Talk therapy can be expensive. Those who may not have health insurance or are unable to afford to pay for therapy may choose to see a therapist online for free. This is possible, but free online counseling can be difficult to find.
Evidence shows that online counseling may be just as beneficial as conventional in-person counseling, or telementary treatment.
In this article we clarify how to locate a therapist online free of charge. We also mention alternate solutions for those unable to access the benefits of free therapy.
How to find free online therapy
Some groups and clinicians are providing free online counseling to people with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Nevertheless, the number of free sessions available to clients sometimes is limited.
A few sessions can suffice for some people to give them insight into what they need to do next. Others would require more counseling, though. The limited number of free sessions could help someone determine if counseling is their right option.
People should look to the following sites for free online therapy:
Many employers give their workers some sort of counseling service. Such employee support services are also accessible through divisions of human resources, and some services may provide online therapy.
Collages, or universities
Most wellness centers at colleges and universities provide students with free or low-cost counseling facilities, as well as seminars on stress reduction, and other mental health resources. Many of those could be online.
Mental health organizations
Most charities and mental health agencies, which typically have a common area of focus, provide free counselling services. For example, household violence refuges can give survivors of domestic abuse a certain number of therapy sessions.
State health departments
Websites of the state health department may list local mental health facilities, some of which may provide online counseling for free.
Does online therapy work?
A 2013 study notes that telemental health is successful and that services are more open to clients. Such results are backed by a 2017 study, which reports that telementary health care is:
- effective in the treatment of mental illnesses
- comparable to in-person services
The findings of a small, randomized trial from 2014 also reveal that online therapy for anxiety is equally as helpful as in-person therapy. Researchers also say it will lead to a longer-term decrease in symptoms 3 months after completion of treatment compared to in-person therapy.
Other evidence shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) online is beneficial for the treatment of anxiety disorders. The use of online CBT for anxiety and depressive disorders is further confirmed by a 2018 meta-analysis.
Pros and cons
Online therapy has both benefits and drawbacks as with all types of therapy. Individuals should consider their situations and weigh the necessary pros and cons in order to help them determine whether online counseling is right for them.
Pros of online therapy
Some people may prefer therapy online for the following reasons:
- 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.
For those who can not find a free therapist, or choose other approaches, there are several alternatives to free online therapy. Such options include:
Attending a problem-specific support group, such as an anxiety group, addiction, or postpartum depression may be helpful. Support groups allow people to connect to other people who are going through something similar.
Support group meetings are typically held in person, but some may also be available online to enter. Mental Health America lists the support groups.
Some people may want to use the online forums to communicate with others who have similar problems. Like with support groups , people who use these sites will get peer help , advice, and motivation.
Nonetheless, when entering online forums, it is always necessary to exercise caution because there is often no qualified therapist moderating them.
Courses, webinars, and workshops
Several mental health professionals and organizations are running online courses, webinars, and seminars on specific issues, including stress management, anxiety , and depression.
These online services offer information on specific subjects, as well as solutions to problems commonly experienced by those with mental health issues. Some of those online courses may be free of charge.
There are also different smartphone apps available to assist people with mental health issues. Others offer knowledge and advice, while others offer mental health resources such as guided meditation.
There are also apps available which allow people to interact with qualified therapists or peers with similar problems.
A lot of applications are available in the Apple and Google Play stores, both paid and free. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also provide a list of mental health apps.
Low cost counseling
There are sometimes flexible treatment options, where therapists give a lower than usual hourly fee to make therapy more accessible.
This style of therapy is also known as sliding-scale or low-cost therapy. This can occur on-line. Insurance plans or mental health directories can have a list of appropriate therapists.
Crisis hotlines and suicide prevention
For emotional support, anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts should contact a crisis hotline. The Lifeline for National Suicide Prevention is available 24/7, at 1-800 – 273-8255.
So if you know someone who is at imminent risk of self-harm, suicide or another person being hurt:
- 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.
Even if you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, a hotline will assist with prevention. The National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention is open at 800-273-8255 24 hours a day. Persons with trouble hearing should dial 800-799-4889 during a crisis.
Click here for more links and local resources.
Free online counseling can help people cope with anxiety, depression , and other mental health issues. Evidence shows care online can be as effective as in-person therapy.
For more details on the availability of free online therapy, individuals can consult with their workplace , school, or college, as well as local and national organizations.
When free online counseling is inaccessible, individuals can use a variety of other services free of charge or at low cost. Individuals with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems will begin to feel better with medication and support.