free-therapy

How To Get Free Therapy in 2024

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Written by Steph Huddleston

10 Mar, 2021

Therapy can have a reputation as being only for those who can afford it. But in Australia, accessing therapy isn’t only for the elite. With Medicare, you may even be eligible for free therapy. Get the help you need, without worrying about the financial strain.

How do I know if I’m eligible for free therapy?

To be eligible for free therapy, you need to enrol in Medicare. What this means is that you’ve opted in to let Medicare assist you with the cost of healthcare in Australia. While they don’t cover everything, enrolling can help you access a wide range of health care services. Including those for mental health.

People who can enrol in Medicare are:

  • Australian citizens,

  • New Zealand citizens,

  • Permanent residents of Australia,

  • People applying to become a permanent resident of Australia

  • Temporary residents of Australia

You may also be able to apply to enrol in Medicare if you’re visiting Australia from a country. Provided your country of origin has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia. (Each country agrees to assist visitors if they need medical attention while overseas).

Not sure if you’re eligible? It’s worth checking out some additional information over at https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au

Enrolling means filling out Medicare’s form and providing some certified documents relating to your identity. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll be able to access a range of mental health services at a lower — or free — rate.

What do I need to do to access free therapy?

To access therapy that is free, the first port of call is to visit your doctor.

They’ll be able to discuss your needs with you and can write a mental health treatment plan. They might ask some questions about your mental health. This will help them assess what is going to be most helpful for you. After the assessment your doctor will produce 2 documents:

  • a mental health plan which will include your results of the assessment and a plan setting out your goals for seeking therapy; and

  • a referral for 6 therapy sessions.

They'll then be able to refer you to a mental health professional. This could be a therapist, counsellor, psychologist or other mental health professional, however it is important to note that you can only claim a rebate from a registered health care provider (like a psychologist). Learn about the difference between the therapists in our deep dive into the profession.

The mental health treatment plan your doctor writes lets you claim up to 10 therapy sessions. These sessions must be with a mental health professional. 10 sessions can be claimed each calendar year.

It's important to note that both your mental health plan and referral are valid for just 12 months. Your doctor will either email you the documents, print them out or send them directly to your therapy provide, like Talked.

You can read more about mental health treatment plans on our support page.

Can I still claim up to 20 Medicare rebated therapy sessions?

With the impact of COVID-19, the Federal Government expanded the number of Medicare sessions from 10 to 20, giving eligible Australians an extra 10 sessions. This was for those affected by the pandemic. That meant that during the COVID-19 pandemic, eligible participants were able to claim up to a total of 20 sessions that could be accessed for free.

Unfortunately, as of 1 January 2023, the Australian Government rolled back this initiative and you are no longer able to claim up to 20 free therapy sessions.

You can still claim up to 10 free therapy sessions as long as you obtain your mental health treatment plan.

Can I claim all 10 Medicare sessions?

In order to access Medicare rebated sessions, your GP will refer you to a Medicare psychologist for up to 6 sessions. If you need more sessions, your doctor can refer you for more.

If you need more than 6 sessions, you will need to see your GP for the remaining 4 Medicare covered psychology sessions.

For those who have used their 10 Medicare rebated sessions in 2023, the Medicare rebate rests each calendar year. This means you can now book a Medicare psychologist in 2024 and claim your rebate after you have obtained a new mental health treatment plan.

How much is a Medicare psychologist?

Mental health professionals set their own fees. This may mean Medicare may cover all or some of the bills. But, if you see a mental health professional who bulk bills, Medicare will cover the entire cost.

If your therapist bulk bills, you could get up to 10 therapy sessions for free. Provided you have a mental health plan from your doctor. If you have obtained a mental health treatment plan, you can find a psychologist near you on Talked.

As of 2024, Medicare will rebate you $93.35 per session with a general psychologist, $137.05 per session with a clinical psychologist and $82.30 per session with a social worker.

What is bulk billing?

Bulk billing means that rather than your doctor or medical health professional giving you the bill, they send it to Medicare which pays it on your behalf.

Mental health professionals set their own fees. This can mean that there may be a gap that you need to pay that’s the difference between what Medicare covers, and what the therapist charges. This is often called ‘the gap’.

By finding a mental health professional that bulk bills, you likely won’t have to pay anything to access the service. Not all health professionals bulk bill. Do your research before booking an appointment and don’t be afraid to ask if they offer bulk billing.

If they do, be sure to bring your Medicare card to your appointment so that they can request payment from Medicare.

Is telehealth therapy covered?

Medicare knows that sometimes it’s hard to get to a therapist in person. Do you live rurally? Or has the pandemic meant you’re restricted to the home? Telehealth therapy sessions may be covered by Medicare. Provided you have a mental health treatment plan in place, you can now access bulk-billed telehealth therapy.

Wanting support while you’re pregnant?

Pregnancy can be an emotional time. Sometimes counselling can assist with processing this stage of life. If you feel in need of some support for your mental health, you may be eligible for some free therapy sessions. Ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor for support with your pregnancy. Medicare can cover the cost of three sessions when related to pregnancy support.

Be sure to check if your therapist offers bulk billing.

Is all therapy covered by Medicare?

Medicare covers a broad range of therapy options, but keep in mind that not all types of therapy are covered. Medicare only covers therapy that is undertaken by a licensed mental health practitioner. Counselling with a pastor, for example, is not covered by Medicare. Practitioners also need to be set up to accept payments from Medicare.

To learn more about Medicare entitlements visit Services Australia.

Access therapy through private health?

Considering getting some therapy? There may be some other options for accessing these services without cost.

If you currently are paying for private health insurance, check your policy. Your fund may have ‘extras’ assisting its members to access mental health services. These can often be used to supplement the Medicare rebates, depending on your policy.

Learn how to claim the cost of therapy through your private health. Examples of private health insurers who cover private health insurance are:

We have prepared simple guides on how to claim your mental health cover from Bupa, Medibank, AHM, Police Health, Australian Unity, CUA Health, HCF, HBF, Doctors Health Fund and many more.

I need help now.

If someone’s life is in danger, or you feel unsafe, dial 000 for immediate help.

Found yourself, or someone you love in crisis with mental health? There are a range of free services you can access for advice and support. The following organisations are available. Whether it's help finding the right therapist, or someone to talk to, they can help.

It can be hard to know where to start. But thankfully there are a range of people who can point you in the right direction.

Lifeline | 13 11 14

Beyond Blue | 1300 22 4636 | Web Chat

Butterfly Foundation | 1800 334 673 | Web Chat

Carer Support | 1800 242 636 or 1300 554 660

Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800

MensLine Australia | 1300 78 99 78 | Web Chat

National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline | 1800 250 015

Suicide Call Back Service | 1300 659 467 | Web Chat

QLife | 1800 184 527

Web Chat - 3pm to midnight daily

1800RESPECT | 1800 737 732 | Web Chat

Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service |1800 512 348 | Web Chat

Defence Force and Veteran Support Services

Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling |1800 011 046

All-hours Support Line |1800 628 036

Defence Family Helpline |1800 624 608

Thanks to the National Health Commission for putting this list together.

More resources

Still got questions? If you’d like to know more about therapy, visit our Ultimate Guide to Therapy. We have also prepared a list of the best therapy services for your needs.

Maybe you're thinking about trying BetterHelp or a similar subscription service - we've reviewed BetterHelp for the Australian market and found it's not very cost effective.

Finances don’t have to be a barrier to accessing the help you need, prioritise your mental health. Here is a list of low cost therapists or you can book unlimited free sessions through Talked..

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