Is A Free Psychologist A Real Thing?
By Joy Youell
Updated November 18, 2019
Reviewer Erika Schad, LCP, CWLC
When you're suffering from a mental health condition or distress of any kind, it's important to seek the help of a qualified professional. A counselor or therapist can provide insight, guidance, and support. However, the cost of this support can sometimes be prohibitive. If you're in need and you're concerned about the cost, know that it's sometimes possible to find a free psychologist.
There are many reasons why someone would want to find a free therapist. Free and low-cost therapy options are available, but it may take time and creativity to find them. Even if you cannot find a free psychologist to treat you, there are still many free or low-cost mental health resources that you can use. Here's what you need to know about finding a free therapist and other mental health resources.
Free Psychology? If You Have Insurance
If you need mental health treatment, the costs can add up fast. With any luck, a robust health insurance plan should cover most of the expenses associated with mental health conditions. However, rising copay and prescription costs mean that you'll likely have to pay something out of pocket. Plus, if you have some kind of insurance, it may be difficult to take advantage of free services. Most facilities will limit you to either paying full price out-of-pocket or using your insurance for treatment, and insurance might not cover everything.
If Your Insurance Plan Does Not Cover Mental Health Services
Even discounted out-of-pocket payments may become expensive. Most therapists treat patients over multiple visits, and there are usually copays and fees for each appointment. Free and low-cost payment plans are typically used to help individuals who need financial assistance, but there are often income requirements and application processes. For some individuals, even a low-cost payment plan is too much of a financial burden, but this does not mean that someone who lacks funds must go without treatment. If you need free mental health services, there are resources you should consider.
Where to Get Free Psychological Help
Social service departments can direct you to free or low-cost community resources for mental health. They may also be able to qualify you for Medicaid or similar affordable healthcare. As an added bonus, social services can support the wellbeing of your entire family while you're taking care of your mental health. Your local social services department will have resources to help with a variety of issues, including substance abuse, paying for groceries and utilities, caring for children or elderly family members, and finding employment. Getting support with other bills may free up funds for mental healthcare.
Some organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, make it their goal to educate and support individuals suffering from mental health disorders. While these organizations typically do not provide psychotherapy services like counseling, they can tell you about local support that fits your financial needs. Nonprofits can also answer basic questions about your symptoms and treatment options at no cost to you. This saves you from having to spend money on a therapist for the same diagnostic information.
Employee Assistance Plans
Many employers, especially corporate employers, have something called Employee Assistance Plans. This benefit covers many different services and may include free access to a mental health expert, usually for a short-term mental health problem or an emergency situation. Although it's not typically used for long-term care, the professionals you speak with may be able to help you find continuing treatment options that fit your budget. It's also important to know that Employee Assistance Plans are confidential, which means your boss, your HR representative, and your coworkers will never know that you sought assistance.
A Primary Care Physician
When in doubt, speak with your primary healthcare provider about finding a free or low-cost therapist. They may be able to give you a list of recommendations. In some cases, your primary care doctor may be able to perform some of the duties that a therapist would perform, so you can save money on specialty healthcare fees. If you do not have health insurance or a primary care provider, free clinics or community health centers can give you access to a physician for basic mental health services.
The Local Church
Most clergy members will not have a Ph.D. in Psychology, but they're skilled at helping people through struggles. Your priest or rabbi will not be able to diagnose a mental health condition, but they can listen, advise, and point you toward the tools you need. Additionally, various churches have certified counselors on staff to provide low or no-cost therapeutic services to church members and the local community. Some churches are also able to offer financial assistance to those with high medical expenses, and others have even begun to provide their members with low-cost health insurance sharing plans.
Before a psychologist treats patients on their own, they have to work under an experienced teacher through their educational institution. Therefore, colleges and universities near you may offer free clinics or low or no-cost sessions with one of these students. This free treatment option not only helps your wallet, but it also improves the skills of a future mental health professional.
