Learn / How to Get Mental Health Treatment if You Can’t Afford It

How to Get Mental Health Treatment if You Can’t Afford It

Kayla Gill
 October 13th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • It’s possible to find affordable mental health treatment, with and without insurance.
  • Affordable options range from sliding-scale fees to seeing a therapist-in-training.
  • Some support groups and community programs offer care for free.

There are ways to afford therapy, even under financial constraints. From different therapy formats to low- or no-cost care, you can support your mental well-being on a budget. 

Mental health treatment can be expensive. And unfortunately, cost is one of the main barriers to getting help. Here are some alternatives to private, full-cost care:

Getting Mental Health Treatment Through Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, your provider may help cover mental health treatment costs. Insurers must offer the same level of coverage for both mental health conditions and physical health. That means many plans cover mental health services, like therapy and medication. It’s important to review your policy to learn what’s covered and what your out-of-pocket expenses might be. For details on deductibles, copayments, the number of therapy sessions covered, and more, you should call your provider directly. 

If you have a health insurance plan through Medicaid, you’re eligible for mental health benefits.1 These plans cover mental health conditions, serious mental illness, and substance use disorders. Out-of-pocket costs vary by state. In some states, co-payment for therapy2 is between $2 to $4 per session. 

What Are Your Alternatives?

Besides health insurance, there are other ways to get mental health treatment without breaking the bank. 

Find a Provider Who Accepts a Sliding-Scale Fee

Some providers accept a sliding-scale fee. That means they adjust costs based on your income. Certain private-practice therapists and rehab centers accept this payment structure. During an initial call with a potential provider, ask if they offer a sliding-scale fee and their criteria for eligibility. Some may also offer pro bono services for those who can’t afford a fee. 

Enroll in Virtual Therapy 

Virtual therapy is an increasingly popular way to get mental health treatment. It’s generally more affordable than in-person visits. A virtual therapy session in the U.S. costs3 between $65 to $129, on average. In-person therapy usually lands between $100 to $200 per session. 

Several rehabs also offer online therapy with different levels of care. Common options include one-on-one therapy, virtual intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and stepped-down care following inpatient rehab. Online therapy lets you save on travel expenses and gives you access to expert care from the comfort of your home. 

Join Group Therapy (Versus One-on-One)

Group therapy is an affordable alternative to individual therapy. In some cases, group therapy is half the cost of one-on-one therapy.4 Sessions typically involve 6 to 12 patients led by one or more therapists. This fosters connections that are important to the healing process. Several studies show group therapy is as effective as individual therapy.5 

Ask About an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

If you’re employed, your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program. Nearly 98% of mid to large companies in the U.S. offer EAPs.6 These programs provide confidential support to employees dealing with personal challenges, including mental health concerns. Most EAPs include counseling sessions at no cost to employees. Ask your human resources department about exactly what’s covered. 

See a Provider-in-Training

Therapists-in-training offer a low-cost alternative to licensed pracitioners. They’re usually student interns or working towards a Ph.D. in psychology. A therapist-in-training practices under the guidance of an experienced clinician and can provide counseling. Sessions often start at $60, compared to $100 for a licensed therapist. You can find a therapist-in-training at universities, training institutions, and certain community programs. If your mental health concerns are more complex, you may require a more experienced mental health professional. 

Find a Support Group

Navigating mental health challenges alone is isolating. It’s often reassuring to find others who share your experience. That’s exactly what support groups provide. In these regular meetings, facing similar issues come together to offer emotional support, share stories, hold each other accountable, and more. Support groups are usually free. You can find groups for various mental health concerns:

Explore Community Programs

Community programs are a valuable resource for affordable mental health care. Local organizations, non-profits, and community mental health centers (CMHCs) offer free or low-cost care. Services range from therapy and support groups to workshops and more. 

Each state has a government website (.gov) with information about community mental health centers in the area. For example, Massachusetts’ CMHC website includes a directory with local contact details. The cost of treatment will depend on your location, income, and insurance status. Some CMHCs offer free treatment, while others charge a sliding-scale fee. Once eligible, you’ll be assigned a therapist who will work with you to lay out a treatment plan.

Read Self-Help Books

Self-help books are a cost-effective way to find inspiration and learn more about coping with mental health issues. While they’re not a substitute for treatment, they provide people with a better understanding of their situation—and often, hope. Popular self-help books are written by licensed psychologists7 offering professional advice. Since you can find them at your local library or online, they’re an accessible way to support your healing journey.

Explore Additional Resources to Support Your Well-Being

Taking care of your mental health is extremely important. And you have ways to give yourself the care you need without breaking your budget—though the process may not always feel straightforward. By learning about your mental health treatment options, you’re already moving in the right direction.   

Frequently Asked Questions About Affording Mental Health Treatment

What are some low-cost alternatives for mental health treatment?

Low-cost mental health treatment is available. Some providers offer sliding-scale fees with costs based on income. Virtual and group therapy are often more cost-effective than in-person, individual treatment. For example, virtual therapy costs between $65 to $129 per session while in-person therapy is usually $100 to $200. Community mental health centers offer affordable treatment, often based on your income.

What is sliding-scale therapy and how does it work?

Some therapists accept a sliding-scale fee, meaning they adjust rates based on your income. This pay-what-you-earn model makes treatment more affordable for people with financial constraints. Certain rehabs also accept a sliding-scale fee, while others focus on providing affordable treatment.

Are there government programs that offer affordable mental health treatment? 

Yes, government-funded programs and community mental health centers provide low-cost or free mental health services. Treatment costs vary depending on your state, income, and insurance status. You can find information about community mental health centers in your area by checking your local government website. There are also several free resources to learn more about mental health treatment options.

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