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People who cannot attend in-office therapy sessions may find online therapy helpful. A person can access free therapy via organizations, websites, apps, or college institutions. However, people with severe mental health concerns need immediate medical treatment.
This article describes online therapy and reviews various companies and organizations offering free online therapy. It also looks at some alternative options and discusses when a person may wish to consider contacting a doctor.
- Best for both sexes: Hims and Hers
- Best for anonymity: Bliss by the Centre for Interactive Mental Health Solutions
- Best for any time of day: 7 Cups
- Best for pregnancy and postpartum: Postpartum Support International
- Best for essential workers: Therapy Aid Coalition
- Best for a crisis: Crisis Text Line
- Best for women and nonbinary people of color: DRK Beauty Healing
Online therapy sessions can take place via mobile app, video conference, email, text message, or any other platform where conversations occur virtually.
Online therapy is also known as e-therapy, telepsychiatry, or cyber-counseling. Some mental health professionals and organizations offer courses about specific topics. Through these courses, participants can learn to manage the symptoms associated with their mental health and deal with stressful situations.
Is online therapy effective?
Online video or phone therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy.
A 2014 study found that online therapy for people with depression was as beneficial as in-person appointments.
And a 2018 meta-analysis of high quality studies found that online cognitive behavioral therapy was effective for people with mental health conditions such as major depression, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
The above studies show support for video or phone therapy. However, some online therapy services use text or email messaging. There is no evidence to support the efficacy of email- or text-based therapy, and these forms of online therapy may not offer the same benefits as other methods.
A 2019 study found that users of mental health apps may not engage with them in the long term. This reduction in engagement may indicate that therapy apps are ineffective for long-term treatment.
Is online therapy right for me?
A person also needs to have reliable internet access in their home to participate in teletherapy. And online health services, including therapy sessions,
Further, technical difficulties or limitations can make it difficult for some people to access effective online sessions. A person who is more concerned about their privacy and security online may wish to explore in-person therapy instead.
Some organizations offer free support for individuals with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. They provide a supportive community and a space to talk, and they may also host group sessions where people can meet others with the same condition or issue.
That said, these services may not suit those looking for quick advice or people with serious mental health issues, such as severe depression or suicidal thoughts.
Some companies offer free therapy sessions on a limited basis. These short-term options may be enough to help someone determine whether they need further support.
Sometimes, companies that appear to offer free services may actually impose hidden fees or fail to provide the quality of care they advertise.
For this reason, a person should thoroughly research potential providers to ensure that they are a reliable organizations connecting people with quality mental health support.
It is also important to ask if the therapy will be HIPAA compliant and if the organization will protect the person’s sensitive medical information. In addition, there are inherent digital security risks in any online interaction. A person should learn what a teletherapy company or organization is doing to protect people’s data before proceeding.
How we choose teletherapy services
Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:
- The company verifiably offers free or reduced-cost online therapy.
- The company connects people with certified clinicians or clearly states if the counselors are general volunteers.
- The organization does not engage in any suspicious or unethical practices or ones that can worsen a person’s mental health or pose a legal or safety threat.
- The organization offers convenient teletherapy either for everyone or for specific groups more at risk for mental health disorders.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these services. All information presented is purely research-based.
Best for both sexes
Hims is a telehealth company specializing in men’s health. Its sister company, Hers, focuses on women’s health. Both companies offer free online group therapy sessions to those who join their anonymous support groups.
Before the session, a person can submit any questions they might have so the therapist can use them to guide the discussion. During each session, the therapist also provides helpful tools and strategies for people to use in everyday life.
People do not have to turn on their cameras, and they can just listen if they do not feel comfortable talking.
- People can choose the time and topic that suits them best.
- People can submit questions before the session.
- The platform guarantees anonymity.
- The sessions cover various topics.
- There is no individual therapy option. Each session includes 15 people.
- Other group members can be disruptive or offensive. However, if a group member is disruptive or offensive, the therapist can remove them from the session.
Best for anonymity
This is a free course consisting of eight sessions. It may be ideal for those not yet ready to connect with a therapist. It aims to teach participants how to manage and improve their moods.
People can also use Bliss’s mood monitor, which helps them track their mood changes throughout the program.
Individuals can complete the course at their own pace with complete anonymity. According to the website, the company does not collect any information that could potentially identify a person.
- The program is self-paced.
- It is suitable for those with busy schedules.
- There is no option to speak with a therapist.
- Some exercises lack recommendations on how often to perform them.
3. 7 Cups
Best for any time of day
People who have mental health conditions or feelings of emotional distress can connect with trained listeners on 7 Cups. This service is free, and individuals can chat with a listener any time of the day.
Also available on the 7 Cups website are self-help guides for anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and other conditions.
- Listeners are available any time.
- People can join groups to chat with others.
- Listeners are not licensed therapists.
