Affordable Mental Healthcare Services in Philadelphia

How many times have you seen the earnest calls circulating on social media? If you’re struggling with your mental health or in a crisis, get help! But—especially if you don’t have adequate insurance, if you don’t make a lot of money, or don’t have experience navigating the healthcare system—how exactly do you do that?


“If someone feels lost or if they can’t get any help, they can come through us,” says Amy Federer, the administrative coordinator at the Philadelphia chapter of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), headquartered on Delaware Avenue in Fishtown. Federer says the road to life-changing help can be as simple as calling the local NAMI office at 267-687-4381. Leave a message on a weekday, and someone will typically get back to you within 24 hours.


For immediate suicide and crisis intervention help, call 215-686-4420. There’s also a free, 24/7 Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. to be connected to a trained crisis counselor. And if you just find yourself needing a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear, NAMI’s Philadelphia “warm-line” (a service of Mental Health Partnerships), available Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., connects you to certified peer specialists ready to talk. (For more info on resources, visit online.)


What does help with NAMI look like? There are free and confidential peer-led support groups every week—for people experiencing mental illness, and loved ones supporting them. There are no fees, attendance requirements, or sign-ins, Federer notes. “It’s like a huge family here.”


Feeling overwhelmed about navigating the system to find the right one-on-one professional care provider? NAMI helps with the legwork, networking for you to answer questions like whether practitioners accept your insurance or specialize in your symptoms, and helping you schedule.


If you don’t have insurance or are on Medicaid in Philadelphia, NAMI can refer you to low-cost or sliding-scale providers, or help you enroll in insurance through Community Behavioral Health, a non-profit corporation under the City of Philadelphia providing mental health and substance abuse services.


NAMI isn’t the only local organization that can help. The Council for Relationships offers low-cost family, relationship, and individual counseling at 12 locations: its main office in University City at 40th and Chestnut, another in Center City at 18th and JFK, and others throughout the Philly suburbs (and two in New Jersey). 


Council for Relationships has a wide variety of counseling, educational and outreach services, and it offers low-cost talk therapy to anyone who needs it, with about 50 interns seeing patients. Some interns are in post-graduate certification programs: They have their masters or doctoral degree and have already been in the field awhile but want to gain more experience in realms like couples or family therapy. Others are clergy members building counseling skills. And some are pursuing their master’s degree. A senior clinician supervises every practitioner.  


Don’t let the name “Council for Relationships” turn you away if you need solo therapy. “We have lots of relationships, including our relationship with ourselves, so we certainly work with individuals,” says Emma Steiner, a staff therapist who is also the clinical director of the University City office, and the associate director of the organization’s clinical and business operations.


And getting help with family or relationship issues can be a crucial part of our mental well-being: “We’re relational beings, and that’s where emotional health can be supported,” Steiner continues.


Fees for sessions with Council for Relationships intern practitioners usually range from $15-$45, “but we see people for as little as one dollar if they need that,” Steiner says.


To get started, you can call the client care department at 215-382-6680 ext. 1. Leave a message, and you’ll get a callback within 48 hours. You can also request an appointment online.


“I would recommend our services to my best friend,” Steiner says of the quality of care.


If you need psychiatric care or medication, the landscape is more challenging, Steiner admits: An affordable psychiatrist can be hard to find, and wait times can be long. But if you’re struggling mentally, a primary care doctor can be your first stop, referring you to the appropriate services, or prescribing medication for problems like anxiety and depression. And Council for Relationships therapists can coordinate with your primary care doctor, Steiner says.


What happens when you’re in the door for therapy for the first time?

Remember that it might take time to find the right therapist for you. “It’s a different experience for everyone,” Federer notes. Just because you’re situated with someone doesn’t mean that practitioner is right for you, and if you need a change, “speak up.” NAMI will help.


“The first three to five sessions with a therapist are really about feeling out your relationship and getting a sense of where your goals are, and if you can connect in a way that will help you get there,” Steiner adds. Patient feedback is important.


And even when things are going well, don’t fall prey to the misconception that you’ll feel better right away. “You’re often not going to feel better when you walk out of therapy,” Steiner says. You can’t expect that “I’m going to go in and I’m going to fix this problem and I’ll leave and feel good … Often, you don’t feel better when you leave the room.”


But don’t let that deter you. It takes time and maybe some sore muscles to get into a new exercise routine that will benefit your physical health, and therapy isn’t a quick fix, either. But the experienced and objective insights, advice, personal support, and ready ear of a good therapist or certified peer working alongside you are well worth the effort for your long-term well-being. The next time you or someone else needs help, you’ll know where to start.