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Free Online Therapy vs Paid Counseling

There are far too many benefits of the internet to ever be able to list them all out. Being able to easily connect with other humans all over the world has changed the way life has worked for centuries. One of the aspects of life changed by the internet has been in the world of therapy. 

Before, if you wanted to see a trained therapist, it would take finding one, scheduling an appointment, and traveling to see them. Now it is simply a matter of hopping online and — a few quick searches later — being in direct contact. Not only is it a faster find, but there are also even options for free online therapy. Of course, this will be harder to find, and your licensed professional may be less qualified that traditional therapy. Free therapy can serve as a valuable service for many, though. To learn more, keep reading as we discuss the differences and benefits of free online therapy as opposed to paid counseling.

Online Therapy Overview 

Online therapy has witnessed a proverbial explosion of popularity in the aftermath of the COVID 19 pandemic. Between lockdowns and quarantine making human contact much more complicated and the additional stresses being undertaken, the next logical step was moving past face-to-face meetings and into online therapy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first quarter of 2020 saw the number of telehealth visits increased by 50 percent compared to 2019 and saw a 154 percent increase specifically in the 13th week of 2020 as opposed to 2019. 

Teletherapy is generally done over video chat but can also occur with messaging or phone calls. The convenience of online therapy has made it much easier for people to not only find quality therapists but maintain their sessions as well. Being able to attend a therapy session from the comfort of your own home through video sessions is much more appealing and relaxing than traveling during a scheduled time in the middle of a workday. 

Some of the benefits to online therapy services include:

  • Accessibility: All it takes is an internet connection to be able to participate in online therapy. Whether a cell phone or computer, as long as it can connect to the internet, a trained listener is only ever a fingertip away.
  • Time Efficient and Convenient: Online therapy eliminates the time and stress of traveling to appointments or group meetings altogether. Additionally, office hours are no longer relevant so finding time to fit in a session during your busy schedule will become much easier with online capabilities.
  • Cost: In-person therapy visits are almost always more expensive than online therapy sessions, and every day there are more health insurance companies covering online therapy in their plans or with referrals.
  • Eliminates Geographical Issues: One of the most important factors in finding a professional therapist before online counseling became popular was location and proximity. No one would seriously consider a therapist that lived three states away. If there wasn’t a great therapist locally, you would have to settle for whatever therapist happened to live near you. With online therapy, distance is rendered irrelevant. Your therapist could still treat you if they lived in another country (as long as you both speak the same language!), let alone another state.
  • Comfort: Opening up to a mental health professional can be a challenge for anyone — especially when you are in their office, on their couch and looking at all their stuff. With online therapy, you can stay at home and surround yourself with your own emotional support systems and belongings while maintaining your privacy.
  • Safety: It’s uncertain how long COVID 19 will continue to impact our communities and normal way of life. When it comes to safety, online therapy reduces all in-person human contact, making it the safest option possible for treatment and enhancement of behavioral health.

Online Therapy for Free?

In most cases, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. However, when it comes to quality therapy online for free, it’s absolutely true! 

Although it may be a little bit more difficult to find than traditional paid counseling through health care, there are still plenty of places offering free therapy online. It is important to note that some of these examples may not have licensed therapists; they can nevertheless be a great benefit. Many support groups are not run by licensed therapists but instead are run by ordinary people who have overcome or are going through similar issues.

 Support groups have worked virtual miracles for people over the years and saved countless relationships, so beneficial therapy is possible to find in all shapes and forms. 

Some of the places to find online therapy for free include:

  • National or local government programs
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Religious institutions
  • Chat rooms
  • Peer support
  • Teen or adult community forums
  • Free trials for paid therapists 

Finding these situations can be a little difficult without knowing exactly where to look. Social media can be a benefit and get you into direct contact with other people going through similar issues,  but when it comes to licensed therapy for free, social media probably will not help much. Here are some places to start searching and get a list of potential options for online therapy:

  • Health insurance provider: As time goes, especially as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, there are more and more health insurance companies covering online therapy sessions. Check with your provider and see which options they offer and where in order to get a list of potential free or reduced therapy.
  • Employee assistance programs: Lots of employers offer various free counseling sessions with differing platforms. They do this to be proactive and provide their employees a way to address mental health issues before it becomes a problem and productivity is affected. Check with your human resources official to learn more about your specific employer’s services in helping with mental health conditions.
  • Local colleges or universities: Any institute of higher learning that includes a psychology department would naturally have students learning about how to perform therapy. Similar to a barber college, there are plenty of educational facilities that offer free or discounted clinics where students can test their skills and help the general public.
  • Mental health organizations: This is one of the best options to find therapy in an emergency. National hotlines like the national suicide prevention lifeline (800-273-8255) may be the first program that comes to mind. There are plenty of other services offered that are not for mental health emergencies. Organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are just two institutes that will eagerly help you find free or reduced-cost therapists and resources. 

Paid Counseling Online

In order for a student to become a therapist, they must complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree program. Although some opt to also gain their doctorates, it is not required. 

Undergraduate therapy programs take roughly four years to complete, master’s degrees take around two years, and a doctorate would require four years. All of those years of schooling will take a tremendous amount of funding, and, just like regular folk, licensed therapists also have student loans. While helping people may be their goal, they also must make money in order to survive. 

Even though therapy costs can get a little pricey (especially compared to the free alternatives listed above), you will generally get what you pay for. Hiring someone that will help your mental health issues is no different than hiring a doctor or lawyer. Would seeking out the cheapest doctor for a medical procedure really inspire faith? Would someone offering the procedure for FREE bring you the most comfort? 

Research has shown that clients engaging in paid counseling have more positive outcomes than those receiving free treatments. There can be many different variables as to why this is the case, but the most obvious reason would be quality of care. If someone spends ten years of their life and hundreds of thousands of dollars attaining their doctorate, they are clearly well educated and passionate about the topic. Having to spend some money on therapy and mental health should not be a disqualification for the services of a therapist. 

The Takeaway 

When it comes to the world of therapy, there are plenty of options available —  especially thanks to the internet! Some options may be free while others may be more expensive, but when it comes to finding the right services required for your mental health, it may not be the best idea to simply go with the cheapest solution. 

When it comes to mental health, trying to save money should not necessarily be your priority. If you absolutely can’t afford paid counseling services, free therapy may be the next best option. Thankfully,  there are plenty of good free and reduced-cost options available to anyone suffering from mental health that can’t afford the expense of paid therapy. Support groups and hotlines have helped improve and saved countless lives over the years and deserve respect and recognition for their efforts. 

But when it comes to your personal well-being and peace of mind, if you have the money to afford high-quality paid counseling, it’s an investment that is worth its weight in gold!


  1. Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence (cdc.gov). 
  2. Find Support Group (mhanational.org)
  3. How to find an online therapist for free for anxiety or depression (medicalnewstoday,com) 
  4. Nation Suicide Prevention (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

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