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What is online therapy?
“Online therapy is an opportunity to meet with your therapist online, using a HIPAA compliant platform,” says Dr. Tracy W. Lowenthal, a licensed clinical psychologist in California.
Also known as telemental healthcare, it’s often done over a messaging app, video chat, or even the phone.
Because online therapy is accessible through an internet connection and a device, Marilyn Denovish, a multidisciplinary therapist, says that “online therapy can be as effective, and sometimes even more effective than, traditional face-to-face services.”
This is because people might find it easier to open up to a therapist when they can talk with them from the comfort of their home.
How much can free online therapy cost?
You can find free or low cost therapy through social services, nonprofits, universities, financial assistance programs, and employee assistance programs.
The average cost of an hour-long therapy appointment can range from about $65 to $250, depending on your therapist’s training, experience, and location.
Can free online therapy help?
Various studies show that free online therapy can be just as good (or even better) than traditional types of therapy. It all depends on how well your therapist and treatment strategy suits your needs.
For example, a 2020 study by the Journal of American College Health centered around goalsetting and finding solutions to problems found that both in-person and online therapy reduced anxiety equally.
So, depending on the person and circumstances, using online therapy services like 7 Cups and ReGain can be quite effective.
What can free online therapy help with?
Free online therapy can help with certain conditions and feelings, such as:
- relationship issues
- minor depression
However, it’s important to keep in mind that these types of services are not ideal for emergency situations or more serious situations, like addiction or eating disorders. Additionally, some conditions may warrant medication, in-person discussions, or group therapy.
How we chose the best affordable therapy services
We selected each free or low cost online therapy service based on key features to ensure the mental health support offered is:
- appropriately credentialed
We also considered how long you need to wait for an appointment, whether the service offers 24/7 support, and if the service offers video and phone chat, live chat, and text messaging.
How to choose an online therapy service
It’s important to consider your mental health needs when choosing an online therapy service. Factors like service cost, insurance coverage, and appointment types offered (chat, video, or phone call) will help you determine the online therapy service that fits your personal needs and lifestyle.
A comparison of the best free and affordable online therapy services
Therapy servicePriceAppointment typeAccepts insuranceSame-day appointments or on-demand messaging7 Cupsfree to chat with volunteer listeners and $150 per month to talk with a professionalchatnoyesDoctor on Demandtherapy ranges from $129–$179, initial psychiatrist appointments cost $299, and 15-minute follow-ups are $129videoyesnoReGainfree 1-week trial, then from $60 per weekchat
phonenoyesTherapy Aidfree to $50 per sessionvideoN/AnoBlissfree N/A N/A N/AOnline-Therapy.com$50–$110 a week depending on your planlive chat
messagesnoon-demanding messagingCrisis Text LinefreeN/A (available to use in the case of crisis situations)N/Aon-demand messaging
When to see an in-person therapist
If you prefer more intimacy or are dealing with serious issues that require exposure therapy or many in-depth discussions (like those relating to addiction, eating disorders, or severe depression), you may want to think about seeing a therapist in person.
With that being said, everyone is different and this will be a matter of personal preference. If you have quicker access to an online therapist, you might want to start off this way and then switch to in-person if it suits you better overall.
Frequently asked questions
What are the benefits of online therapy?
- Accessibility. Anyone with an internet connection can participate in online therapy.
- Time efficiency. Online therapy and counseling eliminates travel time between appointments or support group meetings. You can also mold it to your schedule and don’t have to call out sick to work to make it to your appointment.
- Cost effectiveness. Online therapy can be cheaper than in-person visits, and most health insurances cover part of the cost.
- Eliminates geographical barriers. If your ideal therapist resides in another state or country, you can still get treatment with them as long as they’re licensed in the state you live in.
- Comfort. Some people might find it easier to open up to a therapist when they’re in the privacy and comfort of their own home.
- Safety. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth eliminates the risk of potential exposure.
Can therapy really be free?
A number of online services offer free or reduced cost therapy. Sometimes these free services will be run by peer counselors or coaches, but require payment to work directly with licensed mental health professionals. Additionally, certain online services may be covered by some insurance plans or EAPs.
Also, a number of mental health organizations, including SAMHSA and NAMI, can provide free peer counseling over their hotlines or connect you with a free or low cost online therapist.
Who might be a good candidate for online therapy?
Anyone who is willing to listen, focus, and commit to bettering their mental health may benefit from online therapy. However, online therapy is not useful for helping to manage all conditions.
A 2013 review revealed that people with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders can thrive in online therapy. Online therapy is also a great option if you are having trouble finding a therapist near you that suits your needs.
However, someone with a mental health condition that needs more direct management, such as schizophrenia or psychosis, might need immediate, face-to-face intervention. Online therapy might not be helpful for people with schizophrenia, because it may exacerbate the feeling of being secretly watched.
Additionally, if you or someone you know is experiencing significant suicidal ideation, in-person therapy might be a better choice.
If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or somebody else, please find confidential support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also call 911 or your local emergency services number, or visit the nearest emergency room.
You can find information about additional mental health resources here.
Managing your mental health doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive.
There are various online therapy platforms that can help you find support groups or licensed therapists, who can teach you how to manage anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions for free or a very low cost.
We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
What is online therapy?
