Can't Afford Therapy? Don't Give Up! Affordable Mental Health Care Exists — Here's How To Find It

When Talking About Affordable Therapy, How Affordable Is It

Affordable is oftentimes considered synonymous with cheap, but that's not always the case. When it comes to affordable or inexpensive talk therapy with a therapist or counselor, many people simply cannot afford the standard fees that come along with your standard in-office apptointment with a private practice therapist.

But therapy with a qualified professional can be life-changing, and is well worth the time. 

Fortuantely, affordable therapy options do exist. 

Sometimes individuals and families might be required to make certain financial sacrifices to get the mental health care they need. According to a USA Today article, Americans borrowed $88 billion dollars to pay for health care in 2018 alone. Additionally, one in six Americans has a past due medical bill on their credit report. Certainly a portion of that is due to mental health care costs. 

To make matters worse, one study found that people who had medical debt burdens also had increased rates of mental health challenges.

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For low-income families and anyone in a tight spot, financial security can hinge upon staying healthy and avoiding the doctor. But that mindset can create extreme mental health fluctuations, stress, depression, manic episodes, and anxiety. This exacerbates a systemic problem that so far there aren't a lot of solutions for.

As people rely on pharmaceuticals or therapy to help them cope with mental health issues, many cases go untreated due to lack of funds. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization that focuses on “advocacy, education, support and public awareness” for people dealing with mental illness. The organization focuses on presenting key metrics for mental health to engender more public support. The following data is taken from their website. 

  • 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
  • 5.2% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2019 (13.1 million people). This represents 1 in 20 adults.
  • 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people).
  • 3.8% of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2019 (9.5 million people).
  • 43.8% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.
  • 65.5% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment in 2019.

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Since the pandemic began, mental health and substance abuse has risen exponentially.

An article written by Lauren Clason and Mary Ellen McIntire claims that when patients are missing appointments for preventative care, it becomes harder to treat issues they come down the road. When discussing NAMI, it was noted that for their telehealth services, “the amount of calls over the last year ebbed and flowed, but that at the height of the pandemic, calls shot up as much as 75 percent. Calls about anxiety and depression replaced schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as the hotline’s top illnesses.” 

People have many expenses, including rent, groceries, utilities, public transportation or car payments, unforeseeable expenses that relate to sudden emergencies, credit card payments, pet bills, and more. Adding healthcare to the list is often too much for some to endure. 

Why is therapy so expensive?

Mental health care is expensive, even before the pandemic. During Covid, there's been a rise in popularity for socially distanced therapy and online options. These services often promote themselves as “affordable” and “easy to use” therapy that you can access from your phone or computer. But affordable still implies a certain amount of financial demand for these options. 

Therapy can be a huge expense and a thorough process just to find the right counselor for you. Some quickly figure out that they can’t find a therapist who will accept their insurance. Without insurance, the average cost of therapy is $60 to $120 per session. With health insurance coverage, rates can average $20 to $50 per session. 

How to get affordable talk therapy.

Online therapy like Talkspace and BetterHelp promote convenient therapy that might involve video sessions, texting, and voice messages. While these are cheaper than some traditional options, are they actually cost-effective? That would depend on the amount that a person uses the app. broke down weekly expenses for sessions on these services. Listed are four examples.

Talk Space: Avg $65/week

Insurance accepted: Cigna, Humana, resources for living

Better Help: Avg $90/week

Insurance accepted: No

Pride Counseling: Avg $65/week

Insurance accepted: No

Teen Counseling: Avg $80/week

Insurance accepted: No

Assuming a person sits down at least twice a week or dedicated a short time per day to send their therapist updates or to chat, they might pay between $260-$400 per month, perhaps more, if they have a more expensive plan. That could be a quarter of someone’s rent or grocery budget. 

While affordable online therapy options give people the agency to choose when they need to talk without making an appointment, they still leave out a large demographic. Many in low-income communities need therapy or someone to talk to but can’t justify that monthly expense on top of all the rest. 

So what can you do for your mental health when therapy is not an option?

Some jobs offer a certain number of therapy sessions for their employees. Check with Human Resources to see if your job offers this. If you're a student in high school or college, you can peak to a counselor. Take some time to research free counseling centers or sliding scale therapy options in your area.

If you are religious, you may also find reassurance and support in talking to your clergy member, like a rabbi, imam or pastor. They are often well-trained in how to support people through tough times, and sometimes even have social work or psychology degrees in addition to their religious qualifications. 

Finally, if you cannot find individual support, group therapy can be helpful. Many hospitals and community health centers offer group therapy which is very affordable and may even be free to members of the community. There are even coaches who offer services to help you find your way when you feel lost, though it should be noted that the certification process is not as rigorous or science-based as it is for therapists and counselors.

Having self-care rituals and a mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in the meantime. 

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