Talk therapy can be expensive. People who do not have health insurance or cannot afford to pay for sessions may wish to see an online therapist for free. While free online therapy can be difficult to find, it is possible.

Research suggests that online therapy, or telemental health, can be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy.

In this article, we explain how to find an online therapist for free. We also list alternative options for those who struggle to find free therapy services.

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Telemental health can be an effective alternative to traditional in-person therapy.

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

For some people, a few sessions may be enough to give them insight into what they need to do next. However, others will require further counseling. 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 some form of counseling service to their employees. These employee assistance programs are often available through human resource departments, and some programs may include online therapy.

Colleges or 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, which usually have a specific area of focus. For example, domestic violence refuges may offer a certain number of therapy sessions to survivors of domestic abuse.

State health departments

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

A 2013 review reports that telemental health is effective and increases client access to providers. A 2017 review supports these findings, stating that telemental 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. They also suggest that it may lead to a longer term reduction in symptoms 3 months after finishing treatment than 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.

As with all forms of therapy, online therapy has advantages and disadvantages. Individuals can consider their circumstances and weigh up the relevant pros and cons to help decide whether online therapy might be right for them.

Pros of online therapy

Some people may prefer online therapy for the reasons below:

  • Cost: Online therapy is typically more economical for both the client and the therapist. Free online therapy is ideal for individuals who cannot pay out of pocket or do not have health insurance.
  • Suitability: The American Psychiatric Association state that telepsychiatry (another form of telemental health) is suitable for people of all ages, including children, adolescents, and adults. Some people, including some autistic individuals, may also feel safer or more comfortable receiving treatment in their own home.
  • Accessibility: Online therapy is a convenient and accessible treatment option for those living in rural and geographically isolated areas, or for people who are unable to travel. It also reduces the need for individuals to take additional time off work or school.
  • Confidentiality: Some people may find that online therapy offers them 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 subject to technical issues, such as a poor internet connection. Such issues 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 American Psychological Association, some online therapy companies do not have clear guidelines on what to do if a client is in a risky situation and may hire therapists with inconsistent qualifications and codes of conduct.

There are several alternatives to free online therapy for those who cannot find a free therapist or prefer other approaches. These alternatives include:

Support groups

It can be helpful to attend an issue-specific support group, such as a group for 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 may also be available to join online. Mental Health America provide a list of support groups.

Online forums

Some people may wish to use online forums to connect with others who are experiencing similar issues. As with support groups, people using these forums can gain 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 on specific issues, such as stress management, anxiety, and depression.

These online services provide information on specific topics, as well as solutions to problems that those with mental health issues commonly experience. Some of these online courses may be available for free.

Mobile apps

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

Apps are also available that enable people to connect with trained therapists or peers experiencing similar issues.

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

Low cost counseling

Affordable therapy options, where therapists offer a lower-than-usual hourly fee to make counseling more affordable, are sometimes available.

This type of counseling is also known as low cost counseling or sliding-scale therapy. It may take place online. A list of relevant therapists may be available from insurance providers or mental health directories.

Crisis and suicide prevention hotlines

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

Suicide prevention

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 per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Click here for more links and local resources.

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

Individuals should check with their workplace, school, or college, as well as local and national organizations to find out more about the availability of free online therapy.

If free online therapy is unavailable, individuals can access a range of other free or low cost resources. With treatment and support, people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can begin to feel better.