A few years ago, I went through a devastating breakup. During the same period, I was also fighting the growing urge to change careers, but I was so burned out, I didn’t know what I needed or wanted. This was not a fun time.

After the usual round of whining to any sympathetic ear I could find, a caring friend suggested I consider seeking help from a counselor or life coach. My first response was, "I can't afford to do that!" She insisted I could find a way, if I really wanted to.

I took that as a personal challenge.

In fact, there was a life coach I had met a few weeks earlier at a networking event, and something in me really resonated with her approach. But I was absolutely sure I could not afford her fees. I worked up the courage to ask this coach if she would work with me at a reduced fee, and found out she was happy to negotiate a price I could afford.

All that to say, if you are reading this post right now and struggling to believe you can afford the help and guidance you need, I hope sharing what I have learned about how to get free or low-cost coaching or counseling will help you, too!

1. Book your first appointment

Typically, whether you want to visit a coach, a counselor, or some other type of mentor or guide, the first appointment is considered a "consultation" and is free. This first meeting is a time to decide whether it appears to be a good fit to work together, but sometimes one meeting is all you really need to get back on track. But if you do decide it’s a good fit and you know you need more than one meeting, try the following tips.

2. Call your insurance company

Most individual (non-employer sponsored) insurance plans are being updated to offer coverage for mental health issues. If you want to see a licensed mental health professional, it pays to ask your insurer if you have coverage. If you do, typically your benefits will include a certain number of visits (20 visits is typical) and will require you to pay only a co-pay. If you have an insurance policy but are not covered for mental health care, ask your employer or insurer if there is an option to change to a different plan that offers this type of coverage.

3. Ask for a fee reduction or waiver

If you do not have insurance coverage or you cannot afford even a co-pay, don’t give up! Try asking for a fee reduction or waiver. When a licensed professional who accepts insurance gives a fee reduction or waiver, this is called "working on a sliding scale." When a professional who does not accept insurance or a coach or guide gives a reduction or waiver (such as my coach did), often it is just for personal reasons of their own. If you are asking for a fee reduction only, be sure you have worked out your budget in advance so you already know how much you can afford to pay per session.

4. Seek out free or low-cost resources

Another lesser-known resource for coaching, counseling, spiritual guidance and mentoring can be found through faith-based and nonprofit organizations. Many such organizations will offer free or very low-fee counseling, guidance, mentoring and/or coaching as a service. For instance, I once found a professional counselor who only charged me $10 per session through a local counseling nonprofit organization. This local nonprofit was specifically chartered to provide weekly mental health sessions to people in my community regardless of ability to pay. Just by doing a little research on the Internet, I was able to attend counseling sessions for more than a year at a price I could afford.

5. Contact local universities

Another great way to find free or low-fee counseling or coaching is to contact local colleges or universities. Often graduate students or licensed counselors who have just transferred into the state are working towards a certain number of state-mandated practice hours (called "supervision hours").  Until they have met their minimums and successfully passed the state's licensure exam, they can only take patients at a greatly reduced fee or for free (though policies vary).

6. Seek out mentoring instead

Mentoring is a time-honored service art, and often you can receive the guidance and support of a very wise and experienced individual at no charge just by inviting that individual to serve as your mentor.  Mentoring is so important that the U.S. government maintains a website called Mentor: National Mentoring Partnership dedicated to helping young people find mentors. Forbes magazine ran an article on the importance of mentoring in career success. Many recovery programs (such as the Twelve Step communities) offer something similar in sponsorship. Faith-based organizations or nonprofits often offer mentoring services. Best of all, in the vast majority of cases, the very basis of mentoring is that it is a gift offered free of charge. If you want to seek a mentor, you may even know someone whom you already admire that you want to ask. It is not uncommon for young couples to ask a happily married couple to mentor them, or for a new recruit to seek out a senior executive and ask to be mentored.

This is a guest post by Shannon from Houston, TX