Woo hoo! Fee-setting!
Everyone’s favorite totally-not-awkward-or-uncomfortable-conversation!
So what’s your personali-fee? (Wow, total Dad joke, sorry…)
- Do you feel guilty every time you say your fee out loud?
- Do you say this like it’s all one word: “MyFeeIs150ButICanSlidetoWhateverYouNeed!” (That was me.)
- Maybe you’re more “Not all people who need help are rich so I’ll find a way to live on $30/session.”
There are three vital parts to setting fees that feel just right for you:
Understand what you’re charging for,
Remember who you are, and
Make room for what you care about.
Before we dive into these three, I want you to print out a few things and superglue them to your bathroom mirror:
My money stuff is not their money stuff.
Yes, you are absolutely bringing your money stuff into your fee conversations (because…you’re human), and no, you truly have no idea what your new client’s financial situation or relationship to money is.
I have no idea what people can actually afford.
It was always hard for me to charge a rate that I couldn’t have afforded at the time. It just felt…wrong. I assumed everyone was in my same financial boat. But truth be told, I had a client who looked, on the outside, like he was homeless…but he was actually a print artist earning 400K a year. You truly never know what people can afford.
I do better work when I’m charging my worth.
It’s just…true. If you’re not stressed about money, if you don’t hold a tiny lingering resentment over how far down you slid for this client or that client, you’re more present, you can work at full capacity, you enjoy your days more, and you have more energy to do great work.
Client financial objections often mean I haven’t communicated my value.
For more on this, read my blog post here about how excellent communication overcomes financial objections. If I read a therapist website that speaks directly to my inner experience and I know in a heartbeat that therapist can deeply help me, I’ll beg-borrow-steal to pay her fee. On the other hand, if your website is all clinical jargon and a generalist approach, I don’t care how cheap you are—I’m not interested.
So let’s reframe our thoughts on fee-setting:
Understand What You’re Charging For
An hour of your time, right? Plus some extra for notes and billing?
You are not charging for your time.
You are charging for the value of the transformation you provide.
Let’s say your client comes to you religiously for six months. They start off depressed, lonely, and unaware of the connection between their thoughts and feelings.
After six months, they’re feeling great. They understand themselves much better, they’re using all the tools you’ve taught them, things are going well at work, and they’re finally in a relationship that feels right. They leave therapy thrilled with their transformation.
If it was you, what would that transformation be worth?
So whatever you’re charging is a bargain.
In those 6 months/24 sessions, you probably charged a total between $2400 and $4800, if you’re in the typical span of private practice rates. See how cheap that is compared to the value of the actual transformation?
It’s not about the time, it’s about the transformation.
Remember Who You Are
We all have a tendency to say, “Well, I’m not the top Harvard researcher in this area, so I’m no expert,” or, “I’m only EMDR Level 2 certified and that lady across town is Level 3, so I’m no expert.”
We devalue ourselves like crazy.
How many years did you spend in grad school? How many more in low-paying, challenging, and even dangerous internships? (I’m looking at you, all my inner-city-Oakland gigs.)
The amount we learn to earn our seat in that chair is astounding.
We know so much more than we give ourselves credit for. Step away from the deli counter of Limiting Beliefs for a quick minute (don’t worry—it’s open 24/7) and recognize the depth of your knowledge, your self-work, your life experiences, and the dues you’ve paid working with a huge variety of people all so you can better help this person, right now, sitting in front of you and benefitting from the full laser beam of your attention, energy, and care.
Make Room for What You Care About
A lot of us (raises hand) feel guilty about only providing services for people with good money or good insurance. Maybe our hearts really lie with helping teen moms or foster youth or inner city LGBTQ kids.
So how do we balance?
Set your fees high enough for those who can afford it so you have time and energy to give back to those who can’t.
When you set your fees, consider your values. Could you take one pro bono session a day? Give yourself Fridays to volunteer at a youth center? Offer complimentary sessions one morning a week at a women’s shelter? What would give your life the most meaning, and how can you structure the rest of your income to still allow you time for that?
If you still cringe at the thought of saying your fee out loud, get out that journal and do a little self-work.
There are thousands of therapists out there thriving with good fees and full practices. You get to be one, too.