If you’ve ever considered getting therapy, you may have faced many barriers. From finding the right therapist to facing stigma from your friends and family, there are a lot of reasons why it might have been challenging to start your therapy journey.

And then of course, there’s the sticker shock.

But while therapy may seem very expensive, there are various ways to pay for your sessions to make sure it doesn’t burn a deep hole in your pocket. We’ve outlined different ways to keep your therapy costs to a minimum.

  • Insurance: Make sure you take a look at your insurance policy. Many providers cover mental health services but they can be tricky to find. One of the easiest ways to find out if your insurance covers services or not, is to call your insurance and ask about information regarding “outpatient mental health services.” This is the insurance term for therapy. They may either cover a portion or provide partial reimbursement. Find out if you need a referral from your primary care doctor as well for therapy services. If you’re looking for more in-depth help and feel that you need hospitalization or partial hospitalization, you will need to ask for “inpatient mental health services.” These are not typically covered by insurance but they can provide you a list of your options.
    • If you are in an HMO such as Kaiser Permanente, and you are referred to someone, make sure they are within your network to avoid extra charges. Kaiser is contracting with more and more private practice therapists to meet the needs of their patients.
  • Health Savings Account (HSA)/Flexible Spending Account (FSA): If your insurance does not cover mental health services or your deductible is very high, another possibility is contributing to your HSA or FSA if your employer provides this option. HSAs and FSAs are pre-tax dollars that can be used for health-related expenses. Check with your employer to see if they contribute funds as well. This can be very helpful if you’re paying for your therapist sessions out of pocket. Free money!
  • Employee Assistance Programs: Many employers provide employee assistance programs that include free therapy. However, these programs are typically short-term solutions. You may receive somewhere between five to ten free sessions depending on your employer. But this works well if you’re seeking immediate assistance while you look for a therapist that is the right fit for you and your budget. If you’re not sure if your employer provides this, reach out to your HR representative for more information.
  • Associates and Assistants: Associates and assistants have the experience and credentials necessary to conduct therapist sessions but are working on becoming licensed. They are registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, work under the license of a supervisor, and are approved to provide mental health services. Titles to look for are: Associate Marriage & Family Therapist (AMFT), Associate Social Worker (ASW) or Psychological Assistant (PA). Legally, associates and assistants are required to note they are “Supervised by” in their marketing materials. Typically, associates and assistants have lower rates than licensed clinicians as they are continuing to gain experience.
  • Universities: Many universities provide free or reduced cost mental health services to students and the general public-even if you’re not a student! Some universities have training centers where students learn how to provide therapy while completing their coursework. If you’re interested in these, contact your local university’s Marriage and Family Therapy program, Social work program, or Doctoral Clinical psychology programs to see if they offer these types of services. For example, locally in Los Angeles, Antioch University has a counseling center.
    For students, contact your on-campus student health center to find out whether they have counseling resources. If you have student insurance, you can find therapists within that insurance network that may see other students for lower cost.
  • Community Support Groups: Many nonprofit organizations and counseling centers provide community support groups. These groups offer a lot of skills that you can learn to manage depression and anxiety. You can go whenever they are running. The group costs vary but there are some that provide support for free. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a national organization that offers free peer led support groups for those with mental illness and family support groups as well.
  • Community Mental Health Centers: There are community mental health centers that focus on providing individual therapy. Not all, but some agencies may accept your insurance or have funding such as grants for those without insurance. 
  • Sliding Scale: If you have exhausted all options but still face financial challenges, ask your therapist if they would provide a sliding scale option. Therapists don’t typically advertise this option as they have their set rates, but if you are a student or facing severe financial challenges, your therapist may be willing to work with you. This is typically reserved for extreme cases of financial hardship and should be a last resort. It is at the discretion of the therapist if they are capable of taking on a client at a lower rate.

While therapy is expensive, it is an investment in yourself and you’re worth that investment. But it doesn’t mean you have to go broke. By using the strategies above, we hope that you find the right therapist within your budget and this article has provided ideas on how to get started.

This article was written in tandem by Sara Maldonado and Yvonne Monteverde.

Sara Maldonado Yvonne Monteverde