Talk therapy for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety has become an increasingly popular approach to treatment, but one of the most challenging parts of starting therapy can be figuring out how to pay for it. While many insurance plans are now covering therapy in limited amounts, patients may struggle to find a therapist in their insurance plan’s network or find that they want to continue with therapy after their plan benefits are exhausted. A new initiative just launched by TalkSpace offers free therapy for low-income people with a modern twist: therapy is delivered via text messages and online.
Free therapy for all
Traditional in-person therapists can charge anywhere from $50 to upwards of $300 an hour. Even with insurance plans, most co-pays are at least $25. For low-income folks or those who are unemployed, even this co-pay may be too much, especially if they are dealing with other pain or chronic conditions that require patient co-pays or other out-of-pocket costs.
When this free therapy initiative was launched, Roni Frank, TalkSpace co-founder and head of clinical services, discussed the prevalence of mental illness and the importance of providing access to therapy for everyone who needs it, saying:
“1 in 5 people suffer from mental health issues each year, 70% of them have no access to services. 25 million Americans are diagnosed with depression each year. Depression is more common than heart disease, cancer and HIV combined. Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide in America. TalkSpace is solving one of the most pressing problems in this country and, really, all over the world. We are committed to democratizing mental health care by removing the main barriers, cost and access, while following our mission to stop the stigma.”
Frank touches on the two main reasons that people avoid getting help for mental health struggles while further addressing perhaps the most powerful barrier: the stigma of mental illness. Of people already diagnosed with a mental illness, 75% report that they have felt stigmatized due to their diagnosis. This could be in the form of treatment by friends and family members or casual remarks or comments that occur in all parts of the media in the U.S.
These negative attitudes towards mental illness and therapy can conjure up feelings of shame, embarrassment, and reluctance to seek help. TalkSpace’s free therapy initiative can help with those feelings, as therapy can happen confidentially in the privacy of person’s home and without anyone having to know.
Research on virtual therapy
Some may worry that therapy delivered via text message or online chat just won’t be as effective as in-person therapy, but this is not the case. A study by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Health assessed outcomes for over 98,000 vets receiving therapy for mental illness and found that telemental health was just as effective as therapy delivered in a clinical setting.
In addition to the effectiveness of online therapy, patients may find other benefits to therapy via text or online chat, including:
- Easier access for those with physical disabilities or whose chronic pain makes traveling to a therapist difficult
- Access to an online network of therapists at any time of day
- Ability to have sessions that are shorter than one hour
- Teens who cannot drive still have access to therapy
- Private sessions for those who do not want their partner to know they are receiving therapy (as in an abusive relationship)
- Patients may be more comfortable and open in their own home
What are your options if TalkSpace’s free therapy isn’t a fit for you?
While TalkSpace’s free therapy will provide free, easily accessible therapy to thousands of people, some may not be comfortable with this type of therapy. For those who prefer a face-to-face conversation, there are other options for free or low-cost therapy.
Ask for a sliding scale
Many therapists are open to working with patients on a sliding scale based on income. Some therapists who are just starting out may be willing to lower or waive their rates altogether.
Look for pro bono counselors
The Pro Bono Counseling Project in Maryland offers free counseling on a space-available basis to clients. Counselors donate their time as they have it and work one-on-one with clients, developing a relationship in the same manner as they would with their paying clients. A quick online search may uncover a similar project in your state.
Check your insurance
With the rising awareness of the cost of mental health issues, many insurance companies now offer unlimited coverage for mental health care and counseling. Some companies may have lower co-pays or no co-pays at all if referred by a primary care physician. Healthcare laws have changed dramatically since the Affordable Healthcare Act was fully implemented in 2014. Take the time to look through your policy.
Try group therapy
Often group therapy is more affordable than one-on-one sessions. If you are struggling with a particular issue and need support, this can be a great place to find guidance from a certified counselor, with the added bonus of a community of others experiencing something similar.
Mental health care is just as important as physical health care. The body cannot be fully healthy if there are struggles in the mind. Removing cost as a barrier to mental health care is the first step towards more people getting the help they need and deserve. Roni Frank closed her speech by pointing out that therapy is not something that only upper income brackets should have access to, saying:
“Mental health care is not a privilege for the rich. It is a right.”
What do you think about online therapy? Would you give it a try?