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Online therapy became increasingly popular in 2020 as people sought professional help to cope with the emotional and mental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, in just the first few months of 2020, online therapy increased by 50 percent compared with online therapy in 2019.

Not only is online therapy far more accessible these days, with more therapists turning to online platforms to continue their practice, but it has also proven to help people experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety, and even survivor guilt.

Online therapy is a great option for those who are unwilling or unable to leave the safety of home. It’s also a great solution for those juggling multiple responsibilities, such as parenting, teaching, and remote work.

Many health insurance providers now cover online therapy sessions, which can make talking with a professional low cost and even free.

Some employee assistance programs (EAPs) also offer free trials and sessions for different online therapy websites, which could help employees gain access to a professional.

Here are Healthline’s picks for the best free and affordable online therapy and counseling websites.

“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, non-profits, 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:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • 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.

We selected each free or low cost online therapy service based on key features to ensure the mental health support offered is:

  • secure
  • affordable
  • reliable
  • 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.

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.

Therapy servicePriceAppointment typeAccepts insuranceSame-day appointments or on-demand messaging
7 Cupsfree to chat with volunteer listeners and $150 per month to talk with a professionalchatnoyes
Doctor on Demandtherapy ranges from $129 to $179, initial psychiatrist appointments cost $299, and 15-minute follow-ups are $129videoyesno
ReGainfree 1-week trial, then from $60 per weekchat
video
phone
noyes
Therapy Aidfree to $50 per sessionvideoN/Ano
Blissfree N/A N/A N/A

Best for teens

7 Cups

This free online counseling website provides access to trained volunteers who offer nontherapeutic advice.

Anyone can sign up for a free membership to 7 Cups, even teenagers who are looking for other trained teenagers to lend them listening ears.

However, if you feel like you might need professional help, you can upgrade your membership to give you access to a licensed therapist. They will offer coping mechanisms and a management plan for $150 per month.

Pros

  • free access to volunteer listeners
  • free dedicated chat rooms and community support forums for teens between the ages of 13 and 17
  • on-demand messaging

Cons

  • must pay to access professional help
  • does not accept insurance
  • only offers chat-based therapy

Best for depression support

Doctor on Demand

Doctor on Demand can provide medical mental health management from the comfort of your home.

This can be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people need access to a doctor who will prescribe the necessary medications to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

One of the best parts about Doctor on Demand? You can also talk with other professionals not related to mental health, such as urgent care doctors.

If you don’t have insurance, a 25-minute session is $129 and a 50-minute session is $179. Initial psychiatrist appointments cost $299, and 15-minute follow-ups are $129.

Pros

  • accepts insurance
  • offers live video chat
  • physical health services also provided

Cons

  • limited treatment options
  • no free trials or subscription discounts
  • consultations are not free

Best for couples

ReGain

If you’re looking to improve your relationship or marriage, ReGain gives couples and individuals access to therapists and marriage counseling.

Aside from techniques to manage your relationship, ReGain also offers discretion and anonymity. However, if you sign up with your partner, all communication between the couple and therapist is visible to all parties — though you may request one-on-one sessions.

ReGain starts at $60 per week, but the service also offers a free 1-week trial.

Pros

  • easily adjust your payment plan or cancel your subscription
  • 24/7 messaging available
  • live virtual sessions with your partner and your counselor

Cons

  • services are not covered by health insurance
  • matching is done by a computer, not a real person
  • no free trial

Best for families

Therapy Aid Coalition

Therapy Aid Coalition connects essential workers and their families to support groups and therapists.

This volunteer-based platform works with therapists willing to offer their services pro bono or for a very low cost. When you sign up, you fill out a questionnaire that asks what state you reside in and how much you’re willing to pay for your session, from $0 to $50.

Pros

  • serves all essential workers, even those who were furloughed
  • also serves essential workers’ adult family members
  • choose your preferred therapist gender identification

Cons

  • not everyone is eligible for the service
  • can only receive up to four free or low cost sessions

Best for those with a busy schedule

Bliss by the Centre for Interactive Mental Health Solutions

If you don’t feel comfortable committing to a therapist just yet, Bliss offers eight free sessions that you can complete on your own. Bliss teaches you how to monitor your moods, manage situations, and improve your mental health with different techniques.

You can complete the lessons at any time, so if you are a busy parent or juggle responsibilities and only get a break before bed, it can be doable.

Pros

  • lessons are self-guided
  • program is available to anyone with internet access
  • specifically targets depression

Cons

  • does not offer any appointments with trained professionals
  • some users may lack the motivation to complete the program

Finding free online therapists is typically not very easy. If you have insurance, a good place to start is to give your benefits center a call. Or, you can do a quick search online.

Here are a few places that might help you find free or affordable online therapy:

  • Your health insurance provider. With the ongoing pandemic, most health insurances have started to cover the cost of some online therapy platforms. If you have insurance, check with them before settling with a pricey program.
  • EAPs. Most employers offer free counseling sessions with the platform of their choice. If you have one, don’t be afraid to send your benefits center or human resource official an email to ask if they offer any services.
  • Your local college or university. If you’re a student or professor, your campus most likely has a counseling center or social worker who can assist you in identifying resources for support. If the university has a psychology department, they may host free clinics where students can put their skills to the test and help the public.
  • Mental health organizations. Several national organizations, like Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), can help you find free or low cost online therapists or resources. These are usually trustworthy resources that they’ve worked with before and that they know can help you with your situation.

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.

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.