How to get mental health care when you’re broke

*I use the term “therapist” and “counselor” interchangeably throughout this post. Remember that community resources may vary depending on where you live. This article is focused on finding resources for non-crisis mental health practitioners. It does not discuss emergency mental health or hospitalization. If you are at risk for harming yourself or others, call 911 or the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

I need therapy, but I can’t afford it!

In my previous post 6 Reasons Everyone Needs Therapy I discussed why everybody can benefit from seeing a therapist. Shortly after that article was posted, I began getting messages and comments asking what you’re supposed to do if you can’t afford therapy. This is a great question, so I did a little research and this post is a result of my findings. sad

Most private health insurance plans have some sort of coverage for therapy and mental health services. But, if you are one of the 33 million Americans who don’t have health insurance or if your insurance doesn’t cover any therapy, then it’s likely that you won’t be able to afford it. Let’s be real, here: therapy is so expensive! Some therapists charge up to $300 per session and paying for this is out of reach for a lot of students, low to middle-class folks, people living on disability, the elderly, and the unemployed. I believe that everyone should have access to mental health services, especially those who can’t afford it due to life circumstances, so below is a list of resources to help close the gap between needing help and getting help.

If you have public health insurance:

  • Medicare: This insurance is for the elderly and for some people with disabilities. It does cover mental health services like seeing a psychiatrist for medication or  a psychologist or clinical social worker for therapy. This is listed under Medicare Part B (click the link for more information on Medicare coverage).
  • Medicaid: This form of public insurance covers low-income children and their families. Medicaid is more complex than Medicare, and it can vary according to individual need and situation, but according to the Alternative Benefits Plan portion of the program, mental health and substance abuse services are covered. Be sure to check that your plan meets these standards.

If you are uninsured:

  • Don’t be afraid to bring up cost: it can feel uncomfortable to mention money (or a lack thereof) but a counselor is the last person on the planet who would judge you for doing so, in fact, many therapists regularly work with low-income clients. Many community mental health centers and individual counselors will offer a “sliding scale” based on your income and ability to pay. For example, if you have little to no income, you may only owe $10 per therapy session or the sessions may even be free!
  • Look for community resources: Even a quick Google search using the term “low-cost counseling” combined with the name of the city you live in may reveal options that you didn’t know existed! There are many government funded and non-profit community organizations that can direct you to affordable counselors.student
  • Consider graduate students: if you live in or near a college-town, you may have another opportunity for affordable therapy. Students who are working on the last year of their masters degree in psychology or clinical social work often need experience working with real-life clients, and some colleges have a counseling center that’s open to the public. The students get clinical hours and the clients get affordable mental health care; it’s a win-win! (The only time you may want to shy away from this option is if you have a known mental or personality disorder that is complex and requires a more experienced provider. But for general mental health maintenance, the university route can be a great option.
  • Check out churches: some people who have a religious preference may find comfort in talking to a counselor who works through a church office. Often these people specialize in grief counseling and marriage/relationships counseling, but if you are looking for someone who will take your spiritual needs into account then a church counselor may be the right fit.


Hopefully this article gives you a place to start in your search for an affordable therapist. Always be sure to ask your family and friends about resources they may know about. There are plenty of people willing to help out, you just have to look!

Best wishes,

Em the Silver Spoonie






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