Online therapy is talking therapy or counseling that a person takes part in remotely. It provides an alternative to in-person talking therapy that may be more suitable for some people. People may not feel well enough to leave their homes, have busy schedules, or feel safer speaking with someone online.
Research suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person sessions.
Does online therapy work?
Research from 2020 suggests that the increase in telemental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic should be a permanent fixture and more widely available.
A 2017 review suggests telemental health is:
- effective in the treatment of mental illnesses
- comparable to in-person services
A small, randomized trial from 2014 also indicates that online treatment for depression is equally as helpful as in-person therapy. The results suggest that this treatment may lead to a longer-term reduction in symptoms 3 months after it ends compared with in-person therapy.
Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A 2018 meta-analysis supports the use of online CBT for anxiety and depressive disorders.
How we chose
We have explored all options for finding online therapy for free. We have tried to cover all possibilities, so people from all walks of life can access this service.
All organizations listed have been vetted by Medical News Today.
In addition, we have provided a link to recommended support groups by Mental Health America below. We have also provided a link to access the mobile apps as recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
What to look for in an online therapy provider
A person should look for the following when choosing an online therapy provider:
- Different types of communication: Online therapy services should offer a person a choice of communication, such as video chat, phone call, or live chat.
- Licensed therapists: A person should ensure that the company employs licensed therapists with the appropriate qualifications. They should also be licensed within the state where the person is currently residing.
- Time taken: The time taken for a company to match a person to a therapist should not take too long. People should also be able to easily change therapists at any time should they wish.
- Price plans: Various price plans should be available. These should be easy to cancel at any time if a person does not wish to continue their subscription.
Finding free online therapy
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 are some free or low cost therapy options an individual may consider.
Many employers offer access to counseling and talking therapies. Companies often include these services within employee assistance programs (EAPs), which are usually available through 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.
The type of therapy available varies between workplaces but may include a series of one-to-one sessions. It would usually be free of charge as the workplace would pay. However, insurance companies may cover the cost when employers do not pay the fees.
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 health 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.
Types of therapy may include a set number of one-to-one counseling sessions and group therapy. The costs would usually be covered by the college or university or by a health insurance provider.
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:
- Center for Interactive Mental Health Solutions (CIMHS)
- 7 Cups peer support
The type of therapy offered varies between organizations. For example, CIMHS offers CBT-based online therapy that a person completes in their own time. 7 Cups offer free 24/7 chat services or one-to-one therapy for $150 per month. Moodgym provides interactive CBT training for $27 for a year’s access.
However, many of these mental health organizations do not accept insurance. There are many mental health organizations that provide free services.
State health departments
State mental health department websites may list local mental health services, and some of these may offer free online therapy.
This online therapy may be a one-to-one, group, or self-help service. Insurance may cover any costs incurred.
There are several alternatives to free online therapy for people who cannot access it or prefer other approaches. Some other options include the below.
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 people 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.
Some support groups are free of charge. However, any groups that charge would usually be cheaper than one-to-one counseling. Support groups would usually be covered by insurance.
Some people prefer using online forums to connect with others who are in or have experienced similar situations. Through these forums, a person can find support, advice, and encouragement from peers.
However, it is always important to exercise caution when joining online forums, as there may be no trained therapists moderating them.
These online forums would usually be free to access. This is not a type of therapy, but a person may receive techniques and advice from people in similar situations.
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 on solutions and coping mechanisms to help people with specific mental health conditions.
These courses and webinars would typically not have insurance coverage.
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 are available in the Apple and Google Play stores. Insurance plans may cover paid versions of these apps. 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 800-273-8255. These hotlines are free to access.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the 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.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711, then 800-273-8255.
Click here for more links and local resources.
Free online therapy options
WorkplacesColleges and universitiesMental health organizationsState health departmentsBest foremployeesstudentshelp through nonprofitslocal helpTherapy typesvaries between workplacesnumber of one-to-ones, group therapyvaries between servicesone-to-one, group, self-helpInsurance accepted?yesyes, in some casesvaries between servicesyesLicensed therapists?yesyesyesyes
Crisis and suicide prevention hotlinesSupport groupsOnline forumsCourses, webinars, and workshopsMobile appsLow cost counselingBest forimmediate helpsharing with peersinformation sharingequipping a person with knowledgeon-the-go supportcost effective servicesTherapy typesphone callgroup therapyonline chatonline coursesvaries between appsone-to-oneInsurance accepted?—yes—noyesyesLicensed therapists?yesyes, and peersnoyesyesyes
Pros and cons
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 best 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 may feel safer talking online to in-person, including people with autism.
- 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 can hinder online therapy, such as internet connectivity. 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.
Frequently asked questions
The following are common questions and answers about free online therapy:
How much does therapy cost on average?
Prices vary between providers. However, a person should expect to pay between $60–150 per session. This price can vary depending on location, length of session, and the therapist’s training. Many insurance companies cover the cost of therapy.
Who is online therapy best for?
Those who are good with technology and have a stable, reliable internet connection are good candidates for online therapy. Video consultations can be a good method of communication, so people may want to have a webcam.
Online therapy is suitable for most people.
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 learn about free online therapy resources from their workplace, school, or local, regional, and national mental health organizations.
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.