What to do if you can’t afford therapy: 4 effective tips from a therapist

If you can’t afford therapy, you can still find out what to do to help your mental health now. But first I want to honor…


If you can’t afford therapy, you can still find out what to do to help your mental health now.

But first I want to honor that it takes a lot of courage to decide to start therapy. This, ideally, would be the only hurdle. Unfortunately, the mental healthcare system, adds a lot of barriers to beginning therapy.

Please know you have my empathy. At the same time, your mental health struggles are not hopeless if you cannot afford therapy.

Why you may not be able to afford therapy

It can feel embarrassing to need mental health support yet not be able to afford it. You are not alone though. Almost 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who need therapy cannot receive the care they need.

This lack of affordable options is impacted by the choice by insurance companies to not honor the Mental Health Parity Act. Companies are supposed to honor the rates that mental healthcare professionals set just as they do for medical or surgical procedures.

Unfortunately, as many therapists have experienced, companies repeatedly outright refuse necessary mental health care. And, when companies do reimburse, they do not honor the appropriate rate for therapists’ education, expertise, and costs for running a practice. To honor their own mental health, therapists are then put into a bind where they cannot accept insurance.

You can still care for your mental health without therapy

Of course, the support of a professional is invaluable at times. This is true for physical health such as with a nutritionist or personal trainer. It’s also true of the guidance a mental health clinician can provide.

Yet, your mental health can be supported and cared for in many simple ways. You can feel less depressed or anxious by implementing simple strategies which my clients learn in therapy.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how many clients over the last 11 years are shocked that it’s the simplest acts that help them feel better.

Now to know what to do to care for your mental health, you will learn the six top simple, affordable strategies I teach my clients.

Tip One to Care for Your Mental Health if You Can’t Afford Therapy: Breathe Deeply

When I was in my depression, I resented when therapists would tell me to breathe deeply. Yet now I understand why. It’s because it truly helps you feel better when you’re overwhelmed or triggered.

Related: Dating with trauma: What you need to know

But, like many of my clients, I used to protest that breathing deeply didn’t work. This is because to be truly effective, you must breathe into your diaphragm. Otherwise, when you take shallow breaths (which is super common especially if you’ve experienced trauma), your brain thinks you are still in danger. This, in turn, keeps you ready to run away, fight, or freeze.

When you breathe deeply, your brain notices you must be safe. Then, it begins to regulate your nervous system. You begin to move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic one. Literally, you can only relax, calm down and think clearly in the parasympathetic response. If this isn’t activated, you will be stuck in your anxiety, panic, or depressed feelings.

How to breathe deeply

To truly benefit from deep breathing, I created a video to help you assess your breathing. If you are breathing shallow, no problem. You will learn how to breathe into your diaphragm with a simple visualization.

At first, it may feel like work to breathe into your diaphragm. But in time, it will become your automatic breathing pattern. This alone will dramatically improve your sense of wellbeing.

Breathing deeply bonus

The other amazing thing about focusing on your breath is it allows you to be truly present. If you focus on how it feels to breathe into your body, and exhale, you can turn off racing, or depressed, thoughts. This is helpful even if it lasts just a moment.

“Breathing isn’t really something that you do but something that you witness as it happens. Breathing happens by itself. The intelligence within your body is doing it. All you have to do is watch it happening. There is no strain or effort involved.”

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

One of the most effective therapies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, works by addressing the thoughts which reinforce your mental health issues. If you can break up these problematic thoughts, you begin to feel better little by little.

Related: How to treat codependency: CBT and Codependency

Cost for breathing deeply: Free

Tip Two to Care for Your Mental Health if You Can’t Afford Therapy: Drink Enough Water

This may sound too simple to be useful yet, research shows that even slight dehydration (1.36%!) in women causes focus and mood issues.

Next time you feel irritable, try drinking a glass of water or two. Then wait 20 minutes before reacting. I’ve found that sometimes, this is truly all I needed! And so have my clients. Of course, it’s not always this simple. Yet sometimes it is!

