You know you’re in trouble. Maybe you’ve been depressed for what seems like ages. You can’t get motivated to do things. You don’t enjoy doing the things that used to give you the most pleasure. Your sleep and appetite are off. Sex? You can’t be bothered. Much to your distress, thoughts of self-harm or ending it all drift through your head.
Or maybe you’re a bundle of nerves. You are so anxious you just want to hide. You’re nervous about your job. You’re scared to speak up even when you know you should and could. You are so anxious that you are anxious about being anxious.
Or maybe the issues are about relationships. You don’t have one or the one you have isn’t the one you want. You and your partner are fighting all the time. Every day seems to be “same fight, different day.” Trust has become a huge issue. Neither one of you can relax into your relationship. You each wonder where the love and sweetness and tenderness have gone.
And then there are family issues: The mother you can’t get along with. The father who expects too much or too little of you. Siblings who are mean-spirited, favored, or so self-centered that you feel constantly taken advantage of. Parents who are fighting. Parents who are splitting. Family you are expected to like but who are entirely unlikeable – and here comes another painful family event.
Any of these types of issues can stretch a person beyond his or her ability to cope. Any of them can challenge the most creative, caring, and responsible person, You’ve tried your best. You’ve tried to look at a brighter side, to be rational, to be smart about whatever it is. But you still can’t figure things out. You still feel alone in your troubles and without the inner resources or the outer supports to change things. This is when people often go to therapy. You wish you could. But you have no insurance and you know it can be costly. The situation seems hopeless.
It’s not. Serious, yes. Hopeless, no.
Inexpensive and Alternative Treatment Options
There are many ways to get the help you need, therapist or no. Before you give up on the idea of getting some therapeutic help, consider these alternatives.
Sometimes therapy is free or low-cost.
Depending on your problem, there may be funded or subsidized therapy available to you. Many communities have women’s centers that offer free services to women who are being abused. Many have free services for adolescents. And an increasing number of communities have men’s resource centers to help men with anger management, relationship or vocational problems. Go online and check.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
Many businesses and companies offer a limited counseling benefit. Usually the company provides three to six sessions. If you need further help, the counselor will refer you to a local therapist. Check with your human resources department to see if there is an EAP counselor at your workplace. Often even a couple of focused sessions is enough to offer some relief.
Sliding scales and free slots.
Many mental health clinics and many therapists in private practice have sliding fee scales so that people can pay what they can afford. Ask your doctor if he or she knows who offers this service. Call some of the therapists in your area and ask. Many therapists keep a number of slots at a lower rate as their way of giving to their community.
Often a support group can be very therapeutic. By talking to people with a similar problem, you will feel less alone. Often there are people in the group who are a little ahead in their healing and who can offer you good practical advice as well as emotional support. Local hospitals, libraries, churches, and schools often offer support groups for grief, parenting issues, managing chronic illness, etc.
PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) offers support to those supporting family members and friends who are coming out. There are also support groups online and in the community for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people who need information and advice.
Parent education classes.
Not all problems are mental health issues. Parenting is difficult. Often people new to parenting or new to a stage of parenting could just use some additional information and the reassurance and advice that can come from parents who have been there and done that. Often such groups are offered through the school system or through local parent centers.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon (for families of problem drinkers) and Alateen (for teenage family members) offer support to people who are struggling with alcoholism and to their families. Other spinoffs include Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous and Parents Anonymous. If you think a 12-step program is for you, search your issue and “anonymous” and you are likely to find a group.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has chapters throughout the U.S. They often offer support groups for those struggling with mental illness as well as for family members.
Online support groups.
Name a problem and there is probably an online support group for it. Here at PsychCentral, there are over 100 such forums and groups. Members are not professionals. They are people who are grappling with the same issue you are. Their compassion and understanding can help you feel less alone. Often members offer experience and wise suggestions.
Are you a veteran? Every branch of the service has a program for military personnel and their families. Call your local Veterans Administration office for information.
Are you a teen? Many high schools have free counseling available through the guidance department. Often the guidance counselors are themselves counselors and can be very helpful with both individual and family problems. Sometimes they know which therapists in town have free or nearly-free services and where you can go for further help.
Are you in college? Check to see whether the health services at your school include a mental health department. Often the health insurance you pay for at school can enable you to see a local therapist for at least a few sessions.
Hotlines and warmlines.
There are important hotlines and warmlines in almost every country. In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is available 24/7. The Boys Town National Hotline is also available 24/7 for teens (girls as well as boys). Google “hotline” and your problem and you are likely to find a number to call.
Houses of worship.
Spiritual leaders often have had training in counseling as well as in the practices of their faith. See if your church or synagogue or house of faith offers such help. If your spiritual leader isn’t comfortable dealing with secular problems, he or she may be able to refer you to someone who can.
Journaling or writing letters you will never send can be an important method for self-help. Don’t get put off by having to put something down. You’re the only one who is going to see it. Writing out what troubles us often helps us put our feelings into perspective. Often enough, a solution will come as you work to make your problems clear.
Bibliotherapy is a fancy name for reading a book. Whatever your problem, someone else has probably written about it to share their journey of healing. Sometimes we learn best from reading how someone else did and did not address issues. Search for your issue at one of the major online bookstores and you can find what you are looking for.
Prayer, meditation, chanting.
Anything that helps you relax and get out of yourself for a bit can do wonders for your state of mind. Turning your problems over to God, your higher power or the universe can help relieve the pressure and begin the healing.
Get off the screens and go outside.
Mother Nature is a great therapist. Stop spinning about your problem with online friends who are in the same spin and go for a long walk instead. Open your senses to the outdoors and you may be able to cut your problems down to a more reasonable size.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member.
You know who they are. Many of us have a friend or relative who is wise and loving and supportive. Don’t waste your time on anyone else. People who are critical or judgmental will make you feel worse. Reach for the people in your life who will listen with their hearts and who will validate your strengths.
Take care of yourself.
Getting enough sleep, eating right, and making sure you get a little exercise each day can do wonders for your troubles. You may not feel like doing any of it. But doing it, whether you feel like it or not, can help you start to feel a bit better. You will have taken a step toward self-care and self-love that is the basis for any therapeutic action.