Affordable Mental Health Care: How to find free or reduced-fee treatment in your area
The following is a guide to finding affordable psychological and psychiatric services in your area. Many people call or write me asking how they can find treatment if they do not have insurance or can not pay their deductibles. It is extremely frustrating to need help and not be able to afford it, even if you have insurance. It is sad that many insurance companies do not cover psychological and psychiatric services to the extent that all of their subscribers can access care. Unfortunately, many psychologists can no longer afford to participate with insurance companies or Medicaid/Medicare. The reasons for this include low reimbursement rates, frequency of denied payment for services, and the burden of insurance related paperwork. While the situation is problematic, there is no reason to assume that you can not get the care you need.
On the bright side, if you can take the time and energy to search, you have a good chance of finding someone who can help. First, here are some terms to be familiar with:
Sliding Fee Scale—this means that the clinician will adjust the price of services in accordance with your ability to pay
Community Mental Health Center—a public, non-profit agency that provides mental health treatment
Pro Bono Services—Free services offered to those in need. The ethical code of the American Psychological Association encourages psychologists to do pro-bono work, and most do some form of uncompensated service.
Do not be shy about asking clinicians if they can accommodate your financial situation. If they can not, they should be able to refer you to someone who can provide you less expensive treatment that would meet your needs. You may also find that a psychologist will agree to conduct a short-term, focused treatment on a specific problem. Ask if you can come every other week or monthly. Ask if there is a payment plan. Some psychologists are willing to provide therapy over the phone or through the computer if your work schedule makes it difficult to attend sessions.
Here are some ideas for where you can find free and affordable mental health care:
1. Call your general practitioner. Your physician should have a list of places he or she is comfortable sending you.
2. Contact an advocacy group’s local chapter. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?section=your_local_NAMI, Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.aa.org/lang/en/meeting_finder.cfm?origpage=29), or the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) in your area will be able to help find treatment for specific needs. Advocacy groups typically maintain lists of local community therapists and respite care providers.
3. Contact your local hospital. Hospitals take insurance, including medical assistance. Call the Behavioral Health or Outpatient Psychology/Psychiatry department. Teaching hospitals (those that train student psychologists and psychiatrists) may be particularly good sources of less expensive care.
4. For urgent matters, try a crisis hotline. Even if you are not in immediate danger of harming yourself, they can still help. The people who answer the phone will have lists of places you can go where you can be seen as quickly as possible, even if you can not pay.
5. Ask your child’s school guidance counselor or school psychologist. Part of that person’s job is to refer students and families to local mental health care services.
6. Contact your local division of social services. You can often find this through your county’s website, or through private social service organizations such as Jewish Social Services (jssa.org).
7. Private ‘find a therapist’ websites such as www.therapists.psychologytoday.com/
will let you search for providers who are willing to offer sliding scale or pro bono care.
8. Local colleges and universities often maintain clinics that provide care to the general public. These clinics can be contacted through the departments of Psychology, Counseling, or Social Work. For example, if you went to the George Washington University Center for Professional Psychology website, you would find a link to the Center Clinic (http://www.gwu.edu/~cclinic/PsydCenterClinicContactUs.html). The Center Clinic is an example of a training clinic staffed by doctoral students who are supervised by licensed psychologists.
9. If you are a member of a religious community, clergy members can often refer you to pastoral counseling or other mental health care providers who have a spiritual orientation to treatment.