Why you don’t charge what you’re worth

As a therapist or other private practitioner, you may struggle to charge enough for your services, but here’s why you should raise your rates.

I’ve been enjoying giving my continuing education class for therapists on financial wellness in the therapeutic relationship. It’s always nice to work with people who are comfortable talking about emotional situations. (Not all people in the money industry are like that.)

The class is for therapists to gain skills in basic financial literacy so that they can better serve their clients. However, one confusion that comes up over and over is that people think that it’s about how therapists can improve their own finances in their business.

My class isn’t about that, but after repeated requests, I figured that maybe I should have something to say on that topic.

Because, if you’re in private practice (like I am), you have a very challenging task in front you, one that permeates your livelihood, but is deeply uncomfortable:

You need to charge what you’re worth.

And one thing I’ve seen over and over is that, for the most part, people aren’t.

If you’ve struggled with this situation, it’s worth revisiting here, because there are some entirely valid reasons why you aren’t charging what you’re worth.

But in order to move past your own internal objections, you need to understand where these thoughts are coming from.

You worry that you’re not worth that much

Impostor syndrome is real. And the amount you probably should charge, the kind that promotes a sustainable, living wage, may feel like a lot.

And in some ways it is, at least compared to average wages at large. You hear talk about people advocating for $15 an hour, and you’re charging $150? $250? $500?

But there are two fundamental problems with this line of thought.

First, the jobs you’re comparing yourself to are full-time, 40-hours-a-week, jobs. If you’re a private practitioner, you’re probably not seeing 40 clients a week (nor should you). Therefore, your equivalent, per-hour rate needs to be higher.

And also, these $15/hour wage jobs are unconscionably low wage jobs. While so many people have been advocating for $15 minimum wage, no one seems to have realized that $15 is no longer enough.

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We have created a punitive, feudal system where we charge sub-poverty-level wages and then let people duke it out amongst themselves to survive.

You don’t want to win the race to the bottom. So the first step is to realize that what others have deemed acceptable is the problem, not you.

You worry that they won’t be able to pay

Here’s the hard truth: they may not be able to pay.

Since our society’s wages are pressed so artificially low, the ability to pay for your services may be beyond many people’s means.

But that, perhaps contrarily, is a reason in favor of raising your rates.

With a higher rate, you can build more of a financial cushion. And with that cushion, you can more readily provide sliding-scale, lower-priced tiers for the people you want to serve who are unable to pay your full rack rate.

And then you can provide your services to a wider clientele, regardless of means.

You’re worried that the cost will interfere with your client relationship

You never want the terms of your service to get in the way of the service itself.

And that’s especially true if you’re in a industry that’s all about relationships, such as mental health. The last thing you want is to drive a rift between you and your client because of what you charge, or even have it color your interaction at all.

But there’s nothing guaranteeing that if you, say, tell your clients that your rates are going up by 15% this year, that they may harbor some resentment toward you for it. Most likely, they’ll understand, and know why you’re doing it.

If they feel otherwise, the best way to mitigate these resentments is to tackle them head-on. You can ask questions of your client, such as, “how are you feeling about this?” Or, “do you have anything you’d like to share or talk about regarding my fees?” You know how to do this stuff; just do it around money!

Talking about your rates as a normal part of your business is one of the best ways to destigmatize it. Your clients will likely model you, so if you talk openly, they will likely respond in kind. And this could lead to a greater sense of closeness and a feeling of being on the same team. Arguably, it could benefit your relationship.

You’re worried your clients will leave

This might be the big one: the fear that your clients, some or all of them, will cancel on you, and all the work you’ve put in with them may be for naught, all over a measly raise.

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But let’s think about this one for a second. Have you ever been on the receiving end of this situation? Some person or company raised their rates on you, and you decided to cancel.

Why might you have done this? Because you were already not totally satisfied with the service.

It stretches credibility to think that someone would be perfectly happy at one rate, and then inconsolable at a slightly higher rate.

In short, those people who will cancel were already part-way out the door.

And frankly, those people should leave anyway. If someone doesn’t see the true value you bring, regardless of price, then you should have them move on to make way for someone who will.

(And remember, if it’s really that they can’t afford it, you can do a sliding scale, but you still need to be able to raise your rates to afford to do a sliding scale.)

Summary

You’re not a charity. You’re doing important, life-changing work, work that you’re passionate about that drives you, and likely at the expense of a higher-paying job (that does less for the world).

Charging a rate that is commensurate with your experience, and appropriate for a reasonable living wage, isn’t just the sensible way to keep your job sustainable, it’s the right, decent, and honorable thing to do.

And I don’t know for certain, but that commensurate rate is probably higher than what you’re charging now.

The end of the year is only a few months away. Have you thought about raising your rates? What will you decide?

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