Pricing counselling and psychotherapy services
Published 27 April 2022. Written by Chris Worfolk.
If you are working as a practitioner, you may be wondering how to structure your pricing and what packages to offer. In this article, we will break down how we recommend pricing your services.
This article is suitable for psychotherapists, counsellors and other helping professionals but does not cover coaching or teaching.
How much should I charge?
Most therapists doing both one-to-one and group work charge an hourly rate.
What "an hour" constitutes will depend on who your target clients are. If you are competing on price, you may want to use the concept of the "50-minute hour", where the client gets 50 minutes and you have 10 minutes between clients to write up notes and take a quick break.
For more premium services, such as we offer at the Leeds Anxiety Clinic, we offer the full hour (60 minutes) to the client and take a 15-minute break between clients.
In terms of the amount itself, there is no single answer given we have students all around the world. Practitioners in Sydney will be able to charge more than those in Hartlepool. So, a little market research is required here. What are other practitioners in the local area charging?
It can be tempting to look at what others are offering and charge less in an attempt to gain more clients, especially when getting started. I do not recommend this for the following reasons:
- It is easy to undervalue yourself, especially when getting started, and think you are not worth that amount of money. But if you can make a change in people's lives you provide a far more important service than an investment banker who is probably on 100 times what you can earn as a practitioner.
- Working with clients is a hard job. The lower we charge, the more clients we have to take on to earn a living. Working with fewer clients gives us the energy to be more attentive to them in session because we're not exhausted from endless back-to-back clients.
- A key non-specific factor in the therapeutic relationship is a client having positive expectations. Living in a capitalist world, the lines are blurred between price and quality: people think that if they are paying less the service will not be as good. Therefore, by underpricing yourself, you could be eroding a client's expectations.
What about discounts?
Some practitioners choose to offer a lower rate for students, unemployed people or other groups.
This can help to make therapy more accessible to groups who could not otherwise afford it. However, it also runs the problem above of degrading the perceived value, especially for clients paying full price for a discount service.
Conversely, you could take the view that the fairest thing to do is have a single rate and that all clients pay the same. This is the view we take at our clinic.
What about packages?
In coaching or many other areas such as driving tuition, it is common to offer a package of sessions where a client receives a discount for booking a set number of sessions.
In therapy, I do not recommend this. Every client is different and it is very difficult to say how fast they will make progress. At a minimum, an assessment of what the problem is and how engaged they are in solving it is needed to make any kind of educated guess.
However, we should not overlook why the client is asking the question: therapy is often expensive and they want some idea of how much it is going to cost so that they can budget appropriately. This is important because if they run out of money before making any real progress they will come away with a negative impression of therapy.
Therefore, at the clinic, we offer a guide to how many sessions a typical client may use. Most of our clients stay with us for 12-24 sessions. However, your numbers will come down to the modality you work in: solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is typically quicker while humanistic therapy tends to be longer.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. We already briefly touched on the idea that modalities such as solution-focused brief therapy can be shorter and may therefore be more suited to fixed packages. Single-session therapy is, as you can probably guess, just one session.
Some protocols have a fixed number of sessions. For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is taught over eight weeks. In general, when teaching is involved, such as mindfulness programmes, it is easier to predict how many sessions will be required.
Your best guide for pricing is to look at what other successful therapy practices are charging in your local area. Giving clients an accurate idea of how many sessions you typically deliver, and therefore how much it will cost, is key to starting the therapeutic relationship off on the right foot.