If you ever find yourself in a position where you need therapy to deal with the stresses and strains of life, your wallet is likely to experience sticker shock. Hour-long sessions usually start around $100 and go up from there. Therapy is sometimes covered by insurance, but many plans exclude it, pay only a small portion, or limit you to just a few sessions. (Personally, I think this is terrible. Mental illness is just as debilitating as physical illness and should be treated accordingly.) If you don’t have insurance, it’s harder to find a charitable therapist than it is to find a doctor who will work with you.
So what do you do if you need therapy but you just can’t afford it (or you just don’t want to pay for it)? There are some alternative outlets that may be helpful, although if your issue is severe you probably need to find a way to get “real” therapy.
Church groups: Some churches offer counseling services for free. Some are run by pastors or trained counselors, others are run by well meaning volunteers. They may offer general counseling and support, or host specific groups that help people deal with death, divorce, drug abuse, or other issues. Chances are it will be in a group setting, although you may be able to schedule some time to talk to the leader privately.
School therapists: Schools and colleges usually have counselors on staff to offer counseling if necessary. At a college, you may be helped by a student enrolled in the psychology program. School counselors may not be licensed psychologists, but they are usually trained counselors.
Phone hotlines: Almost every major city (and many smaller ones) have a hotline service for crisis counseling. The people on the other end of the line are usually volunteers who have gone through training. You may even get lucky and find a true psychologist volunteering their time. Some are oriented towards teens and others are open to everyone. As a bonus, these hotlines sometimes have a list of therapists or mental hospitals in the area that are willing to work with those who cannot afford treatment.
Support groups: Many cities have a variety of support groups. You can find a chapter of AA almost anywhere. Groups for those going through divorce, victims of child or domestic abuse, those dealing with specific illnesses, rape victims, and those battling drug addiction are common. You may also be able to find other types of support groups, as well. Some are listed in the yellow pages, some sport an online presence, and others may advertise on TV or post flyers in public buildings.
Online support groups: If you don’t have an actual support group in your area, chances are you can find one online. Google the issue you need help with and “support group” and chances are good that something will come up. These are usually message boards, although some might offer live chat, as well.
iTherapy.com: This one may be the least helpful, but it is interesting. It’s a “therapy bot.” You type your issue into the box and the bot offers some suggestions for you. You can go back and forth with the bot and see what suggestions it turns up. There is no real person on the other end. On the one hand, it’s private. On the other, the advice is generic.
DIY therapy: If you are able to be open and honest with yourself and you are able to correct some of your own faults, you can try DIY therapy. First, head to the library and get some books on the issue you’re facing. Many self-help books offer ideas for dealing with problems. Take some time, too, to journal about your problems. The act of journaling often exposes destructive patterns and thoughts and lets you see them more clearly. It also lets you vent and express anger and hatred in a safe environment. It’s not easy, but it is private.
Please note that these are not substitutes for real therapy and they should not be relied upon by people who have severe mental disorders or who are contemplating suicide. However, they can be helpful in working through some problems in your life. Some people may find free therapy resources a little strange or extreme, but it may be better than getting no help at all.