There is no shortage of self-help literature. Books that cover a wide range of mental health issues are available and offer resources for many types of disorders. In fact, there are endless approaches to understanding mental health in the self-help genre. You can read about everything from accounts that describe an individual's journey with mental illness to books about changing thinking patterns and lifestyles. Therapy-based books written by actual therapists are also available and can walk you through basic treatment plans. Purchasing multiple books may be costly, but if you have access to a local library, you may not have to spend a penny.
The internet has many websites that offer a form of free counseling. However, some of these resources are more legitimate than others, so be sure to carefully research the counselor or psychologist's qualifications before signing up. If you are okay with receiving support from someone less qualified, there are numerous online support communities for mental health disorders where you can find friendship, resources, counseling, and encouragement. 7 cups of tea, for example, is a great platform that will connect you to compassionate listeners who are ready to offer (completely free) emotional support.
Mental Health Bloggers
Many psychologists, therapists, and mental health experts have started using the internet to share their thoughts and expertise. It's important to research the legitimacy of the writer, but a blogger worth following will usually:
- Update their website regularly.
- Interact with their followers.
- Give their readers resources that will help on their mental health journey.
As you can see, there are many ways to get free help with mental health issues. Finding creative ways to get the help you need may be the first step toward feeling better.
How to Get a Free Therapist Right Now
Sometimes free or low-cost mental health clinics are overwhelmed with patients. Do not let this deter you from seeking treatment. If you're experiencing a mental health emergency, get immediate help. Suicide prevention and mental health hotlines are staffed 24/7 and will not charge you for immediate assistance. If you're unable to call for help, an online chat option is available, too.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you decide to find a free therapist or a low-cost mental health professional through one of the resources above, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Treatment Is A Priority
Untreated mental health disorders can escalate into emergency situations with little notice. Do not put off getting treatment if you cannot immediately find free resources in your area. Most mental health professionals offer discounts or sliding scale payment plans upon request. Although it may require strict budgeting, saving toward counseling is a long-term investment in your health.
Be Careful Online
Not everyone online is who they say they are or has the expertise of a credentialed therapist. While there are numerous reputable websites that offer free counseling, remember that these sites typically rely on volunteers who wish to help others. These individuals may or may not have legitimate training as a counselor.
Before you join an online community, spend some time browsing the content in the comments section or discussion forums. Make sure it's an active and positive environment, and always stay far away from websites that request your personal information, especially your social security number or banking details.
Help With BetterHelp
If you're looking for a convenient, affordable option, BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who provides therapy online, so you can meet with them from the comfort of your own home. When you sign up, you'll be matched with a counselor who can give you the help you need. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors who have worked with people in similar situations.
"I was in a very bad place when I started counseling with Vanessa. I was drowning in my negative thoughts, especially about moving into a new place. Vanessa helped me face these thoughts, counter them. It isn't easy, but I am training myself and getting better at it. She helps boost my confidence in all aspects. In Vanessa, I found guidance, empathy, open-mindedness and a good listener. Vanessa will never fail you!"
"Kathleen is a great source of support. When I went through a particularly rough ordeal she set some extra time aside to respond to me and take my phone call. She continues to help me make important strides and never makes me feel guilty if I go through down periods in my mental health. She's really been so helpful and is one of the reasons why I recommend better help to friends when they're looking for flexible/affordable therapy."
Do Not Be Afraid to Reach Out
Some people may seek a free therapist because they do not want their friends, family members, employers, or community to know they're receiving treatment. Others are unable to financially commit to regular treatment and don't want to ask loved ones to help them pay for it. However, having a strong support network is an important part of recovering from or living with mental health disorders. Do not be afraid to involve people who care about you in your struggle; your loved ones will most likely want to help you financially if there's no other way for you to get treatment.
In the meantime, there are resources available to support you with your mental health issues, and you can get creative about meeting your needs. If you're curious about working with a BetterHelp counselor, consider reaching out today.