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Talking therapy costs can be high, and not all health insurance plans provide coverage for them. However, there are free or low cost online therapy options to consider.

A woman uses free online telehealth therapyShare on Pinterest
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Online therapy is one type of telehealth service that focuses on mental health.

This article explains how to find an online therapist for free. It also describes some alternative resources that can provide free or low cost mental health support online.

Quick links

Online therapy is talking therapy or counseling that a person takes part in remotely. It provides an alternative to in-person talking therapy that may be more suitable for some people. People may not feel well enough to leave their homes, have busy schedules, or feel safer speaking with someone online.

Research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person sessions.

Does online therapy work?

Research from 2020 suggests that the increase in telemental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic should be a permanent fixture and more widely available.

A 2017 review suggests telemental health is:

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

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

Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A 2018 meta-analysis supports the use of online CBT for anxiety and depressive disorders.

We have explored all options for finding online therapy for free. We have tried to cover all possibilities, so people from all walks of life can access this service.

All organizations listed have been vetted by Medical News Today.

In addition, we have provided a link to recommended support groups by Mental Health America below. We have also provided a link to access the mobile apps as recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

A person should look for the following when choosing an online therapy provider:

  • Different types of communication: Online therapy services should offer a person a choice of communication, such as video chat, phone call, or live chat.
  • Licensed therapists: A person should ensure that the company employs licensed therapists with the appropriate qualifications. They should also be licensed within the state where the person is currently residing.
  • Security: A person should ensure that the online provider keeps personal information safe. A company’s privacy policy should be readily available to view on its website.
  • Time taken: The time taken for a company to match a person to a therapist should not take too long. People should also be able to easily change therapists at any time should they wish.
  • Price plans: Various price plans should be available. These should be easy to cancel at any time if a person does not wish to continue their subscription.

Some organizations and therapists offer a set amount of free online therapy sessions to people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

These few sessions may provide a person with enough insight to help them determine their next steps. But for others, further care and support are necessary. Attending free sessions may help someone decide whether therapy is the right choice for them.

Below are some free or low cost therapy options an individual may consider.

Workplaces

Many employers offer access to counseling and talking therapies. Companies often include these services within employee assistance programs (EAPs), which are usually available through contacting a human resources (HR) department.

If a person has medical insurance through their own or a family member’s employer, they may also have an additional benefit for mental health and wellness services.

Individuals can speak with their HR representative or benefits center to discuss coverage.

The type of therapy available varies between workplaces but may include a series of one-to-one sessions. It would usually be free of charge as the workplace would pay. However, insurance companies may cover the cost when employers do not pay the fees.

Colleges and universities

Many college and university health centers offer free or low cost counseling services to students. They may also offer stress management workshops and other mental health resources.

Individuals can often find many different forms of mental health support on campus, with much information provided from student services.

Additionally, many educational facilities have their own health plans in which students may enroll. However, some plans have specific rules and may require a person to attend classes for set periods before they are eligible for coverage.

Other options are available, such as exploring student plans privately or remaining on or being added to a relative’s plan.

Types of therapy may include a set number of one-to-one counseling sessions and group therapy. The costs would usually be covered by the college or university or by a health insurance provider.

Mental health organizations

Many charities and mental health organizations offer free counseling services, and they tend to have specific areas of focus. Some of these include:

The type of therapy offered varies between organizations. For example, CIMHS offers CBT-based online therapy that a person completes in their own time. 7 Cups offer free 24/7 chat services or one-to-one therapy for $150 per month. Moodgym provides interactive CBT training for $27 for a year’s access.

However, many of these mental health organizations do not accept insurance. There are many mental health organizations that provide free services.

State health departments

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

This online therapy may be a one-to-one, group, or self-help service. Insurance may cover any costs incurred.

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

Support groups

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

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

Some support groups are free of charge. However, any groups that charge would usually be cheaper than one-to-one counseling. Support groups would usually be covered by insurance.

Online forums

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

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

These online forums would usually be free to access. This is not a type of therapy, but a person may receive techniques and advice from people in similar situations.

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 on solutions and coping mechanisms to help people with specific mental health conditions.

These courses and webinars would typically not have insurance coverage.

Mobile apps

Many mobile apps are available to support individuals 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 are available in the Apple and Google Play stores. Insurance plans may cover paid versions of these apps. 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. These services 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 800-273-8255. These hotlines are free to access.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the 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 use their preferred relay service or dial 711, then 800-273-8255.

Click here for more links and local resources.

Free online therapy options

WorkplacesColleges and universitiesMental health organizationsState health departments
Best foremployeesstudentshelp through nonprofitslocal help
Therapy typesvaries between workplacesnumber of one-to-ones, group therapyvaries between servicesone-to-one, group, self-help
Insurance accepted?yesyes, in some casesvaries between servicesyes
Licensed therapists?yesyesyesyes

Alternative options

Crisis and suicide prevention hotlinesSupport groupsOnline forumsCourses, webinars, and workshopsMobile appsLow cost counseling
Best forimmediate helpsharing with peersinformation sharingequipping a person with knowledgeon-the-go supportcost effective services
Therapy typesphone callgroup therapyonline chatonline coursesvaries between appsone-to-one
Insurance accepted?yesnoyesyes
Licensed therapists?yesyes, and peersnoyesyesyes

Like any other form of therapy, online therapy has advantages and disadvantages. Considering these 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 best for people who do not have health insurance or have difficulty covering out-of-pocket costs.
  • Suitability: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that telemedicine for mental health is suitable for people of all ages, including children, adolescents, and adults. Also, some people may feel safer talking online to in-person, including people with autism.
  • Accessibility: Online therapy is more accessible for people living in rural and geographically isolated areas and those unable to travel. Choosing online support can also reduce the need to take time off from work or school.
  • Confidentiality: Some individuals find that online therapy offers greater confidentiality than in-person treatment. For example, there is no risk of a person encountering someone they know at a therapist’s office.

Cons of online therapy

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

  • Technical difficulties: Technical issues can hinder online therapy, such as internet connectivity. They 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 indicating 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. Additionally, these services may employ therapists with inconsistent qualifications and codes of conduct.

The following are common questions and answers about free online therapy:

How much does therapy cost on average?

Prices vary between providers. However, a person should expect to pay between $60–150 per session. This price can vary depending on location, length of session, and the therapist’s training. Many insurance companies cover the cost of therapy.

Who is online therapy best for?

Those who are good with technology and have a stable, reliable internet connection are good candidates for online therapy. Video consultations can be a good method of communication, so people may want to have a webcam.

Online therapy is suitable for most people.

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

People should learn about free online therapy resources from their workplace, school, or local, regional, and national mental health organizations.

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