- A monthly subscription is required to connect with a licensed therapist.
Best for pregnancy and postpartum
Postpartum Support International (PSI) is a nonprofit organization that can help pregnant people, their partners, and those with postpartum depression.
People can speak with a trained volunteer and attend weekly group calls that the organization’s mental health professionals host.
There are separate group calls for men and women, and individuals can share their experiences and learn more about symptoms and treatment options.
- A person can find healthcare professionals near them with the PSI directory.
- A person does not need to preregister for the weekly calls.
- A person cannot choose their preferred time slot for the weekly calls.
Best for essential workers
Therapy Aid Coalition offers free virtual therapy to essential workers affected by COVID-19. Licensed therapists volunteer with the organization, offering their services for free or at extremely discounted rates.
People who have had to continue working outside the home during stay-at-home orders since the pandemic began in 2020 may be particularly susceptible to conditions like trauma, anxiety, or depression.
This may be particularly relevant to healthcare professionals and those working in fields such as law enforcement, education, transportation, and the post office.
- A person can easily search for a therapist in their area, filtering results by specific expertise.
- A person can get therapy for free, choose a contribution fee they can afford, or use their medical insurance to pay.
- A person can find a therapist who speaks other languages, if necessary.
- Currently, it is only available to essential workers, so it cannot benefit other people. However, the organization plans to expand the service to essential personnel assisting during natural disasters.
Best for a crisis
The Crisis Text Line allows anyone dealing with a mental health crisis to speak with a counselor for free via text. A person simply needs to text 741741 in the United States. Once they do, an automated message will confirm receipt and help a person connect with a trained crisis counselor. This typically takes no more than 5 minutes.
Once a person connects with a counselor, they can continue texting back and forth until they decide the situation is resolved. The goal is to help the person reach a state of calm and safety at the moment.
Common issues the crisis counselors encounter include anxiety due to COVID-19, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, eating disorders, and more.
- Counselors are available 24/7, including in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Spanish-speaking counselors are also available.
- It is easy and convenient. A person also has the option to use WhatsApp instead of texting.
- It is only intended to address immediate crises and does not offer ongoing therapy.
Women and nonbinary people of color
DRK Beauty Healing is a nonprofit organization offering free online counseling to People of Color who identify as women or nonbinary.
The organization has a directory of counselors from which a person can select a therapist in their state. A person then needs to reach out to the therapist and let them know they are requesting free services through DRK Beauty Healing.
If a clinician cannot accept new clients, a person can choose another clinician or reach out to the organization for help.
- It provides easy access to mental health professionals.
- It offers an Emergency Therapy Fund for cases where a desired therapist has run out of free counseling hours.
- It offers online questionnaires geared toward common issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. A person can also identify whether their workplace is negatively impacting their mental health.
- Connecting free or affordable mental health with People of Color is crucial because, historically, there has been a disparity in access to mental health care for people in this category. The same
is trueregarding people who identifyas women or are nonbinary. However, this means that this service is not appropriate for non-BIPOC people or People of Color who identify as men.
People who do not use free online therapy can seek help by exploring other options. These may include:
- Online forums: People can join online forums and share their experiences with others who have been through similar situations. There may be no trained therapists in these forums, but a person can find support and encouragement from other individuals.
- Support groups: People can join support groups specializing in specific problems or conditions. Some groups help those with anxiety, depression, or addiction and take place in person. Others are available online. All groups enable people to meet other individuals in similar circumstances.
- College mental health services: Students may be able to access their college’s counseling center, which can offer free or low cost therapy sessions.
- Hobbies: According to
Head to Health, people with hobbies are less likely to develop stress and symptoms associated with depression. Through hobbies, individuals can learn new skills, meet new people, and improve their communication skills.
People who have suicidal thoughts or are facing domestic violence should try to speak with a doctor or psychiatrist immediately.
Those who have thoughts of suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This service is available at any time of the day.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available 24/7 at 800-799-7233.
Other organizations that individuals may wish to contact include:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Strong Hearts Native Helpline
- National Dating Abuse Helpline
Free online therapy is unsuitable for people with severe mental health conditions. People who have imminent concerns about harming themselves or others need immediate help from a medical professional.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
Various organizations and companies offer free online therapy. People who cannot afford or attend in-person therapy sessions can benefit from this type of service.
A person can join group sessions with some organizations without registering and while staying anonymous.
Those who have thoughts of suicide or are experiencing domestic violence need immediate help.
Here are some common questions and answers relating to online therapy.
Is free therapy as good as expensive therapy?
The quality of free teletherapy compared to traditional paid therapy depends on the quality of the organization or company offering the service. For due diligence, a person should always research any telehealth service before trying it.
What’s the best online free therapy for kids?
Several telehealth companies offer counseling for kids. However, not all of them may be free. Learn about the best online therapy programs for kids in 2022.