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

Online therapy is one type of telehealth service that focuses on mental health.

In this article, we explain how to find an online therapist for free. We also describe 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 be more suitable for many individuals. Sometimes, a person may not feel well enough to leave their home, they may have busy schedules, or they may feel safer speaking with someone online.

Reassuringly, research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person sessions.

Does online therapy work?

An older review from 2013 suggests 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

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

Other research indicates 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.

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, we look at 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, or EAPs, which are usually available by 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.

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 healthcare 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 if they are eligible.

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:

State health departments

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

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 them 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.

Online forums

Some people prefer using online forums to connect with others who are in or have experienced similar situations. Through these forums, similar to support 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 help people with specific mental health conditions.

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, 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. 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 1-800-273-8255.

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 ideal 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, including some autistic individuals, 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 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, such as internet connectivity, can hinder online therapy. 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.

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 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, individuals with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can begin to feel better.