4 affordable therapy options that can help you invest in yourself


Some 38% of Americans say they want to improve their mental health in the new year, according to the Ispos 2020 New Year's Resolution study, which polled over 2,000 people.

If you're among those committed to making positive change in 2020, you don't have to go at it alone. Therapy or coaching can help provide clarity about your career and personal goals.

It can also be an investment in yourself, says Lisa Marie Bobby, psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching in Denver, Colorado.

"Even if you spend money on 8 to 10 sessions, you could be reaping the rewards 5, 10 years in the future, at which point the cost becomes negligible," she says.

Going to therapy can also be also a smart financial move, especially when you consider "the lifetime earning potential of someone who has intentionally cultivated a career though coaching," adds Bobby.

If you have a pattern of being unable to achieve your goals, therapy is a way to get at the heart of whatever "stops that progress," says Ed Coambs, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Carolinas Couples Counseling in Matthews, North Carolina. Therapy illuminates what's known as "implicit experiences, or things that we take for granted without really reflecting on them," he explains.

Here are a few places to find low-cost therapy, and some strategies for picking the right therapist.

Even if you spend money on 8 to 10 sessions, you could be reaping the rewards 5, 10 years in the future, at which point the cost becomes negligible.
Lisa Marie Bobby

Low-cost therapy options

If you have insurance, check your benefits and see what kind of mental health services you're eligible for. Mental health coverage can vary widely in terms of both cost and services included.

Out-of-pocket costs for those who get treatment for mental heath or substance abuse problems tend to be higher than those for medical treatments, according to a 2017 study published by Milliman, a health-care consulting company.

If you don't have insurance, or if mental health services are limited or unaffordable on your current plan, you may want to weigh these low-cost alternatives.

Sliding scale therapists: If you find a therapist that's a good fit, go for a consultation and ask if they offer income-based sliding scale rates, says Bobby. Some therapists who have regular rates are willing to be flexible for clients with modest incomes in order to keep services aligned with their budget, she adds. At Bobby's practice, for example, therapists early in their careers charge $95 a session, but will slide down to $55 for clients with lower incomes.

Well-regarded training programs: At accredited graduate programs in counseling or clinical psychology, you'll find early-career therapists who are passionate about what they do and building their practice, says Bobby. Look for COAMFTE and CACREP-accredited programs, or doctoral-level counseling programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association.

University counseling centers: If you're looking for an extremely low-cost option ($5-$10 per session) contact your local university to see if they offer practicum experiences for student therapists-in-training. This "can be a little bit like a getting a beauty school haircut," warns Bobby, but students generally have the support of well-trained faculty, and are eager to practice their craft.

Community mental health centers: These local organizations generally cater the young and elderly and/or people without insurance. If you qualify for Medicaid, you may be able to qualify for free mental health programs as well.

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Though online therapy programs, sometimes known as text-based therapy, have grown in popularity in recent years, Bobby does not recommend them. "It's very cookie cutter, trite advice that is not based on any understanding of how you got to be the way you are," says Bobby.

However, programs like Talkspace and Betterhelp are affordable options, and may be worth doing your own research.

A free self-care strategy, and one that can reinforce what you learn in your sessions with a therapist, is active journaling. "You'll see that if you're writing and reflecting and journaling over time, your thoughts will be more nuanced, and subtle over time," says Coambs.

How to choose the right therapist

"There is a lot of things that are passing as 'therapy' that are probably a waste of money when it comes to achieving actual results in your life," says Bobby.

To find an effective practice, limit your search to therapists who us an evidence-based approach, meaning one that is grounded in research and best practices, says Bobby. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, ACT Therapy, Gottman Method, or EFT for marriage counseling are all solid options.

Next, when you find someone who's a fit, ask for details about how they can help you. "They should also be able to describe how they will help you achieve your goals for yourself in a way that makes sense to you. Interview possible therapists before committing to one, and if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't," says Bobby.

When you investing in therapy, the goal is create results in your life, "as opposed to something that's mildly gratifying but is the emotional equivalent of getting a relaxing massage," says Bobby.

A good therapist should do more than make you feel good.

"A powerful experience is partnering with someone who can challenge your old ways of thinking that may feel hard at first, who can work with you to do a deep assessment to figure out," says Bobby. "I tell people all the time, 'Growth isn't an event, it's a process.'"

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