How to save on mental health treatment if insurance won't pay


Jeanne LeeContributing WriterJeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

Updated|5 min read

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Perhaps you don’t have insurance coverage for mental health treatments, or you can’t find a therapist who will accept your health insurance. People dealing with depression and other mental health concerns frequently delay getting care due to cost, even though effective treatments are available. But your mental wellness is too important to let worries about paying for therapy stand in the way.

Read our guide on how to learn whether your insurance covers mental health treatment.

Last year saw an expansion of telehealth in the wake of COVID-19, including virtual mental health services like therapy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth visits took off during the last week of March 2020, jumping 154% compared to the same week in 2019. If you're looking for ways to save, these are the best expert-recommended ways to obtain free or low-cost therapy.

How to find a discount

While mental health professionals can charge a wallet-busting $100 to $200 per session, it is often possible to find free or low-cost therapy if you know where to look.

“There are a handful of ways to seek professional help without breaking the bank,” says Dominique Apollon, a clinical therapist and a spokeswoman for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

  • Many mental health care providers offer therapy on a sliding-scale basis. A therapist that normally charges $120 per session might see you for $50 per session after considering your financial situation. If a therapist seems like a good fit, don’t hesitate to call the office and ask whether pro-bono or sliding scale services are offered.

  • Some therapy practices employ interns who may offer services at a discount as a way to gain experience.

  • Depending on your needs, another way to save money is to schedule fewer sessions. Once a week is traditional, but it’s not a law.

“You might be able to work out a less-than-weekly schedule for psychotherapy,” says Lynn Bufka, associate executive director of practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association. “It’s usually not ideal when you’re in active treatment, but some conditions lend themselves to a lot of homework in between therapy sessions.”

Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool lets you search by location and specialty. Each provider’s online profile also lists the usual fee and whether there is a sliding scale. Therapists may have this information on their websites.

Employee assistance programs

You might be entitled to free short-term counseling through your job as part of your benefits package. (Learn how to build your own benefits package.)

“Some employers offer employee assistance programs, which provide the employee with counseling services to overcome personal and professional struggles,” says Apollon.

These programs offer various forms of support for employees struggling with life challenges such as personal relationships, substance abuse, medical conditions or legal problems. Services can include mental health assessments, short-term counseling and referrals for long-term mental health treatment. Often there is no cost to the employee, though sessions might be limited.

More than half of workers have access to such programs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ask your human resources representative whether your job benefits include an Employee Assistance Program.

Federally funded health centers

The vast majority of federally funded health centers provide behavioral health care, integrated into a medical primary care setting. There are nearly 1,400 health centers across the nation that are funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, delivering care at about 12,000 locations. About 90% of the health centers provide mental health counseling and treatment and 69% of them provide substance abuse services.

Type in your location to find a health center near you. Mental health services are provided regardless of your ability to pay and on a sliding scale. You can also get medical, dental, pharmacy and other services all in one place.

College & university training programs

Many colleges and universities have clinics where you can see a therapist-in-training, under the supervision of a professional, at a fraction of the usual cost.

“If a person is interested in seeing a therapist, look for low-fee clinics associated with university training centers,” says Bufka.

Student therapists practicing under supervision were found to be as effective as professionals in treating patients with anxiety disorder and depression with cognitive behavioral therapy, according to a 2012 study conducted in Sweden.

If you’re near a college or university with a psychology, psychiatry or behavioral health department, call and ask whether it has a low-cost therapy program that is open to the public.

Local mental health organizations

You can find local mental health resources through your state mental health and substance abuse agencies. To find the relevant agencies in your area, enter your state in this behavioral health treatment services locator from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

From there, check their websites for referrals to reputable resources in your community.

Virtual therapy

Virtual therapy apps — BetterHelp, Regain and Talkspace are examples — are proliferating, especially as many Americans spent the better part of 2020 inside. They cost less than traditional live sessions while offering a different experience. Sharing and analyzing emotions over phone, chat, video or text might feel strange for some people and comfortable for others.

On the plus side, scheduling is simplified when you don’t have to travel to a therapist’s office. Subscriptions range from $40 to more than $150 a week, depending on the services you choose.

Many of the apps match you with a therapist based on a quick online assessment. You choose the package and frequency of interaction that you prefer. Talkspace, for example, has unlimited texting, with the provider obligated to reply at least once or twice a day. If you want more interaction, video sessions are available at an additional cost.

“Virtual therapy may only be effective for certain people. Some people enjoy one-on-one interaction in person, while others, whether due to scheduling needs, distance or personal preference, may enjoy and benefit from online therapy,” says Apollon. “Virtual therapy allows for convenience and accessibility that in-person appointments cannot offer.”

You can use virtual therapy on its own, as a supplement to traditional therapy, or as a less expensive way to stay on track after working through issues in person.


If you’re in a crisis and urgently need to speak with someone, calling or texting a hotline or chatline may get you help the quickest. You can always speak to someone for free by calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264 or texting “NAMI” to 741741. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available at 800-273-8255 or through its chatline.

Image: Justin Paget / Getty Images

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Contributing Writer

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Jeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

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