetterHelp, so if you end up paying for it, I may get a referral fee. This won’t affect the cost for you at all, but it does help me out a lot. (I may receive a commission for purchases made through the links provided on this post at no cost to you.)
I recommend doing your own research to see if its the best option. I personally tried it, but they are not ideal for serious mental health issues. They also disclaim that on their site.