Low-cost Alternatives to Therapy

Written by Andrew Gorrill

See also, “How to Pay for Therapy and Deal with Insurance” for ways to find help paying for therapy.

Paying for therapy is one of the biggest obstacles for many people. In the US, a single session of in-person therapy can cost anywhere from $60-$300, though the average is closer to between $80-$120. If this is more than you can afford, don’t give up yet! Below is a list of more affordable alternatives to standard in-person therapy.

Lower-cost In-Person Therapy

There are several ways you might be able to get in-person therapy at significantly reduced cost.

  • Universities. Check colleges or universities in your area. Many will have “Training Centers” for programs in Counseling or Clinical Psychology, where students will offer therapy at highly reduced rates. These students will be in training, but supervised by qualified and licensed professors and/or therapists.
  • Charitable or Religious Organizations. If you’re connected to any charitable or religious organizations, check if they have a list of referrals for low-cost mental health care. Sometimes religious organizations may even provide these services themselves, to their members.
  • County Mental-Health Centers. County-level mental health centers will have lists of available low-cost mental health services. You can find the contact info for these centers by searching the internet for them in your area, or looking at your state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) website.
  • Call 211. By calling 211, the most comprehensive source of locally curated social services information in the US and most of Canada, you can likely speak to someone who is knowledgable about low-cost mental health services in your area.

Group Therapy

group therapy Group therapy is an alternative to individual therapy and is sometimes offered through centers or run by therapists in private practice. Groups vary widely in style and structure, but are almost always less expensive than individual therapy.

In group therapy, a therapist will lead the group, but much of the session consists of discussion amongst the group. You won’t have a therapist to yourself, but you may learn as much or more from the other group members.

It can be intimidating to seek therapy in a group setting, but these groups ensure confidentiality and typically maintain strict boundaries to keep sensitive and personal information within the group.

Group therapy is not the same as going to a support group, though it’s similar. The biggest difference is that group therapy is always directed by a licensed therapist, and, though it’s cheaper than one-on-one therapy, still costs money. Compared to support groups, group therapy offers greater involvement of a therapist, for a more affordable price than one-on-one.

Unfortunately, the terms “group therapy” and “support groups” are often used interchangeably, which can make searching for one or the other specifically difficult. However, you can tell them apart easily enough by whether they cost money and whether they are led by a therapist.

Psychology Today offers a good group therapy directory. It also calls many of its groups support groups, but most are in fact group therapy.

Support Groups

Support groups are a less-formal version of group therapy, in that a professional therapist is not always present and the goal is to provide support, camaraderie and advice from other folks with similar challenges. They’re also a great support system to go alongside traditional therapy.

Support groups are almost always free of charge, and often offer other useful services to their members.

In-person Support Groups Below are links to two organizations that operate or maintain listings of in-person support groups, searchable by location. They offer many different types of support groups, but specific groups for depression are listed.

Online Support Groups If you live far from an in-person support group, or prefer to attend a group anonymously, there are many online groups offered as well. Some are moderated by trained therapists. Below are a few options.

Video Therapy

Video therapy is similar to traditional in-person therapy; it’s simply conducted over a computer. It’s sometimes cheaper than in-person therapy, though often the price is the same. Its chief advantage is that it’s very convenient, and allows those who don’t live near many therapists to find one they feel comfortable with.

Although the laws on video therapy are still somewhat unclear, generally the therapist must be in your state to legally offer therapy. However, laws vary from state to state. Here are a few sites that list therapists set up to do video-sessions.

  • Breakthrough lists therapists licensed in your state available for video therapy. The prices are similar to in-person therapy, and generally range from $80-$200.
  • iCouch lists therapists available in North America and across the world. Prices range from $50-$200. iCouch does allow you to select therapists from any state. Note that some of the therapists listed are coaches, not licensed counselors or psychologists.
  • Virtual Therapy Connect This site is not nearly as nicely set up or as helpful as Breakthrough, but can be another source for contact information for therapists who practice video therapy.

