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How to find therapy or counselling

Looking for therapy can be daunting. We can point you in the right direction to find free or low-cost therapy.

On this page

Trying to find therapy near you from Mind? You need to find your local Mind, and visit their website.

Not sure if therapy's right for you? Take a look at our page about therapy and counselling to learn what it can help with. 

Stay safe

If you ever feel like you may seriously harm yourself, it's a mental health emergency. Find out how to get help in a crisis.

How to get free therapy on the NHS

You can get some therapy sessions for free on the NHS. These services are usually called talking therapy or psychological wellbeing services.

If you live in England you might be able to refer yourself - or you could ask your GP to refer you. In the rest of the UK you need to start by asking your GP.

What's available will depend on where you live. And you'll usually have an assessment with a counsellor first.

Steps to self-refer (England only)

If you live in England you can follow these steps to refer yourself to a local therapy service. In the rest of the UK you need to start by asking your GP.

  1. Go to the online NHS talking therapies service finder, and use it to find and contact your local service.
  2. You'll need to know what GP surgery you're registered with, and be over 18. You'll also need to give some details about yourself, and a way to contact you.
  3. Within a few weeks someone from the service should contact you to do an assessment.

In the past this way of getting therapy was known as 'IAPT'. Some local services may still call it that.

Under 18?

You can get free NHS therapy too through CAMHS. That's the mental health service for young people. Our page on understanding CAMHS will take you through it.

What happens in the assessment?

  1. The person who contacts you from the service will ask for more details on what you're experiencing.
  2. If they're calling on the phone, it might be a withheld number. They should explain who they are, and make sure you have time to chat privately.
  3. They might ask you to say how you've been feeling recently, and how it's affecting your life. This might include answering some questions on a questionnaire. They might also ask you about your medical history, and your family's medical history.
  4. Be open and honest, and use words that feel natural to you. If you find it hard to explain, let them know.
  5. At the end of the assessment, if they think their service can help you, they'll put you on a waiting list to see a therapist. 
  6. Waiting times can vary, but they should let you know how long you can expect to wait.
  7. They should also explain how to contact them afterwards. And they might give you a local crisis number you could call in an emergency.

You should be able to choose whether you see a therapist in-person or online. And if you have extra needs it's a good idea to mention it in your assessment. Like if you'd prefer to see a therapist of a particular gender, or who understands your cultural background. 

Choice on the NHS is limited, but they should accommodate you if they can. 

Our page on your healthcare rights and choices explains more.

Steps to get a GP to refer you (UK-wide)

  1. Make a GP appointment to talk about your mental health. You'll need to be registered with a GP surgery.
  2. In the appointment you can ask your doctor to refer you for therapy. They should then put you in touch with a service.
  3. Within a few weeks someone from the service should contact you to do an assessment.

Talking to your GP is good first step if you can't self-refer where you live. Or if you want a doctor's opinion about what treatments might help you.

We understand that speaking with your GP can be daunting - and most appointments only last 10 minutes. We have advice on how to talk to your doctor about mental health. This includes tips on how to prepare, and what it might be like.

I'm on a therapy waiting list - what now?

While you're waiting for your first session you could prepare by reading our tips on what to expect from therapy and getting the most from therapy

Unfortunately you may have to spend a few months on a waiting list before you see an NHS therapist. Sometimes longer. 

This can be really hard to cope with. So it's worth thinking about what helps you look after yourself during your day-to-day life. Our page on how to improve your mental wellbeing has some ideas you could try. 

I'd definitely tell anyone who was accessing talking therapies for the first time to be patient and don't give up! The NHS can be difficult to navigate but it's worth it in the end.

Free therapy from charities, work and study

The NHS is the largest provider of free therapy in the UK  - but there are others. Your local library, GP surgery and community centre are all good places to find out about affordable services in your community.

Here are some more.

Your local Mind

We have more than 100 local Mind centres across England and Wales which run free mental health services. Sometimes they help deliver NHS services too.

Use our local Mind finder tool to find your nearest Mind centre, then go to their website to see what they offer.

Other charities

Some other charities may also offer free or low-cost counselling services.

For example:

  • Anxiety UK offers talking therapies for anxiety. There is a fee but they offer reduced costs for people on a low income.
  • Mental Health Matters (MHM) offers a telephone counselling service and talking therapies in some areas.
  • Cruse Bereavement Support offers free counselling services if you're going through a bereavement. 
  • Rape Crisis centres offer counselling to survivors of sexual abuse, and sometimes to their families.

Some charities also run free helplines and listening services. These aren't therapy, but can be helpful if you need to talk to someone between sessions. 

Many charities also run peer support groups, which can be therapeutic.

Hub of Hope

The Hub of Hope local service finder could help you find more local mental health services near you. You can filter results based on your needs.

Your workplace

If you're employed, your work might offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). These should provide some free counselling sessions. You can usually access this without needing to go through your manager or HR.  We have more tips on mental health at work.

Your college or university

If you're a student your university or college should have a free student counselling service. And you should be able to access it without going through your tutors. We have more tips on student mental health.

Low-cost online counselling

There are various internet sites which advertise lower-cost counselling online.

You might prefer speaking to a therapist on your phone or computer instead of in person. And it's become common for therapists to offer remote sessions.

But be careful - some sites selling cheap counselling online might not use professional therapists.

If you speak to someone online, it's important to know you can trust them:

  • Ask them questions about their experience, and what professional bodies they're registered with
  • Check you're comfortable with the website's ethics and privacy policies

For more confidence with online therapists see our tips on getting the most from therapy.

Paying for private therapy

You might want to go private if you can't get the therapy you need from the NHS.

Unfortunately paying for private therapy can be expensive, and many of us can't afford it. But if you're exploring this option, we recommend looking on these reputable directories:

Before committing to private therapy it may be helpful to ask:

  • How much will it cost?
  • Can they offer reduced rates if you're on a low income?
  • Do they offer a free introductory session?

Already tried all these options?

Unfortunately finding the help you need isn't always straightforward. It can take time to find a therapy that works, or a therapist you get on with. 

But it's important to remember that you're not alone, and that you deserve support.

For ideas on what to do next, take a look at our pages on getting the most from therapy and overcoming barriers to treatment.

Don't be disheartened if the first talking treatment you try doesn't help. It took me 3 attempts to find the right therapy for my anxiety and 6 to find the right one for my PTSD – the right treatment is out there.

Published: May 2023
Next review planned: May 2026

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