Taking hydration, a step further, the best self-care for mental health is incredibly simple. You have basic physical needs which include hydration, movement, rest, sleep, and nutrition. If any of these needs has been neglected (which we all do sometimes), you will feel more overwhelmed, agitated, and depressed.

To care for your mental health simply, check out the article, How to take care of yourself: 6 simple self-care strategies.

Cost: Water is often free or affordable. To make this especially affordable, carry your own water bottle (bonus points for helping the environment too!).

Tip Three to Care for Your Mental Health if You Can’t Afford Therapy: Go Outside

Humans evolved to spend much of our time in nature. Yet, in 2008, humans “officially became an urban species.” This is when humans shifted from mostly living in rural, more natural environments to cities.

While only anecdotal, the rates of depression since 2005 to today, have increased 63% in young adults. There seems to be a great cost to our mental health by being more separated from nature.

The good news is that even if you live in a city, you can benefit emotionally from just a little dose of nature. Researchers have found that as little as 15 minutes in a city park which includes pavement, some city noise, and other people is found to improve your mood. And if you can spend up to 45 minutes in this park, you will feel more relaxed and energized too.

Of course, there are racial and socio-economic disparities in access to natural spaces. For an expert explanation of this, please check out, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect the People + Planet. However, many cities have a park that’s next to local transit if you cannot easily get to one.

Cost: Free or small accounting for transportation costs

Tip Four to Care for Your Mental Health if You Can’t Afford Therapy: Care for your gut health

While we call it mental health, much of our mood and emotions may originate in our gut.

For individual guidance, you may want to speak to a medical professional. Yet, I want to share my own experience with depression recovery and gut health.

I struggled for decades with serious depression. At times, I wasn’t sure if I’d literally survive my depression. My depression was complicated by PTSD yet, my symptoms started to lift significantly when I cared for my gut health.

Prior to this, I had a daily Diet Coke habit (1-2 a day). But then, I began to replace this with Kombucha. I wasn’t sure of the science. I just knew that years earlier a nutritionist I spoke to shared artificial sweeteners are harmful. In fact, research now suggests aspartame may cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression!

The fact my depression started to lift is now supported by science. Diet Coke has artificial sweeteners which research suggests hurts gut healthKombucha, on the other hand, is a fermented tea with bacteria healthy for our gut.

How to care for your gut health

A primary way to care for your gut health is to care for the microbiome. Fermented foods and probiotics help with this. As does eating more natural, non-commercially grown food (organic or from a local garden) helps as well. Reducing consumption of alcohol which negatively impacts the microbiome is useful as well (and cost-effective!).

Cost: Affordable

You can eat fermented foods such as yogurt (without artificial sweeteners is ideal). There are many recipes to make yogurt at at home too. You can also make vegan yogurt at home – in 5 minutes! Also, you can make kombucha at home but it does, admittedly, take some trial and error for some.

For a very low cost, you can supplement your diet with homegrown greens, herbs and even vegetables which you can grow in a small space. Also, for extra savings, you may want to check out Trash Nothing in your community. I’ve been posting my excess gardening stuff in my community here for free. Others may be doing the same.

You can improve your mental health

Unfortunately, given our current healthcare system, therapy may not be an affordable option currently.

Yet, you can still begin to feel better emotionally with these simple strategies. To be honest, much of therapy is simply holding clients accountable to these healthy behaviors.

If you can motivate yourself to do these healthy, healing activities, you are already beginning to recover. However, mental health issues erode motivation at times. Therefore, you may be able to find an accountability partner in a friend to help keep you motivated to these changes.

In the future, if you can afford therapy, please know that the returns will be powerful. This is especially true if you find the right therapist for you. For help with this, read, What to look for in a therapist: 3 Tips by a Licensed Therapist.

You deserve to start taking the small steps to feel better now. I hope this list is useful for you. If you desire more ideas, or tips, please reach out to me with your specific needs or questions via email, krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com, or on Instagram (DM me  @confidentlyauthentic.com).

About The Author, Krystal

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.

This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.

Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.

Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”

Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com to submit your question.