In addition, many therapists are offering video or tele-therapy on their own, but are not registered with one of these directories. If you find a therapist licensed in your state that you’d like to work with, but travel to them is inconvenient, ask them if they offer therapy by video or phone.

Text Therapy

text therapy In text therapy you’re matched with a licensed therapist and communicate with them by leaving messages in a sort of private “chat room,” to which your therapist then leaves responses. It’s sort of like texting back and forth with a therapist.

Pros:

  • Significantly cheaper than either face-to-face or video therapy.
  • Generally you get a month of unlimited message therapy for between $130 and $200/month, the price of a one-hour in-person therapy session.
  • You can text as much as you want whenever you want. Your therapist will usually respond once or twice a day.

Cons:

  • Counselors are contractors of the company, not employees, and there are a lot of them, so the quality can vary greatly. (But, if you don’t like the one you have, you can switch).
  • Sometimes text therapy companies employ “counselors” rather than licensed therapists, so they may not be as highly trained.
  • Generally, insurance does not cover these services, though it’s possible that yours might. Most companies don’t have specific policies regarding ‘text-therapy’ yet, so the only sure way to find out is to submit a claim and see if they cover it.

Two of the main companies offering this service are BetterHelp and Talkspace.

  • BetterHelp offers subscriptions with various combinations of text/phone/video messaging and live text/phone/video sessions, with pricing ranging from $40-$70/week. Read the fine print before signing up, as you may be billed automatically for the first month when BetterHelp’s free trial ends.
  • Talkspace allows you to send text, audio, or video to your therapist (so you could take a video of yourself talking). They offer three different subscription levels, which vary by how many live sessions they include. The cheapest option, for around $65/week, has no live sessions; For around $100/week, you get four live video sessions per month. Talkspace has partnerships with some employers and healthplans to offer it free; you can check if your company or health plan is included here.

Social Networking Apps

Unfortunately, several attempts at creating social-networking apps specifically for depression have recently shut down. Here are a few alternatives; you can also check out online support groups under the “Support Groups” section.

  • NAMI Discussion Groups These discussion boards are maintained by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’re designed to provide users a safe space to express themselves and their challenges, and receive support from other users.
  • Elevatr This is a smartphone app designed to create a safe space to express issues and challenges relating to mental health, for both those struggling with mental health challenges and those supporting them in their struggles. Elevatr’s unique feature is ‘expert verified answers.’ A team of doctors and therapists verify user-provided answers, to make sure that the information within is medically correct. (For example, if someone asks about the side effects of an anti-depressant, one of the doctors or therapists will verify whatever answers the user receives for medical accuracy.)

Mental Health Apps

While most mental health apps lack scientific backing, there are a few quality options out there. For example, programs based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have a mounting body of evidence to suggest they work as well as, or nearly as well as face-to-face therapy for depression.

Mental health apps vary widely in their techniques. Costs vary depending on the quality and comprehensiveness of the content offered, from free to about $40/month. Some offer a complete course that mirrors traditional therapy, while others offer a chatbot or individual tools. Here are a few examples:

  • Complete Cognitive Behavioral Therapy course: Modify your thoughts and behaviors in ways that reduce negative moods and increase wellbeing. Example: UpLift
  • Chatbots: Have a conversation with a bot that can also guide you through techniques or meditations. Examples: Wysa and Youper
  • Mindfulness apps: Focus your attention while acknowledging and accepting negative thoughts and emotions. Examples: Headspace and Sanvello
  • Mood trackers/thought diaries: Track your moods to better notice patterns in your ups and downs. Examples: Moodnotes and MoodTools
  • Other: Well-being techniques and goal setting. Examples: Happify and SuperBetter

Read more tips for comparing mental health apps here.

Summary

While traditional face-to-face therapy can be pricey, there are many alternatives out there that can nevertheless provide relief. From group therapy, to depression apps, to a combination of efforts, you can and deserve to feel better.

About the Author
Andrew has a diverse background, ranging from Chinese language and culture to organic agriculture. He occupies a variety of roles at UpLift, including customer service and project management.