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Therapy Financial Aid 101

Therapy Financial Aid 101

This post is for people who are interested in therapy, but are not sure how to pay for it. We’ll walk you through some tips on how to afford therapy – what we call “Therapy Financial Aid 101.”

Start with your insurance

If you have health insurance, it’s usually the best place to start. You can call your insurance company or look on their website to figure out what mental health benefits you have and find therapists who accept your insurance. Some insurance companies even have a directory of therapists who accept your insurance! 

Before attending your first appointment, you’ll want to make sure you know:

  • Your co-pay: The amount you will have to pay for therapy at every session. Copays vary but are often between $5 to $30 a session.
  • Your deductible: The amount you pay for covered health care services before your insurance starts to pay. For example, with a $2,000 deductible, you would pay the first $2,000 of covered services yourself. After you pay your deductible, you usually pay only a copay for covered services.

Knowing your copay and deductible will help you avoid unexpected bills. To get this information, ask your insurance provider, “What is my copay and deductible for therapy services?” or look on your insurance card.

Ask about financial aid options

If you find a therapist or clinic that feels like a good fit but you’re not sure you can afford it, ask if the following options are available:

  • Sliding scale: The therapist or clinic charges you for therapy appointments using a payment scale based on your income. If you make less, the cost of therapy is lower. For example, if you make $25,000 annually you may be charged $15 per appointment and if you make $40,000 annually you may be charged $20 per appointment. Therapists and clinics usually ask for proof of income to obtain a sliding scale rate.
  • Fee waiver: The therapist or clinic offers therapy for free or at reduced cost based on your financial need or life circumstances. Fee waivers are usually available at agencies working to make therapy more affordable for specific groups of people, such as domestic violence survivors or individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Pro bono: A therapist may offer therapy to a percentage of their clients at lower cost or for free, based on financial need. When available, pro bono therapy is usually offered by individual therapists within a private practice setting.
  • Transportation assistance: The therapist or clinic offers transportation support (such as bus cards or ride sharing), if you can’t afford or do not have transportation to your appointment.

We recommend looking into these financial aid options if you don’t have insurance or your insurance has high co-pays and deductibles. Not every clinic or therapist offers these, but it never hurts to ask because they are not always listed online. Therapy4thePeople’s directory of free and low cost mental health supports allows you to search for whether therapists and clinics offer a sliding scale, fee waiver, or transportation assistance.

Ask your doctor for referrals

Reach out to your primary care doctor to talk about your mental health. Share your concerns about being able to afford therapy. Your primary care clinic may have a program where therapy is offered by mental health professionals  in the same clinic (often called “integrated behavioral health”). 

If your primary care clinic is part of a hospital system, your doctor may also be able to refer you to a therapist or clinic within this system who accepts your insurance or offers mental health services at a lower cost. Your child’s pediatrician can also help if you are looking for services for your child.

Find a therapist at your school 

If you’re looking for therapy for your child, ask the school social worker or counselor if your child can receive therapy at school. When available, this can be a great option for your child because then you don’t have to worry about transportation (they only need to walk down the hallway!) and services are usually free. Sometimes schools only offer supportive counseling (e.g., resolving peer conflict) and not therapy (e.g., depression treatment). The social worker or counselor can let you know if your child needs therapy and may be able to give you referrals for affordable options in the community. 

If you’re a college student, you can receive therapy services at reduced or no cost through your school’s college counseling center. You may not know it, but you actually pay for these services through your student fees, so it’s great to take advantage of it! Most college counseling centers use a brief therapy model (6 to 8 sessions).

Go to a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC)

FQHC’s are community-based clinics where healthcare providers are not allowed to turn anyone away based on insurance or ability to pay. The agency will work with you so that you only pay what you can afford for therapy services, based on your income. You can use this search tool to find a FQHC in your community.

Go to a training clinic

Every therapist has to practice doing therapy before they get licensed. A trainee therapist is a great way to get affordable therapy (kind of like getting a cheaper haircut from a hair stylist in training). A trainee will usually meet with you on their own, but part of their training is to meet with a licensed supervisor every week to discuss their work. A good way to find training clinics is to call or search local universities who offer masters and doctoral programs in Psychology, Social Work, or Counseling. Ask if they have a mental health clinic that is open to the public. 

Participate in treatment studies

There are many researchers who study how therapy works and how to make it better in what’s called a “treatment study.” In a treatment study, a research team provides a new type of therapy and collects information about how well the therapy worked. 

For this reason, therapy in these studies is free and you get paid for your participation. Another plus is that treatment studies offer cutting-edge treatments. In other words, study participants get the highest quality evidence-based treatments before they’re available to the general public. You can find treatment studies in Therapy4thePeople’s directory.

Avoid surprises 

It can be frustrating to learn about surprise costs after your first appointment. Make sure you ask enough questions to understand the cost of therapy and how to pay for it before you start. A good therapist or clinic is always available to answer any questions you may have about insurance, payment, or financial aid options.

Be persistent

At Therapy4thePeople, we work hard to reduce roadblocks to getting therapy because we know that therapy can be transformative. We also know that trying to get therapy can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing–especially when you’re struggling financially! We hope that the tips in this post will make it easier for you to get the support you need and can afford. 

Even with these tips, you may still come up against roadblocks. Please do not give up. We recommend that you find a close friend or family member who can support you in your effort to get therapy so that your mental health doesn’t suffer in the process. Our directory also offers other types of affordable support that you can use while you’re waiting to start therapy. 

For more information on how to afford therapy, explore Therapy4thePeople.org. You’ll find mental health supports that fit your budget and unique needs and guidance on navigating the mental health system.

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