Most of us earned a paycheck somewhere else before we started in private practice. Those work places used frameworks for deciding how much we got paid. In some places, we negotiated our wages. In others, our wages depended on what our union representatives had negotiated for us.
Some therapists expect that wage framework to show up in private practice, and they unconsciously try to recreate it. They look to therapists with a similar amount of experience to find out what their own fee should be. They look at what their mentors are charging and make sure to charge far less than that. They find out what interns are charging and make sure to charge more. These therapists are limiting their own incomes based on a structure that doesn’t exist.
What if your mentor chooses to keep her fees low because she’s independently wealthy, or because she paid off the mortgage on her home 15 years ago? On the other hand, what if your mentor has no idea what she could be charging? Do you really want to wait for her to raise her fees before you do?
I see therapists get distressed when they see other therapists not following that imaginary wage framework. If they hear of an intern charging more than an experienced therapist, they get confused or even mad. They express disbelief when a therapist with a similar level of experience charges twice their own fee. If you experience disbelief, confusion or anger when another therapists breaks the rules of this imaginary framework, its time for a mindset shift.
In reality, you set your own fee.
You don’t have a boss to negotiate with any longer. You don’t have coworkers to compare wages with. Your fee is up to you, and the only people who need to approve of it are the people who choose to hire you.
Instead of deciding what you want to charge based on where you believe you fit in an imaginary framework, here are the factors I want you to base your fee on:
- The value you place on your expertise and your work
- Your living expenses
- The financial resources of the clients you work best with
- The value those same clients place on their healing
- The number of sessions you want to schedule each week
- The expense and time needed for your training, consultation and self-care
- The monthly expenses of running your business
I encourage you to find a fee that works for you; a number that:
- allows you to earn a good living
- respects your time limits
- makes room for a few low-fee clients
- sets you up not to burn out.
When you set your fee that way, something interesting happens. You don’t compare your fee to other therapists’ fees as often. When you do, you feel more curious than stressed. You also make mental room for other therapists to leave that imaginary wage structure behind. Who knows? Seeing you behave differently may even rub off on your mentors.
If it's time to build your practice in a big way, apply for a free consultation with me. What we come up with might surprise you.