Setting fee boundaries in private practice counselling is an area where many therapists struggle. This particularly arises when clients cancel their sessions at short notice or fail to pay therapists on time.
The best starting point for setting fee boundaries is to make them explicit at the outset of therapy.
A contract setting discussion together with a written reminder can help both parties to know where they stand. However many counsellors report that they find it hard to enforce these agreed boundaries.
This article looks at why that is and what to do about it.
Why is Setting Fee Boundaries in Private Practice So Difficult?
Counsellors say that they struggle with keeping boundaries for the following reasons:
Fear of the repercussions
For example, you worry that if you charge a client for a missed session the client will terminate the work. This has financial implications in private practice. You may also fear that clients will think badly of you for chasing late or missed payments.
You struggle to ask for money when your client cancels due to difficult circumstances or illness. It feels mean because it’s not their “fault”.
This is often connected to the thought that therapy should be free and charging for counselling is profiting from someone’s pain. If that’s something you identify with, see my blog on affordable fees
If any of the above applies to you, my short recorded course Pricing in Private Practice will help you to examine your assumptions and beliefs about what to charge and help you to build a profitable private practice.
Supportive Thoughts for Setting Fee Boundaries in your private practice
Counsellors are not perfect.
You’re work in progress. These issues faced by therapists around charging their clients are often located in beliefs about your self-worth and fear of rejection. They’re due to old wounds.
What meaning will others make of your decisions? Will they think you are “money grabbing”, “in it for the money”, or simply “mean”?
There’s also the fear around being able to make a private practice work and that if a client leaves, it may not be easy to replace them.
So it’s helpful to ask yourself:
Are you projecting your own feelings around money onto the client?
Your own experiences around money may lead to you making assumptions about your client’s thoughts. You may think charging is awful, but does your client?
If you’ve contracted to charge for late cancellations, your client may have factored this into their decision making. They may feel empowered to cancel because they know, if they pay, they’re not letting you down.
Perhaps you’ve experienced difficult financial circumstances and every penny had to count. That makes you reluctant to charge. But the same may not be true of your client.
Are you mind reading?
What meaning are you making of clients who do not pay on time? Are your expectations realistic?
Clients can be disorganised and lead busy lives. They may simply have forgotten to pay (particularly if they are ill or dealing with a stressful situation). Are you assuming they don’t want to pay?
Sometimes all they need is a reminder (or three).
Are you making it personal?
If you’ve got difficult feelings around charging clients, what is your critical internal voice telling you?
Perhaps it’s saying:
You’re not worth it?
The client contracted with you for a service. Your feelings around whether you are worth it are irrelevant. You are being paid for turning up and, in the case of late cancellations, opportunity cost.
An important aspect of therapy is consistency. If you’re being inconsistent with your contract, what message does this give the client?
Truth bomb: by allowing feelings of self-worth to get in the way of this contracted boundary you’re actually prioritising your feelings over the client’s needs. Ouch!
It may help you to reframe your charge for late cancellations or pursuing payment as, ultimately, being of service to the client.
You’re not very good at finding clients so you can’t risk losing them?
This is the fastest route to burn out and reinforcing your lack of self-worth.
You are opening yourself to being badly treated and not taken seriously by clients. If you cannot value yourself, how will clients do the same?
Yes, practically you may have to work on your marketing techniques. But there is no reason why you cannot learn and improve so that you become better at attracting clients.
Are you prioritising the client here, or your need for an ongoing income?
You’re greedy and it’s not fair to charge?
What a loaded expression full of judgement! I call bulls**t on your inner critic.
The truth is, you’re in business. This is not personal.
The decisions you make in business are about creating and sustaining a profitable enterprise that enables you to offer a service.
If you feel bad about fees, remember that the money that you earn through your business will be re-invested.
You’ll spend it on things like:
- personal development, books, courses and ongoing training
- your home
So by charging a fee you are enabling other people to be paid in their business as well.
Setting your boundaries doesn’t have to be a drama. Don’t make it so.
You’ll find my short course on Pricing in Private Practice helpful if you’d like to work through the blind spots this blog is highlighting,
What if Boundary Setting Goes Wrong?
Let’s face it, the fear of something going wrong and making a mistake is the cause of much second guessing and angst amongst the counselling community.
So let’s look at reframing this fear:
It’s OK to make mistakes
You’re human and you’re learning. If you make a mistake you’ll be able to reflect and change your practice. You’re also capable of dealing with the consequences.
You’re allowed to change your mind
You may set a boundary in a particular way and decide it’s not for you in the future. Or you may make exceptions. You’re still work in progress and that’s OK.
Nothing is wasted
Remember that if a client reacts to a boundary you have set, this is about their process. It is something you can explore with them if they are open to do so.
It may be that this is the core of the work you do together.
If you have a reaction to their reaction – well, that’s your stuff and something to explore in supervision. Nothing is wasted.
Don’t Feel Guilty!
The issues raised in this blog come up for therapists *every *single *day.
It’s not unusual to have problems around charging and boundaries. If all you wanted was to earn money, you’d be in a different job. But you care, and that’s why it can be hard to keep your boundaries
It’s something we talk about regularly in my paid membership, Therapy Growth Group, where you’ll be supported in growing a profitable private practice.
Are you struggling to make a living from private practice, even though you’re full? Or perhaps you think you have to charge less in order to get work? Maybe you’re worried that raising your fees means you’ll attract fewer clients?
My short course (priced at £37) will help you to identify the thoughts that are holding you back from making your private practice a viable business and give you the confidence to charge your worth.
You can access it here: