10 Things You Can Do For Your Mental Health If You Can't Afford Therapy

Real talk: therapy is not accessible to everyone. In some cases, those who need it the most face the greatest barriers to access. 

As therapy becomes more widely accepted, it seems to be the word on everyone’s lips.

“Trust me, you need to go to therapy”

“You’ll understand when you go to therapy. There’s no harm in trying”

“You know what would help? Therapy!.”

We love this enthusiasm! It's amazing how open and honest we can be about something that not too long ago, was considered a sign of failure and weakness. But what if you can’t afford therapy? Suddenly therapy becomes a source of guilt, pressure, and feelings of inadequacy.  

The reality is that seeking professional help for our mental health can be expensive. Even if you are very motivated, when you are not able to pay out of pocket and don’t have insurance coverage, going to therapy is not as simple as booking a doctor’s appointment!

Investing In Yourself 

Our mental health is important throughout the highs and lows of our lives- that much doesn’t change. Our circumstances, however, do. 

Financial strain can have a negative impact on our mental wellness, self-worth, and motivation. In other words, investing in our mental health when we are struggling is as important as focusing on it when we are doing well.

Luckily, this investment doesn’t have to break the bank.

So how do we do it? Here are 10 ideas and tools to help you either find affordable therapy or get creative about taking care of your mental health when therapy is not an option.

1. Low-Cost Or Free-of-Cost Therapy

If you have the capacity to spend some money on therapy, there are a few options to consider!

Sliding Scale

Many therapists offer what is called a sliding scale. This is a fee structure that gives people with few resources access to services. The therapist sets up a scale where the amount you pay is calculated according to your household income. The less income you bring in, the less you pay for a session.

For example, say the standard hourly rate is $150/hour. If you make $50,000 or less per year, you may pay $50/hour. The therapist determines what their scale and income cut-offs are.

On websites such as Psychology Today, therapists will specify whether they offer a sliding scale. Even if it’s not specified, it’s always worth asking! 

Student or Training Clinics

Universities with psychotherapy training programs often have clinics run by trainees where you can receive therapy at a significantly reduced cost. It’s a mutually beneficial situation- you get the help you need, and a trainee has the opportunity to learn and gain experience. 

The therapists-in-training are supervised by experienced therapists, you can rest assured that you are still receiving a standard quality of care and guidance.

If you are in the Toronto area, here are two such clinics offered at the University of Toronto: OISE Psychology Clinic (Adult Service) and OISE Psychology Clinic (Children, Adolescents, and Adults).

Online Therapy Platforms

Online counselling platforms such as Talkspace and BetterHelp offer packages where you can speak to a therapist from the comfort of your living room. There are range of communication options available, from chatting live to videoconferencing. 

The fee system for these platforms is a monthly fee that is generally more affordable than traditional counselling (i.e. between $60-100 a month).

Open Path is a psychotherapy collective that connects people in financial need with therapists at a reduced-cost.

If you live in the United States, E-counseling is a leading resource in the teletherapy field. You can use their licensed therapist directory to find vetted and verified mental health professionals in your city who solely offer online therapy.

Community Health Centres

Community Health centres often provide free or low-cost counselling options. The downside to this is there is often a significant wait list. However, it's always worth getting the process started.

In the Toronto area, Sherbourne Health Centre and Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (among many others) offer free mental health counselling.

2. Use Your Smartphone

One of your greatest resources is quite literally in your back pocket. If you have access to WiFi or data, you have a gold mine of tools  that can help you along your mental health journey!

 Smartphone apps such as Calm and and Headspace provide guided meditation, and a wealth of resource to promote calm, relaxation, and good sleep. Sanvello helps you monitor and  manage your stress based on Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness principles.  

If you need a good self-care check in app, try Shine. Looking for a mood tracker? Try one of these apps. 

Most of the apps have a free version and a reasonably priced boost to premium. We are always on our phone these days, so we might as well gain some true benefit out of our devices right? While a smartphone can never replace an actual therapist, it’s a great place to find strategies to manage day-to-day mental health challenges.

3. Make Some Lifestyle Changes

The way we eat, sleep, and move our bodies has a profound effect on our mental health!

Lifestyle changes might sound simple (i.e. get more sleep), but they are often challenging to implement because it requires us to change our habits. 

We also know that stress wears us down physically and emotionally until we either burn out, or shut down.  Eating a balanced diet, getting good quality sleep, and moving our bodies regularly can help counteract burnout! 

4. Use Widely Available Expert Knowledge

Well, you are here reading this, so you’re already on the right track! ;)

There is an absolute wealth of free and excellent quality self-help resources out there.  While these are not a direct substitute for a therapeutic relationship, many therapists are now writing about their work in books and blogs, or discussing it on podcasts or Ted Talks. 

The Gottman Institute and Esther Perel have amazing articles and podcasts about relationships. Psych Central and The School of Life are two other wonderful resources on all things mental health and resilience.

Psychology Tools has free Cognitive Behavioural Therapy worksheets (among MANY other amazing resources) that you can download and work through on your own time.

5. Lay Out Your Non-Negotiables 

Are you too flexible with your boundaries? Or maybe you let yourself off the hook too easily when it comes to taking care of yourself. 

A non-negotiable is exactly what it sounds like: a commitment to yourself that you will not break. Having flimsy boundaries and self-commitments allows us to float through life without any real sense of direction, purpose, or clarity. This leaves us very susceptible to depression and other mental health issues. 

Decide on the things you will not negotiate from this point on. Following through on your non-negotiables will help you build a more trusting relationship with yourself, enhancing your sense of self-esteem and self-worth.  Here are a few examples:

  • I will set aside time in my week to pursue a passion
  • I will work out on the following days
  • I will speak up when I don’t feel heard
  • When I feel like saying no, I will say ‘no'

6. Start A Journaling Practice

For many of us, the pandemic dredged the ocean floor and brought up all the things we were either putting off, or too busy to face😬

One way to finally confront that stuff and work through it gently is journaling. 

Journaling increases self-awareness and gives us the ability to reflect on a written record of our thoughts. It is a mindful practice where we can engage in self-reflection, catharsis, problem-solving, or just write anything and everything that comes to mind. 

A journal does not have to be picture-perfect or Instagram-worthy! You don’t need to have a beautiful journal, a bullet journal, or even a physical journal at all. The process is more important than the materials. I’ve even recommended voice-journaling to one of my clients who just needed to hear herself work through her problems out loud.

Here are some amazing tips to get you started with journaling (curated for people who are especially terrible at it, which is a lot of us, including myself)

7. Invest In Emotional And Spiritual Self-Care

The word ‘self-care’ is so over-used, it might just be the most annoying word of 2020. I’m a therapist, and I can say this!

Don’t let the word turn you away from the practice though. We cannot take care of our mental health while neglecting our needs.

Think of it as a self-investment. Investing into your emotional self-care might look like: 

  • Allowing yourself to feel the emotions
  • Learning how to self-soothe during moments of distress
  • Do something that brings you joy each day
  • Take breaks from the things that trigger/stress you out

If spirituality is an important part of your life, find time and space to work on spiritual development. Connecting to something higher than ourselves can provide meaning and comfort in difficult times.

8. Lean On A Healthy Support System

Dedicate time and energy towards the people who encourage, support, and uplift you. If you are going through a particularly tough time and know that you won't be able to access professional support, alerting trusted friends and family is important! This gives them the opportunity to be there for you and helps you feel less alone.

Connecting with a healthy support system also involves paying attention to the people who make you feel anxious, self-conscious, or encourage you to be in situations and relationships that do not serve you.

It can be difficult to notice when relationships are not serving us well. However, when we do notice, or are made aware, limiting these relationships can be beneficial for our mental health, especially if professional support is not an option.

9. Practice Self-Compassion

It's impossible to carry out any of the tips on this list perfectly. Practicing self-compassion when we inevitably slip up and make mistakes goes a long way towards making sure our mental health does not worsen.

Think of the last time being harsh, punishing, and  self-critical brought you a sense of relief or ease. I can guarantee you won't find peace in a spiral of self-loathing! It is particularly dangerous to go down that path when you cannot access professional support or lean on a support network.

You can read more about self-compassion here.

10. Share Your Experiences

When going through difficult times in life, we tend to feel alone.

The antidote to this isolation may lie in in disclosing your experiences to trusted people, or sharing them through some form of creative expression.

Another way of sharing your experience is by offering help to those who need it. Volunteering, mentorship, and other acts of service provide a feel-good boost, and the opportunity to connect with our community around shared experiences. It's a powerful thing!

Wrapping Up

Therapy is not realistic for everyone. I also want to challenge the idea that going to therapy is the absolute pinnacle of mental health care! While I do believe that therapy is for every body, until it becomes readily available to everyone, there are a lot of other things we can do to manage and boost our mental health.

I want to hear from you: What do you do to manage your mental health when therapy is not an option? Leave it in comments below!

That's all for me! If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to send me an email. Or book an appointment with anyone from WellNest's awesome team! You can also book a free phone consult at anytime.

Until next time!