Depressed over money, but can't afford a therapist? We have tips

There are more people these days going into therapy to discuss their financial stress and how it's wreaking havoc on their lives, according to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

But the sick irony, of course, is that as people seek out help to talk about dealing with their financial stress, health insurance is paying less and less for people to see counselors and psychologists. One social worker is quoted in the story, saying, "The standard percentage paid by the insurance company used to be 80/20. Now it's 70/30 or 60/40."

It reminds me of a story a former boss of mine told me more than 10 years ago. He told me: "I was seeing a therapist, telling him how stressed I was because I didn't have enough money and could barely make ends meet. And then I said to him, 'Wait a minute, I'm paying you $75 an hour to tell you how stressed I am about my lack of money. Why am I doing that?' And I walked out of his office."It was an amusing story at the time, at least the way he told it to me, but I'm not saying that people should stop seeing a therapist if they're cash-strapped. Sometimes, when you're at wits end, it's money very well spent.

Nevertheless, there are times when paying money you don't have, to unload about your financial problems, doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. That's why it was nice to see the article offer some tips for people who are financially-challenged and feel strongly that they need to speak with a counselor but simply can't afford to do so:
  • Make an appointment to talk to your own doctor. You may not be able to visit your practitioner on a regular basis, but at least they can offer advice, be it offering medication or some other way to cope with the stress.
  • If you're in college, or even know anyone in college, you might try setting up an interview with a school or guidance counselor.
  • Talk to a spiritual leader.
  • Visit a financial planner, the idea apparently being that they might at least be able to help with ways to save you money, or make it go further, which would eventually, hopefully deplete some of the stress that you've been feeling.
And I have one idea of my own. Some universities offer a very inexpensive form of therapy. At some colleges, you can get counseling from a psychology graduate students. Ten years ago, I took that route. I had been unceremoniously dumped -- good grief, it was, in fact, ten years ago this month -- by a woman I was head over heels with.

Six months after the fact, I realized I was still depressed over it, and so having heard about these programs, I called up a local university and for a semester, once a week, I paid about $30 a session and griped and poured out my emotions to this graduate school psychology student after being vetted by the head of the program. They obviously want to make sure the psychology student isn't going to be helping someone whose problems are above their pay grade.

Anyway, it helped my outlook on life immensely. In other words, if you're feeling blue because you're in the red, or obviously if you're in any lousy situation, and you need professional help, or at least wisdom beyond the scope of a best friend or parent, you can get it without spending your utility bill. You just have to be resourceful.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale). And he offers the following advice to anyone who might want to break up with someone. If you want to be nice about it and let them down gently, a brief email message on a Monday morning isn't the way to go.
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