Talk therapy can be expensive. Anyone who does not have good health insurance of who otherwise cannot afford in-person sessions might benefit from free or low-cost online support.

Online therapy is one type of telemental health. Research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person sessions. Someone might also prefer telemental health if they have a busy schedule or feel more safe and comfortable at home.

In this article, we explain how to find an online therapist for free. We also describe some alternative resources that can provide mental health support online for a low cost or none at all.

A man logs on online to talk with a therapist for free.Share on Pinterest
Telemental health can be an effective alternative to traditional, in-person therapy.

Some organizations and therapists offer free online therapy to people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. However, there is often a limit to the number of free sessions available to each client.

For some people, a few sessions may provide enough insight to help determine next steps, but for others, further care and support is necessary. Attending the limited number of free sessions may help someone decide whether therapy is the right choice for them.

People can look for free online therapy in the following places:

Workplaces

Many employers offer access to some form of counseling. These employee assistance programs are often available through human resource departments, and some programs may include online therapy.

Colleges and universities

Many health centers at colleges and universities offer free or low cost counseling services to students, as well as stress management workshops and other mental health resources. Some of these may be available online.

Mental health organizations

Many charities and mental health organizations offer free counseling services. These tend to have specific areas of focus, such as therapy for survivors of domestic abuse.

State health departments

State health department websites may list local mental health services, and some of these may offer free online therapy.

A 2013 review finds that telemental health is effective and increases access to support. A 2017 review confirms these findings, observing that this type of healthcare is:

  • effective in the treatment of mental illnesses
  • adaptable
  • comparable to in-person services
  • inexpensive

The findings of a small, randomized trial from 2014 also indicate that online treatment for depression is equally as helpful as in-person therapy. The results also suggest that this treatment may lead to a longer-term reduction in symptoms 3 months after it ends, compared with in-person therapy.

Other research indicates that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A 2018 meta-analysis further supports the use of online CBT for anxiety and depressive disorders.

Like any other form of therapy, online therapy has advantages and disadvantages. Weighing up the pros and cons can help a person decide whether online therapy might be right for them.

Pros of online therapy

Some people may prefer online therapy due to:

  • Cost: Online therapy is typically less expensive for both the client and the therapist. Free online therapy is ideal for people who do not have health insurance or are having trouble covering out-of-pocket costs.
  • Suitability: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) state that telemental health is suitable for people of all ages, including children, adolescents, and adults. Also, some people, including some autistic people, for example, may feel safer and more comfortable receiving treatment in their own homes.
  • Accessibility: Online therapy is more accessible for people living in rural and geographically isolated areas and for people who are unable to travel. Opting for online support can also reduce the need to take time off from work or school.
  • Confidentiality: Some people find that online therapy offers greater confidentiality than in-person treatment. There is no risk of a person encountering someone they know at a therapist’s office, for example.

Cons of online therapy

Online counseling is not suitable for everyone. Some potential drawbacks include:

  • Technical difficulties: Online therapy can be hampered by technical issues, such as poor internet connectivity. These can disrupt the therapeutic process and potentially cause stress. Online security is another consideration.
  • Limited communication: While research shows that online therapy is effective, it is more challenging for a therapist to pick up on body language and nonverbal cues through a computer screen. As a result, they could miss signs that a client is distressed.
  • Legal or ethical issues: According to the APA, some online therapy companies do not have clear guidelines about what to do if a client is in a risky situation, and these companies may hire therapists with inconsistent qualifications and codes of conduct.

There are several alternatives to free online therapy for people who cannot access it or prefer other approaches. Some other options include:

Support groups

It can be helpful to attend an issue-specific support group, such as a group for people with anxiety, addiction, or postpartum depression. Support groups allow individuals to connect with others who are going through something similar.

Support group meetings typically take place in person, but some are available online. Mental Health America provides a list of support groups.

Online forums

Some people prefer to use online forums to connect with others who are in, or have been in, similar situations. Through these forums, as in groups, a person can find support, advice, and encouragement from peers.

However, it is always important to exercise caution when joining online forums, as there is often no trained therapist moderating them.

Courses, webinars, and workshops

Many mental health professionals and organizations run online courses, webinars, and workshops about specific topics, such as stress management, anxiety, and depression.

These may be free to join, and they provide information as well as solutions and coping mechanisms that may benefit people with specific mental health conditions.

Mobile apps

Many mobile apps are available to support people with mental health conditions. Some offer information and tips, while others provide tools for mental well-being, such as guided meditation.

In addition, some apps allow people to connect with trained therapists or peers who are experiencing similar issues.

Many apps, both paid-for and free, are available in the Apple and Google Play stores. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides a list of mental health apps.

Low cost counseling

Some therapists charge a lower-than-usual hourly fee to make their services more affordable. They might advertise this as low cost counseling or sliding-scale therapy. It may take place online.

Lists of local or regional therapists who offer this may be available from insurance providers or mental health directories.

Crisis and suicide prevention hotlines

Anyone experiencing a crisis, possibly involving suicidal thoughts, can contact a hotline for emotional support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Free online therapy can help people deal with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy.

People should check with their workplace or school, as well as local, regional, and national mental health organizations to learn about free online therapy resources.

If free online therapy is unavailable, a person might still benefit from online workshops, support groups, and other options. With treatment and support, people with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can begin to feel better.