If you are under a lot of stress, feeling anxious or going through a tough time, talking to a therapist may help you deal more effectively. While many behavioral health professionals accept insurance today you are still responsible for co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles—expenses that can add up quickly and add financial stress to your life. Scott Johnson, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist and associate professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy PhD Program of Virginia Tech, shares resources and strategies for lowering the cost of counseling.

Finding Less-Expensive Therapy

Johnson suggests the following ideas for those seeking individual, family or marriage counseling on a budget:

1. Look in your phone book or online for community service agencies, pastoral counseling centers, family therapy, psychology, and counselor education graduate training clinics. Many offer programs for people with limited means.

2. Conduct an online search of "free mental health clinics" or "community mental health agencies," which should return local programs. Johnson says these are also known as community service boards, mental health training program clinics, or community free mental health clinics. (Just beware of clearinghouses that promise to connect you to a therapist "anywhere," since these usually aren't very helpful.)

3. Can't find support in your local vicinity? Consider an online group. Psych Central is one such mental health resource site which hosts 150 online support groups and monitors each one to ensure that they are secure.

4. Visit the websites of established mental health organizations to find credentialed practitioners in your area who may be willing to work with you for a reduced rate or can refer you to group therapy which is usually less costly. Some places to try: American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Another good resource: getting a referral from the local affiliate of the non-profit group, Mental Health America.

5. Seek out mental health professionals who offer low- or no-cost individual, family counseling, or marriage counseling to clients. Some services may be offered on a sliding fee scale, which means that the practitioner adjusts the cost of therapy based on each client's income. Some may also provide pro bono work, which means that they donate their services at no charge to mental health clinics or other local agencies.

6. Not everyone has the resources or time to keep regular appointments at an agency or private office. Some agencies and practitioners, especially those that work with lower income families, may offer in-home therapy services for qualifying families, making it easier for families with complex time commitments, members with physical disabilities or limited transportation to receive treatment. Find out what's available in your community to accommodate your specific circumstances.

7. Use a master's or PhD candidate or mental health counselor instead of a masters or PhD therapist—but only if the candidate is supervised by a licensed mental health professional (the latter usually commands a higher rate). Graduate students working under the supervision of established clinicians in training clinics can provide quality therapy, too, at much lower cost. Contact local colleges and/or universities in your area for more information.

8. Seek out parenting or couples' support groups, which can be less expensive than private counseling and can offer the added benefit of connecting you with others grappling with similar challenges. Inquire at your church or health department in your local government agency.

How Counseling "Pays Off"

While therapy does require a commitment of time and resources, if you can find a situation that works for you, you may be pleasantly surprised by the benefits that you get in return.

"In studies, upwards of 90 percent of family therapy and other mental health practitioners' clients said therapy was helpful to very helpful," Johnson says. He adds that while counseling is most effective for those who are "ready" to make changes to their situation, for those who meet this criteria, going through therapy almost always proves to be "cost effective."

Scott Johnson, PhD, reviewed this article.



Alderman, Lesley. "Patient Money - How to Find Mental Health Care When Money is Tight". The New York Times.

Johnson, Scott, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, associate professor and director, Marriage and Family Therapy PhD Program of Virginia Tech. Email interview. 16 April 2013.