Everyone Deserves Help: How To Find Free Counseling Services
By: Corrina Horne
Updated January 30, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
The term "counselor" often conjures images of a t-shirt, jeans, and a whistle, as you hearken back to childhood camps, where counselors were teenagers volunteering to herd little children. It might also bring up the image of a high school or college office, a large desk, and questions about your plans and career. The term "counselor" might not bring up anything at all, as therapy and similar services might never have been a part of your life. Counseling was once confined to these schools, churches, and hospitals. Still, counseling and therapy are becoming an increasingly accepted practice, and the stigma that was once attached to needing outside help for life's challenges is no longer as vast as it once was. The price, however, can still be prohibitive. Are there ways to find free counseling services?
Find Safe Therapy
"Free" does not always mean "good." Before leaping to enlist the help of the first free counselor you find, do your research; make sure your state licenses your counselor to practice counseling. The laws to protect your wellbeing cannot protect you if your counseling sessions occur with someone who is not properly educated and licensed, so making sure you are working with an actual professional (or a student working toward becoming a professional) is paramount.
Finding safe therapy also means finding a safe space for your counseling sessions. If you see a therapist in person, you must see them in free space from outside listeners.
Where to Find Free Counseling
While free counseling might seem too good to be true, there are ways to find counseling services free of charge, many of them available right in your town or city.
Check with Your Insurance. If you have insurance, you may be able to receive counseling free of charge. Although many insurance companies require that you pay a co-pay at each counseling session, some do not, particularly if you treat a diagnosed mental disorder, as these sessions are considered preventative or treatment based. Before making an appointment with a local therapy clinic, call your insurance to determine if you would need to provide a co-pay or if your insurance completely covers the cost of counseling.
Check Local Churches. Many clergy programs dictate that you must take some cursory counseling classes to receive a theology degree or similar. These counselors will not be held to the same standards as a professional counselor, so you may not be protected by the same laws and ethics offered by professional mental health counselors, but you may be able to find some clarity or direction for smaller concerns have.
Visit Your School Office. If you attend high school or college, your school may provide counseling services free of charge. These services are not usually offered indefinitely and might have a time frame you can work within or a certain number of sessions you can use. Still, these programs do enlist the help of qualified, trained professionals, so you will receive quality mental health care without having to hand over any of your money.
Check Online Therapy Sites. Many online therapy sites allow you to have one or two free online counseling chats to determine whether you like the therapist or delivery method. Although this is not a long-term solution, it can help you get a feel for whether or not you want to enlist the help of an online therapist, such as those found on ReGain.us. Scheduling a free online trial can also be useful if you are not sure your personality will work well with a mental health professional; if you do not feel that the two of you mesh during your first (free) session, you can move on to another therapist, to see if your personality meshes well with another practitioner.
Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This organization seeks to find a way to provide adequate mental health care for everyone and works hard to make sure as many towns and cities as possible have access to mental healthcare of some kind. The local chapter of NAMI might be able to steer you in the direction of free or low-cost mental healthcare.
Call Local Healthcare Clinics. These clinics might have interns and students required to meet practice hours to become licensed mental health professionals and may provide these services free of charge because the individual in question does not have all of their licensing credentials secured yet. Mental health clinics might also have scholarships of sorts that you can apply to help pay for your mental health services, so make sure to have your information ready when you call, including your name, age, and income level.
Call Local Therapy Offices. Many therapy offices will offer a sliding scale for services when someone does not have insurance, based on income, so check in with the office to determine if you qualify for free or low-cost therapy sessions.
Call A Hotline. Although hotlines are not designed to offer long-standing emotional support and counseling, they can be used in a pinch if you feel completely overwhelmed and in need of some quick, short assistance.
Things to Check
All therapy services should be offered with the assurance and understanding that your information will not be shared with anyone outside of your sessions and will not be used against you in any way. This is one of the benefits of therapy: unlike speaking with a friend, relative, or loved one, a therapist (legally) cannot share or exploit the information you give them, aside from a few dire situations. This allows you to share freely and without shame.
Read the fine print wherever you go, as some places might offer a single free counseling session, provided that you sign up for further sessions. Some therapists might offer the first session free but expect repayment in the future. Although truly free counseling exists, there are also those for whom free counseling is a way to secure more clients, rather than simply providing services.
Everyone Deserves Help
While therapy might seem like a privilege rather than a need, many people need mental health services. Even people without a diagnosed condition need mental health intervention from time to time. Regarding mental health as anything but necessary, just as physical health is, places a great burden on the shoulders of everyone who struggles with a mental health condition or disorder and makes finding the right help difficult. Increasing awareness, decreasing stigma, and making access to mental health services are all important steps in making sure additional resources for free mental health care are made available and ensuring that no one who needs intervention goes without some form of treatment or counseling service. Whether you find an in-person therapist who works on a sliding scale, use a free online counseling chat 24/7, or locate a local clinic that offers mental health services free of charge, you can find safe, effective counseling services without a large price tag attached, and improve your mental health today.
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