When it comes to your mental health, professionals can charge $200 dollars for an hour of therapy without even blinking. This hefty price tag might leave you wondering whether you wouldn't be better off using the money to plan a trip, pay off debt, or engage in some retail therapy. Talking to your friends helps just as much, right? Think again.
Sometimes you just need someone with skin who is unbiased and trained in helping you manage whatever stress, anxiety, or depression is keeping you from the life you want. Preferably, someone who won't make your credit card weep. I'm a therapist, but I can't afford and wouldn't pay $200 for an hour of even the most brilliant consultation. That's because I know all the secrets for getting good counseling without breaking the bank.
Access Your Local University
Universities are the best kept secret when it comes to free or low-cost therapy. Students training to be counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychologists spend an entire year in a training clinic where they practice working with clients. The beautiful thing is you don't have to be a student to get counseling. I did my doctoral training at a student clinic that charged an average of $5. Yes, that's right. Less than a Netflix subscription.
I know what you're thinking. You refuse to be matched with a bright-eyed 23-year-old with little life or job experience. I'd argue that these youngsters will give you more attention that your average therapists and they receive heavy supervision, but if you're sure, all you have to do is request an older student (many of them are second career and over 40) or a doctoral students with at least a few years under their belt. Most clinics will even match you with a counselor with particular experience if you want (i.e., working with minorities, LGBTQ clients, etc.)
Bother an Expensive Professional
Call an expert who usually charges $200 an hour and tell them your situation. A virtually unknown secret is that we mental health professionals have ethics codes that strongly suggest we do pro bono work on the regular. So be polite, state your needs, and then in your sweetest voice say, "I know the American Psychological Association (or American Counseling Association) encourages clinicians to do pro bono work, and I was wondering whether you were one of those people."
Look at the bright side. Even if they say no, the expensive therapist is going to feel guilty enough to refer you to someone who can see you on the cheap. Chances are they won't leave you hanging.
Ask Your Human Resources Officer
So many workplaces offer Employee Assistance Programs that offer a limited number of free counseling sessions. Don't be scared -- seeking counseling does not go in your work file, and your HR rep and the counselor will maintain your confidentiality. Also, EAP services can have cool resources like health newsletters and groups that teach mindfulness, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. You don't need an identified problem or mental health issue to benefit from your EAP.
If you work for the government in any capacity or a large corporation, you are almost guaranteed to receive EAP services. If you're scared to take the leap, remember, good mental health will make you a better employee. Set the precedent and even share with others so they feel encouraged to seek the help they need.
Try An Active Listener Online
There are a growing number of websites that offer you counseling-like services where you can talk or type with people who are "trained listeners." This service can feel more comfortable if you just want to talk anonymously before you decide to go to therapy. On some sites you can even weed through listener profiles to find someone that you think would be a good match for you. And if they're wasting your time, you can just hang up on them without hurting their feelings. Trust me, they're immune.
If the Internet fails you, you can always call 211 and someone can connect you to various hotlines or agencies which answer the phone 24/7. These lines can connect you with providers and help you feel calmer and ready to make a decision about your mental health.
Access Community Resources
If you live in an urban area, there are many community organizations that can get you into therapy. Training centers that teach mental health professionals a particular theoretical orientation (like psychoanalysis, family systems, etc.) offer services on a sliding scale. Community centers and places of worship often run support groups. If you only use Google or sites like Psychology Today, you'll probably only find paid ads and sites that link you to fancy therapists who will charge a bundle. Instead, call the university clinic or a community center to see what they recommend. Tell them your budget, and they'll find you a good match.
Another little known fact: If you have serious mental illness, like bipolar disorder or major depression, you may qualify to receive free supportive services, therapy, and psychiatry from a local mental health agency. Every state should have a department of behavioral health with an access helpline that can get you pointed in the right direction.
Don't get me wrong -- sometimes a quality experience depends on a quantity of compensation. But more often than not, the price tag will scare you away from an experience that can begin an encouraging new chapter in your story. Never let money be the reason you shy away from living the best possible life. Never assume that your worries aren't significant enough or too significant to be addressed in the counseling room. It might take a little bit of strategizing, but you can find a great match in a therapist and keep your money for a rainy day.