Fees for Private Practice: What is Affordable?

Counsellors and therapists worry about charging high fees for private practice.  This is because they’re concerned that high prices will be off putting to clients. They imagine clients comparing different rates and choosing the cheapest option.

If you’ve sat down and used my Fee Setting Tool for working out your sessional fee, you may well have concerns that your proposed fee is too high.

As I explained in How to Set Your Private Practice Fees, one of the common ways therapists work out their fees is to copy everyone else’s, perhaps adjusting slightly for experience.  Unfortunately that often means joining the collective unconscious of chronic undervaluing of therapy and the therapist.

So let’s examine one of the common assumptions: that people are unwilling to pay a premium for therapy.  In our thinking about fees, this often manifests itself as the thought:

“No one will pay me that fee! It’s far too high!”

If we unwrap that, actually it’s about what we think therapy is worth to other people and our fears about not attracting clients.

Are Your Assumptions about Fees in Private Practice Correct?

Here’s just a couple of challenges.

A friend recently decided to access personal therapy after receiving six free sessions from the NHS.  She expressed surprise at the low cost of private therapy and had anticipated paying more.  By the end of her therapy she definitely thought that the value of what she had received was greater than the cost. This woman is not a highly paid executive, a doctor or a banker.  She’s a public servant.

High Fees in Private Practice

When I increased my fees I thought it would mean a reduction in the number of clients.  It did not, and my coaching clients (counsellors in private practice) have had the same experience.  It is possible to charge higher fees than those around you and still attract clients.

Therefore, let’s look in a little more detail at our assumptions about what people are prepared to pay.

Assumption: People won’t Choose a Therapist with High Fees

Exercise your imagination for a moment …

I’d like you to imagine that  you’re a parent with a young family.  You need a new car. Your children are very precious to you so it’s important that the car meets their needs, for example: space, air conditioning, family friendly safety features.

When you’re looking for the car, how do you differentiate on what is likely to meet your needs?  One of the ways you will do this is, in all liklihood, to reject cars below a certain price.  Old bangers will not include the features that you need.

This is often the way people search for products.  They exclude the low cost options because of the thought that it will not be sufficient for their needs.

Now imagine you’re a parent with a child who is being bullied.  You need therapy for your child. They’re very precious to you so it’s important that therapy meets their needs, for example: a room with space to play, a therapist with the energy to help them, above all someone who will ensure their child is safe.

Will they choose the equivalent of a therapist old banger?

[Forgive me, that sentence made me laugh so much I had to retain it!]

Conclusion?

When we think that people won’t choose expensive therapy, it’s because we think  that when people buy on price, they choose a low cost option.

In fact, the opposite may be true.

A famous advertising campaign for Stella Artois was the “reassuringly expensive” slogan.  It implied that the expense was justified by the quality of the product.  People will often choose a higher priced product because they think this means a better quality service.

I can already hear your objection to that last sentence:

“but I don’t offer a better quality service!” 

Well, if you’re paid more so that you really have the space to concentrate on the clients you’ve got, you will be able to offer a better quality service!

 

Assumption: People will only pay what i’m willing to pay

How does your own personal history with money affect your expectations?

Do any of these scenarios seem familiar?

  • Not enough money for “extras”?
  • Free was good?
  • We can’t afford anything expensive?
  • Choose the cheapest?

Is it possible that a personal history of not having enough money is affecting your ability to assess what people will pay? Could it be influencing you to think that people always buy on the cost of a product?

For many clients who can afford therapy, cost is not an issue.

People are often willing to pay a high price for a problem to be resolved.  This can often be true of the people who access private therapy.  They’ve made a decision to seek help and they’re willing to pay whatever it takes.

assumption: Fees in Private Practice have to be affordable

Many counsellors begin their work by volunteering for charities.  It means that students gain experience and charities are able to offer a service to marginalised groups.

When moving into private practice, it’s important not to confuse private clients with the clients who access counselling via voluntary organisations.  Disadvantaged people are often unable to pay for therapy.

But they are not the clients that private therapy is seeking to reach and fees cannot be set according to their needs.

This may reek of inequality to you.  If so, why not recognise your heart for the poor and dispossessed and seek to support them using the resources you earn through your private practice?

If you are exercising self-care through a private practice that pays you a sustainable wage without overworking, you will be able to:

  • make financial contributions to charity
  • volunteer
  • campaign

A caring person such as yourself can make a difference to people’s lives without having to sacrifice health and wellbeing.

Setting Affordable Fees

Hopefully I have challenged your assumptions about affordable fees for private practice.  

However, it’s important to note that fee setting is just one aspect of your marketing offer. It’s important to stand out to potential clients in other ways.  It helps to be in a position where they are choosing you because they have decided you’re the most relevant therapist to their needs.

If you’d like to discuss marketing your private practice in a way that makes you the therapist of choice, you can book in for a free, no obligation exploratory call with me.

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