If you can’t afford therapy, one option is to work with a student therapist. There are pros and cons, so here’s a short list of things to take into account when you make your choices.
Students tend to be open to exploring options. That can be good if standard therapy approaches haven’t worked for you.
Students need hours, so they tend to favour long sessions. That’s good if you have issues that need lots of time to address.
It’s free. As students aren’t qualified, they can’t charge. At least, that’s the rule of thumb in Malaysia. I am hearing of other countries where students charge money; I find that very difficult in terms of ethics. See my next points.
Your student therapist is still learning, and that has implications. It’s just like asking a student doctor to give you an injection or medical exam; sometimes they’re terrific and sometimes they’re a bit clumsy.
As you’re not dealing with a fully qualified person, your sessions are not private. Your student therapist will be talking about your case with her supervisor, her tutor back at school, and then the examiner will see the notes as well. In my school, we were also asked to present cases we were working on in class. In addition, your case may be evaluated by a licensing board.
All this checking and double checking is to make sure everything is being done right.
Should you be worried? Usually student therapists are pretty good about anonymising information and destroying notes after. But to be certain, ask for details.
When students do their practice hours, everything needs to be documented and checked. This is to prevent fraud. This means contact hours are face-to-face sessions held in the supervisor’s place of work. This has implications for you because when the student therapist has completed her hours, she leaves. To prevent your sessions from halting abruptly, ask your student therapist how she will plan for this.
If you want online therapy, this may be difficult: students typically don’t work online or across borders because of the way hours need to be supervised and documented.
I knew when I was studying that I wanted to work online so I planned specially for it. I took an extra course in online therapy. On top of that, I also did an extra project, working online with overseas clients. Throughout, I leveraged my Masters Degree supervisors to make sure I was on the right track and I had an overseas teacher as well. If you want to work online with a student, just ask how she’s getting her supervisors to work with her.
Note: I’m in Malaysia and I write from a local perspective. As countries have their own laws governing licensing and practice, you may have different or additional issues to deal with.
My advice: if you’re in doubt about a mental health provider or service, ask your family doctor to direct you to the proper organisations in your country. Mental health practitioners know it’s a minefield for the general public to find good quality help, and they tend to be generous about helping you find someone proper.