Health

How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can't Afford Therapy

Alan Henry, Gawker Media

How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can't Afford Therapy

We've talked about how to find a great doctor and how to find a therapist or counselor, but if the thought of spending money on a therapist scares you or you know your insurance doesn't cover it, it doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Here are some affordable ways to find someone helpful to talk to.

Before we go any further, we want to point out that if you have the option to talk to a licensed therapist or a specialist who can really help you with the issues you're facing, you should do so. It's not hard to find a good therapist, and many insurance plans cover mental health services even if you think they don't. If you know you need to see a professional, you definitely should-many of these options can help you through moments of crisis or give you a shoulder to lean on, but if the issues you're facing are serious and on-going, it's time to get a professional involved.

That said, we know that not everyone can afford a counselor's fees on their budget, and not everyone has health insurance at all, much less insurance that covers mental health. Here are some options for you:

Dial 211

Did you know that dialing 211 in almost every part of the United States will connect you to human and social services for your area? Depending on where you live, those services can cater to emergencies, but in almost every case they offer someone who can direct you to a number of social programs or resources available to you at the county, state, or even federal level, including mental health resources.

The FCC's "Dial 211" info page outlines specifically the types of services that national 211 hotlines offer. Among them are things like housing and emergency shelter locations and information in case of a fire or disaster, support for older persons and people with disabilities, youth and child services, and of course, mental health and counseling services:

...including health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, maternal health resources, health insurance programs for children, medical information lines, crisis intervention services, support groups, counseling, and drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation.

The beauty of these services is that they're almost always staffed by real human beings (although depending on where you live you'll probably have to get through a menu to get to one) who are usually volunteers willing to help. Additionally, if you want to volunteer, you can call 211 to find out how to get involved.

Check with Your Church or Employer for Free Counseling Options

How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can't Afford Therapy

A number of social fixtures that you may not immediately associate with mental health actually have resources available that can offer assistance for you or someone you love.

For example, most churches have their own counseling programs, sure-depending on your persuasion, you may or may not want to sit down and talk to your pastor or priest about the issues you're having. If you don't, many churches also have ties to external mental health specialists, counselors, and therapists who are either in the congregation or otherwise affiliated with the church. Many churches even have funds to pay for therapy or counseling if one of their members needs it. Best of all, those services often range from someone to talk to all the way up to grief counseling after a loss and help with drug and alcohol abuse issues. Even if you're not a member of the church, try calling one near you-they may offer counseling services anyway, or be able to refer you to someone who does.

Similarly, check with your company's HR department (or dig through your employee handbook) to see if your company has an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program. Many basic health insurance plans do, even if the number and the services they provide are buried in the back of a handbook or benefits description pamphlet. EAP hotlines often provide support to employees looking for help with their mental health, someone to talk to, drug and alcohol issues, or even nutrition and physical health concerns. At my last job, our EAP offered me regular contact with a nutritionist and an on-call nurse who could advise me whether a health issue was something worth seeing a doctor about, going to the ER over, or just sleeping off. It also offered referrals to insurance-covered therapists. Make sure your EAP is run by your insurance company or some impartial authority though-some employers manage their own EAPs, which doesn't exactly scream impartiality. Still, it's more important to get help if you need it and it's available.

Contact Local Colleges, Universities, and Community Centers

How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can't Afford Therapy

Many cities, counties, and states-especially where public colleges and universities are located-have free clinics and psychology schools where students in training and their mentors have free (or very low cost) sessions for the public. In most cases the person you'll talk to is a post-graduate in social work or psychology, and they're supervised by licensed therapists or professionals. This is an especially great option if you're young yourself and want to talk to someone professional, but also your age or is already familiar with the issues you're dealing with.

You'll have the best luck looking for these kinds of clinics in places where community colleges and four-year or graduate schools are located. Check out their websites and see what you can find out. You may need to find their psychology department's site to learn more about their social work programs, but they're more common than you might think, and they're great options if you're uninsured or underinsured and need someone to talk to.

Try an Online Counseling or Listening Service

How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can't Afford Therapy

Technology can help you find someone to chat with about your problems too, or even connect you with a professional that can offer lasting, long-term help. 7 Cups of Tea, for example, was founded by a licensed psychologist who believes that many people really just need an impartial, actively listening ear to help them get through their day to day issues, as opposed to full-blown psychotherapy. In many cases, all we need is someone to let them vent, offer constructive feedback without trying to fix their problems, and someone who'll always be there to listen. So he set out to build that listening ear for anyone who needed it, and 7 Cups of Tea was born.

The community of listeners is comprised of volunteers, therapists, and other users looking to give back. Every listener on the site is interviewed, checked out, and put through training courses to help them help others. Best of all, the service is (mostly) free and completely anonymous. No one knows who you are or what your problems are unless you want them to. You can start talking to someone immediately, or you can develop a rapport with a specific listener and talk to them on multiple occasions (if they're available). When I spoke with Marla Schuchman, who's been working with 7 Cups since it started, she described it this way:

Right now, an individual going through a tough time has 2 options, they can talk to family/friends, or they can go see a therapist/counselor/psychologist. Family and friends might judge you, might not really understand you, and probably aren't the best listeners. On the other end of the spectrum is therapy, which can be intimidating, inconvenient to schedule, and really expensive. 7 Cups of Tea sits in the middle, filling the huge gap in emotional support. It's anonymous and on demand.

We've had people come to the site looking to talk about all kinds of problems and life issues. Really, anything goes and our listeners don't judge. Anxiety about meeting people, making friends, dealing with family relations, divorce, single parent-hood etc. Relationship problems, including sexual frustrations/concerns are a big one too. We get a lot of people who are going through a bought of depression, or who are supplementing their regular therapy during their "low" periods. General loneliness is common too, people coming because they just need someone to talk to and want a human on the other end of the line.

Like we mentioned, 7 Cups is largely free, but the more frequently you use the service (and whether you connect to one of the service's on-staff, paid listeners) determines whether you'll ever pay to use it. Right now it's largely free and clear, and Marla noted they're experimenting with premium services that will help them make money without cutting off a valuable lifeline to people who can really use it.

Of course, 7 Cups isn't the only service that does something like this. BlahTherapy is another free-to-premium service that's highly regarded.

Previously mentioned HealthTap can help you find a doctor or a counselor to see in person, or connect you to one on your smartphone or computer to interact with over the internet, although it's not really a private or direct chat. Whatever you find, make sure to do your homework first before paying anything or getting in too deep.


For more resources, check out the National Association of Social Workers or the American Psychological Association's locator tool to find someone near you to chat with, or who you can reach out to in order to see what types of low-cost services they offer. You can also check Mental Health America's "Get Help" page to figure out exactly who you need to talk to and connect with services in your community. Like we said before though, whatever you do, make sure you do something-sometimes we all need someone to listen to. You don't have to be wealthy to find someone to help you with a long-term problem, or just listen and help you through those tough times.

Photos by JD Hancock, Joe Houghton, Rob Marmion (Shutterstock),

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