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Here's What To Do If You Can't Afford Therapy

Because money shouldn't get in the way of getting the help you need.

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Money can be a big barrier when it comes to seeking therapy — but you DO have options.

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You might just have to spend a bit more time looking. To help you navigate the process, BuzzFeed Health talked to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine manager Kate Mallow and clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D.

1. If you have insurance, give them a call first. They'll help clear up confusion about what's actually covered.

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Dealing with insurance can be a hassle, but it's the best place to start even if you wind up pursuing other options. "Coverage is a lot better than it used to be for therapy and counseling," says Howes. "After some big bills were passed requiring insurance companies to provide the same coverage for mental health issues as physical issues, it has gotten more affordable than you might think."

Your insurance provider will be able to tell you how to pursue treatment, whether that's finding an in-network therapist that you can see with a normal co-pay or paying out of pocket and getting reimbursed.

If you're worried that a lack of diagnosis will get in the way of your coverage — for example, if you're dealing with a lot of situational anxiety that you want to work through but don't meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder — talk to a therapist you're interested in seeing. They might be able to help you work with your insurance company to get coverage.

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2. Hit up 211 or the NAMI HelpLine if you want help finding free and affordable mental healthcare in your area.

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Since your individual circumstances will play a big part in what kind of help is best for you, these resources can really help you zero in on the best options, according to Mallow.

The NAMI HelpLine can help you with anything under the mental health umbrella short of a crisis situation, so they'll be happy to field questions like "Where's the closest free support group near me?" or "How do I find low-cost treatment?" You can reach them at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email them at info@nami.org.

Dialing 211 will connect you with a resource and information helpline in your community that can refer you to things like support groups, homeless shelters, low-cost therapy, and other forms of support you might need. Check out their website here for more details.

3. Check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment locator.

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It's a comprehensive national organization that will locate low-cost therapy options, support groups, and free mental health clinics, says Mallow. Also, don't be thrown off by the name if you're not seeking treatment for substance abuse — it's great for that too, but it has resources for tons of mental health issues.

4. Or find a therapist who has a sliding scale, which can reduce the cost of therapy based on your situation.

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A lot of therapists offer what is known as a sliding scale, which means that they will work with you to set a price that works for you. "There's no set formula for figuring it out," says Howes. "But they'll ask you how much you think you can pay and maybe how much you make. You could get up to a 50 percent discount, maybe even up to a 70 percent discount, on treatment."

The Psychology Today therapist finder is a great resource to find providers who offer a sliding scale — just mark it on your search settings.

5. Most therapists take on a number of clients for free, so don't be afraid to ask if they have pro bono spots open.

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FREE THERAPY, SERIOUSLY. "A lot of people don't know this, but every licensed clinician out there has an ethics code that they adhere to and part of that ethics code says that we're supposed to provide some of our services free of charge as a gesture of goodwill," says Howes.

Howes suggests reaching out to therapists you'd be interested in seeing and saying something like, “I’m curious if you have any pro bono slots open right now. I’m really motivated to do the work, I just don’t have the money. Is that something you’d be open to?” It might take some trial and error to find someone whose answer is yes, so keep trying!

You can also check out Give An Hour, an organization that will match you up with therapists who are willing to donate free sessions to those in need.

6. See if your job has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can provide you with short-term mental healthcare, referrals, and financial advice.

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"[EAPs] are programs that companies offer to help employees get the help they need to be happier, healthier, and more productive people," Alan King, president and COO of Workplace Options, told BuzzFeed Health.

According to King, your company's EAP can set you up with licensed counselors and clinicians who can provide bereavement counseling, trauma counseling, mindfulness-based stress reduction, stress management coaching, anxiety support, relationship issue counseling, and many other types of help. A lot of companies have EAPs, so check with your HR to see if you have access — there's a good chance you do and have no idea.

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7. Look into nearby graduate schools or teaching hospitals, which usually have clinics where trainees see people at a reduced rate.

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The people training to be psychologists, social workers, and family therapists have to get on-the-job experience, so most of the time, their services will be heavily discounted or even free, says Howes. And if you're worried about seeing a trainee, don't worry: not only are they getting state-of-the-art training, they will also be supervised by someone who's licensed.

"It's kind of like getting two therapists for the price of one — or free," says Howes.

8. If you're a student, take advantage of your free campus resources — then ask for a student discount elsewhere when you exhaust those.

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"Let’s say your student counseling center only had a set number of sessions and now you need to go somewhere else," says Howes. "A lot of places will let you show your student body card for a discount. A lot of therapists are pretty sympathetic to that, having been through a whole lot of school ourselves and knowing what it’s like to be a poor student."

9. Consider group therapy or support groups, which are cheaper or free.

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"A lot of people overlook group therapy, but it can be really awesome for people," says Howes. "It can cost about a quarter of what individual therapy costs and can be just as intense and helpful and productive."

Similarly, support groups — which are kind of like group therapy, but with an emphasis on education and community — are a low-cost or free option.

You can find group therapy and support groups using the resources above, like 211 or SAMHSA, or Google around for ones near you. Free NAMI-affiliated programs might be a good place to start looking (find out more information here).

10. Your house of worship might have options, too.

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Pastoral counseling — AKA getting counseling from a trained minister, rabbi, priest, imam, etc. — is usually free and another thing to look into, according to Mallow. "Most counselors, if not all, will be members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, so they will have proper training," she says.

If your place of worship doesn't offer pastoral counseling or you want to go elsewhere for whatever reason, Howes says it's worth checking if they have a fund that might help you pay for outside therapy.

11. Download an app that can help you cope in the meantime.

Obviously, mental health apps aren't a replacement for professional mental healthcare, but they can help provide you with skills and small ways to ease your symptoms.

PsyberGuide is a great place to find software and apps for managing mental health conditions. You can search by your condition or by type of treatment and see expert reviews and ratings.

12. Crisis prevention hotlines such as Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line are available even if you're not an immediate suicide risk.

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Sometimes you just need to talk to somebody immediately, and crisis prevention resources will connect you with trained counselors for free. "No crisis is too small," says Mallow. "If you're having a bad day and can't wait three weeks to make it to your appointment or can't afford one right now, give them a call."

Calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will connect you with the crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. If you'd prefer to text, you can message START to 741-741.

13. Look at your budget to make sure you don't have any spending habits that would be better spent on your mental health.

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A lot of the time, we drop a lot of money on things that make us feel better in the short term — retail therapy, Seamless orders, trendy self-care items. That stuff is good too, but if you need therapy, it's worth budgeting and saving up for.

"You might want to look into saving that money and investing it in something that will have a more lasting change and help you deal with the problem directly," says Howes.

14. Lastly, remember that your mental health is important and you shouldn't feel guilty for spending money on your own care.

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"When it comes to spending money on therapy, a lot of people balk at it because they feel bad about spending money on themselves, like it’s an indulgence or a luxury," says Howes. Which isn't true. Yes, it's an investment, but you're worth it.

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