Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/28/2021
Nearly one in every five American adults lives with a mental illness. Many more face challenges such as stress, relationship problems and others daily.
Counseling, which involves discussing issues with a licensed professional and working together to identify goals and solutions, can help many people improve their mental health and quality of life.
Reaching out for help and starting counseling is an important step towards gaining control over your mental health and wellbeing.
However, it’s one that many people in need of help avoid taking, often because they're worried about the cost of counseling.
Pricing for counseling can vary depending on your location, needs and the coverage level your insurance offers.
On average, it costs around $60 to $150 to see a counselor for a typical 45- to 60-minute session in most mid-sized cities.
However, these numbers don’t quite tell the full story when it comes to how much you’ll need to spend on counseling.
Below, we’ve explained what counseling is, as well as how it differs from other forms of mental health care, such as psychotherapy.
We’ve also gone into more detail about how much counseling typically costs and listed options that you may want to consider if you’re seeking affordable mental health treatment.
If you’re searching for an experienced, qualified professional to talk to about your problems or mental health concerns, you may have seen terms such as “counseling,” “psychotherapy” and others used to describe various services and offers.
These terms can be confusing, especially when you’re trying to figure out which option is right for you and how much it’s going to cost.
In general, counseling involves working with a licensed professional counselor to solve a specific issue you’re facing, usually for a limited amount of time.
In the United States, counselors are required to have a master’s degree in counseling, as well as specific other qualifications. Most counselors use professional titles such as:
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health (LPCC)
Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP)
Counseling is often a good option if you’re trying to resolve a short-term problem that has little connection to your mental health.
For example, issues such as excessive stress caused by your career or an unhealthy personal relationship are often best addressed through counseling.
Therapy, on the other hand, is more of a long-term treatment option that’s typically focused on helping you overcome ongoing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
Therapists have advanced qualifications in psychology, sometimes at the doctorate level. As is common in the world of mental health, many therapists specialize in a particular field of mental health care or form of therapy.
Since short-term issues are often linked to long-term ones, the difference between counseling and therapy can get a little fuzzy sometimes.
However, as a general principle, it can be helpful to think of counseling as addressing specific, current issues, and therapy as treating longer-term ones.
The cost of counseling can vary significantly based on your location, your needs and the level of coverage your insurance provider offers for mental health care.
It can also vary from one counselor to another, especially if a counselor specializes in a certain type of treatment.
On average, in-person counseling ranges in price from $60 to $150 or more per session. Some counselors, especially those that specialize in certain types of counseling, may charge a higher price for their services.
If you live in a major city with a higher-than-average cost of living, such as New York City or Los Angeles, you may find that counseling is more expensive than the range listed above.
Therapy is typically priced similarly. As we covered in our guide to how much therapy costs, it’s common for therapists to charge in the range of $100 per hour for their services.
Although not all employee-sponsored health insurance plans offer coverage for mental health care, many do.
However, mental health coverage can vary massively from one employer and insurance provider to the next.
If you receive health insurance through your employer, check your policy details to see if your plan includes coverage for counseling, therapy or other mental health services.
You can talk to your insurance provider or employer’s human department to learn more about specific details, such as coverage limits or co-pays.
If you have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), your marketplace plan is required to cover mental health and substance abuse services.
This includes mental and behavioral inpatient services, substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health treatment, such as psychotherapy and counseling.
Since insurance coverage can have a major impact on the cost of mental health care, it’s vital that you clear up any relevant information about insurance coverage with both your insurance company and your preferred mental health provider before starting counseling.
While counseling can look expensive, there are options available that can make accessing help more affordable. These include:
Sliding scale counseling. Some counselors and therapists offer sliding scale pricing -- a form of pricing in which your fees are reduced if you have a limited income. This may help to make counseling more affordable if you have restricted financial resources. You can find these counseling services online by searching for “sliding-scale counseling” with the name of your city or region.
Employer-assisted treatment. Many employers provide mental health services for their employees, usually via an Employee Assistance Program. This type of program may pay for some or all of the cost of counseling, therapy or other mental health treatments. You can find out more about your employer’s mental health coverage by contacting your company’s human resources department.
University or college clinics. Some universities offer low-cost counseling and therapy, usually from graduate students in psychology. This may be an option if you live close to a college campus.
Online counseling. Like other mental health services, counseling and therapy are also available online. We offer individual online counseling through our telehealth platform, which may be more affordable than local counseling or therapy options available in your area.
Group counseling. Taking part in a support group is a good way to discuss the issues you’re facing without the high fees of individual counseling. We offer anonymous online support groups for a variety of common issues, including stress, burnout and anxiety.
Counseling can vary significantly in price, with some counselors charging around $60 per hour for their services and others charging $150 more.
Key factors that can affect the total cost of counseling include your location, the type of mental health professional you’d like to meet with and the length of time that you continue to take part in counseling.
If you live in a high cost of living area, seeking mental health treatment online can help to make counseling more affordable and accessible.
In some cases, your health insurance provider may cover some or all of the cost of counseling or other mental health services.