What To Do If You Can't Afford Therapy, According To An Expert

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If you are struggling with stress, mood, or your mental health overall, therapy can be an immensely useful tool. But, as anyone who's tried to seek out mental health treatment knows, therapy can get pretty expensive. Good Therapy estimates that the cost of a therapy session can range between $5 and $300, depending on the area, and notes that insurance may not cover it. So what do you do if you can't afford therapy?

"Therapy is an investment: an investment in yourself, your own well-being and your future," counselor Heidi McBain tells Bustle. "It can be very expensive, especially to see a specialist in the field, but you’re worth it."

Before you start search for free or low-cost therapy options — which very much exist — make sure you have a budget in mind for what you can truly afford to spend, whether that's $15 a week, $30 a month, or nothing. And if researching reduced-cost options feels like a burden unto itself, recruit a trusted friend to help you do some research. Reaching out to your support network can also be helpful — they may have found low-cost resources already who they can link you with, if you are comfortable asking.

Just because therapy doesn't seem financially accessible right now doesn't mean it can't work. Free or low-cost therapy is available through a variety of different avenues, whether that's a dedicated low-cost service, or negotiating a lower rate with a private counselor. Your mental health is always worth investing in, and there are always options that can work with your budget. Here are a few things to try if therapy seems financially out of reach right now.

Check Out Your EAP

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McBain tells Bustle that if you need to find free or cheap therapy, you should begin with your workplace. "Start with your EAP," or employee assistance program, "as you might be able to get some free sessions starting this way," she says. Not all companies offer this, but EAPs are designed to offer benefits and financial assistance to employees.Even if you're in part-time work, you still may be eligible to access therapy services through your employer; ask your manager or your HR rep (you don't need to give them any personal details) how to access it.

Ask A Local Therapist If They Can Negotiate

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Many therapists are more flexible in their pricing than they seem, depending on their schedule, your needs, and how you arrange sessions. "Check with local therapists to see if they offer pro bono or low fee sessions," McBain tells Bustle. This may seem intimidating or uncomfortable to ask, but therapists are often aware that their price points are high, and willing to have a discussion about how to make something work for you financially. Ask if you could negotiate shorter sessions, less often, for a slightly cheaper rate, or another configuration that lowers the lift on your potential therapist's part. If a particular therapist isn't able to budge on her cost, move on; you haven't lost anything.

See What Your Insurance Can Do

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Unfortunately, people in the U.S. are far more likely to pay out-of-pocket costs for mental health therapy than they are to be covered by insurance, because therapists are often limited in the care they can provide if the service is paid for by insurance. Your health insurance may have a portal where you can figure out if mental health services are covered, and if so, what kind and how many sessions; then, you can contact therapists in your network to double check that they can indeed take your insurance. If not, look into whether you can pay into a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) with pre-tax dollars to help cover the cost of therapy a little more cheaply.

Investigate Programs That Connect Low-Cost Therapists To Patients

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If you don't have insurance or your insurance doesn't cover mental healthcare, there are a few services that seek to make mental healthcare more financially accessible. McBain recommends Open Path, a psychotherapy collective that connects people in genuine financial need with private therapists who can lower their costs to $30 to $50 a session. Rather than paying per session, you sign up once and pay a lifetime membership fee of $49, which gives you access to the discounted rates on therapist sessions in the future.

Consider Going Online

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Online therapy is becoming more popular, from chats with actual therapists to free downloadable tools and worksheets. Some options, like BetterHelp or TalkSpace, charge a fee per week, which is often more affordable than traditional counseling but still over $100 a month. Others, like Psychology Tools, offer free downloads of cognitive behavioral therapy worksheets for you to work on on your own time. This is a helpful option if you're had therapy before, know what techniques work for your particular issues, and just need step-by-step aid. If you need something more complex, personalized help will be more your speed. Ask your GP or your support network what options they recommend.

Find A Support Group

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Free support groups are often offered in cities like New York for people who have disorders like depression, so that people can get together, share how their treatment is going, and experience peer support. If you want to know where your local support group might meet, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a list of organizations that can connect you with one. This option may not work for someone who needs one-to-one attention, but it might be helpful to pursue as an option.

Therapy is as critical a cost as the co-pay for your physical. Though it's less financially accessible than it needs to be, there are, fortunately, options out there to help connect you with the mental health care that you need.