Therapy can be an essential tool for supporting your mental health and overall well-being—but it's often expensive. Here are affordable therapy options to explore, to make your mental health a priority.

By Hiranmayi Srinivasan
June 04, 2021
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The isolation, loss, grief and uncertainty experienced by many this past year have taken a toll on our collective mental health, making it even more necessary to talk about—and provide solutions for—better mental health care. Forty percent of adults in the United States report that they have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression because of the pandemic, according to a 2021 analysis by the Kaiser Family Fund on the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, known as CBT or talk therapy, has been proven to greatly reduce anxiety and depression. A 2016 study done in the UK found that 43 percent of the participants who had received CBT over the course of four years reported a 50 percent decrease in symptoms of depression. While therapy is a highly beneficial treatment for many, cost remains one of the main obstacles to seeing a therapist: 46 percent of those surveyed cited affordability as one of the most important factors when choosing a therapist, according to a 2018 study on counseling by Barna.

Of course, increasing access to free and low-cost mental health resources for all is the goal on a systemic level. While we all work (and vote) on that, here are some tips on how you can find more affordable therapy options, right now.

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1 Look for therapists who offer sliding-scale fees.

In most states, the average cost of a therapy session lands between $100 and $200, according to GoodTherapy, a site that helps people find mental health professionals. For those who do not have insurance, finding a therapist who provides sliding-scale fees can be a great option to make therapy more affordable. Sliding-scale fees are calculated based on a person's income. "If you find a therapist that you want to work with, reach out to them and ask if they offer reduced rates," suggests licensed social worker and therapist Wendy Pitts.

Therapists who don't have an official sliding-scale schedule may still be willing to work with your budget, so don't hesitate to ask. Pitts has a policy where she offers free clinical supervision to one client, and affordable therapy to another. "As long as I’m seeing the two people who are currently receiving my services for these rates, everyone else has to pay my full rate or use one of the insurances with which I am credentialed," says Pitts. 

2 Check with your insurance.

If you do have insurance, check with your policy to see which behavioral health services and providers are covered within your network. LMFT Shanet Dennis, founder of New York and California-based practice Gwen's House, says some therapists have reserve spaces for insurance-based clients with minimal copays. You can also check with your plan to see if they are offering any discounts due to the pandemic. "Some health insurance plans are offering cost-share waivers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, currently making therapy free for many," says Dennis. 

Check with your company to see if they are providing or covering any mental health services. According to a 2021 survey conducted by ValuePenguin on mental health during the pandemic, 51 percent of participants said their employer covered therapy in some form—including virtual therapy, in-person counseling, or help covering the cost. 

3 Contact a local clinical psychology program.

Another life hack for affordable therapy? Contact a local clinical psychology program. "Many college institutions will cover the full cost for therapy or pay a sound portion, making the service affordable," says Dennis. 

Licensed clinical psychologist and founder of The Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Dr. Suraji Wagage says clinical psychology PhD programs are the secret to affordable evidence-based therapy. Contact your local clinical psychology program and ask if they have a community mental health clinic—most of them do and usually have very low-cost rates.

"Graduate students in these PhD programs are well-versed on the latest research on effective therapy and are directly supervised by faculty who are foremost experts in the field," says Wagage. If they do not have a clinic, they might be able to refer you to other affordable options in your area. 

4 Look for an organization that offers low-cost therapy.

Look for organizations that offer free therapy or group therapy. Pitts suggests checking out nonprofits that help pay for therapy or offer free services—they often work with local therapists and ask them to donate their time. "There are also organizations that assist clients of particular demographics, such as DRK Beauty, [which] specifically helps women of color," says Pitts. 

Gwen's House offers a group therapy option for $325 a month, which Dennis says is quite popular. They are also currently taking virtual clients based in New York or California. 

Certified professional counselor Alphonso Nathan recommends Black Men Heal and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation —two organizations he works with that provide culturally competent and low-cost mental health services. 

5 Explore teletherapy.

Check out counseling practices and organizations that offer Telehealth or teletherapy. "Teletherapy allows clients to speak with a professional by phone, which is often at a lower rate than face-to-face counseling," says Dennis. This is also a great option if you find a therapist who lives further away from you; you can open up your search to therapists within your state and not just your local area. 

There are also therapy apps, such as Talkspace or Betterhelp, that take insurance and offer monthly subscriptions.