What if I Can’t Afford Counseling?

Unfortunately, a sad truth about counseling is that it can be expensive.  In Boulder, CO, where I work, typical fees for a 50 minute session seem to range between about $90 and $150. If you don’t have health insurance that covers counseling, or don’t want to use it (for example, if you are a teen who doesn’t want to involve parents, or if you don’t want a of record of your counseling history), or if you’ve already used up the few sessions your insurance covers, then what do you do?

The first place you may think of for low-cost counseling is a community mental health center. If you have a serious mental health problem, and limited resources, it is definitely worth checking with your local mental health center to see if they can help.  Unfortunately, mental health centers are usually overtasked, and underfunded.  Therefore, it may take some time to receive services at a mental health center.  

But don’t assume that that is your only option.  People with less serious needs, and/or some resources, may find that it is also possible to find relatively low cost counseling from other providers.  One option is to look for counselors who accept sliding-scale fees. This means that the fees are adjusted depending on the client’s ability to pay.  Other counselors may offer lower fees for a limited number of sessions, for clients with temporary financial difficulties.  Some counselors who accept these lower fee arrangements may be less experienced, but still well trained and qualified to work with you.

One way to find counselors in your area who offer a sliding fee scale is to search the Psychology Today Find a Therapist web site.  You can search by zip code, or state and city.  Then check the profiles of the counselors you find who look good to you.  In each profile there is a Finances section that shows their typical fees, and whether they use a sliding scale.  If they do, then it might be worth calling them to see if they will accept what you can afford to pay.  If not, they may be able to refer you to someone who will.

If you are lucky, there may be counseling organizations in your area that help you find low-cost counseling.  For example, in Boulder there is a counseling cooperative, called Boulder Counseling Cooperative, to which you can pay a modest annual fee ($50 to $125) and then relatively low per-session fees ($20 to $35).  The fees you pay depend on your income, and the counselors are well qualified, licensed professionals. 

Have you found affordable counseling in other ways?  Write in and let us know how you found it.


Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.  She does offer a sliding fee scale.