Setting fees for your counseling services means balancing your desire to help others and your need to pay the bills to keep your practice operational. Of course, you want to set counseling fees your clients can support, but you also have to stay in business. It can be tricky to determine the right amount to charge, so here’s some advice to consider.
Setting counseling fees is an essential part of starting your own counseling business. Your payments need to be high enough to sustain your business, but not so high that potential patients can’t pay them or you price your services out of the market. Consider the following advice when setting your fees.
1. Consider the Market
It is essential to think about the market when considering how much to charge for your counseling services. The market consists of two groups: other counselors in your geographic area and your clients.
First, analyze what other counselors in the area charge based on their experience and training. Take the closest look at those that offer services similar to yours. You don’t have to set your counseling fees at the same rate or even below theirs, but it’s necessary to understand what the market will support. A good starting point may be to set your fees to match the top half of other local counselors. Also, consider the demand for your services in relation to the number of competitors in your area.
If you are fresh out of graduate school, don’t assume that you can set your fees as high as someone with years of experience and additional training, certifications, and licenses. As a therapist, you need to decide what kind of practice you want to have. Do you want to work 40 hours per week with individual clients throughout the day? Do you want to work with individuals and groups? Do you want to work with insurance based clients or private pay clients?
Most therapists start out doing agency work because it’s an easy way to get experience and have a consistent paycheck. Oftentimes agencies will include supervision as a part of your employment package.
If you want to grow your practice quickly, you may consider starting out with a lower rate to help you build a caseload. After a year or two, it is appropriate to increase your fees to account for cost of living increases, rent, insurance, office expenses, etc. Some clients may leave when you raise your fees. But, if they have an established relationship with you, they will understand.
2. Know Your Why
You are a professional offering a healing medical service to your clients. Think about why you chose to be a counselor and the specialized training you went through to reach that goal. The services you offer are valuable. The average rate for a counselor in the nation is $150 per hour. In certain markets, the cost of seeing a therapist is about $450 an hour, particularly in California or New York. Their professional expertise is the reason for that fee amount. You can only support your desire to help if you charge a fair fee for your professional services.
3. Understand Necessity
Some of how much you charge for a session is based on your expenses. You have to make ends meet. Simply knowing how much you need to make from each patient to meet your financial obligations will help you set your fees.
Review the budget you included when you created your business plan. Be realistic about the number of clients you can see in a week and how easily you can book them. Don’t forget to set aside money for taxes, insurance, and paying yourself.
4. Hold Steady
Once you set your counseling fees, don’t negotiate. You don’t want to start a bad habit of auctioning your professional services.
If you’ve done the homework and set realistic fees for your professional services, you should feel confident in those fees. Again, if you are trying to start and grow a practice it is better to set your fees a bit lower to increase your caseload.
5. Consider Exceptions
Yes, we just told you to stick with your fees, but you also want to consider upfront whether you will make any exceptions. For example, will you alter your counseling fee for a battered spouse who needs help or for elderly patients on a fixed income? What about members of the military or first responders?
Outline any exceptions you can think of to your fees initially, then document what payment will look like for those people. That way, you’re prepared when a situation arises, and you’re not trying to determine pricing on the spot. Your client intake form should include any kind of sliding scale policy you decide on.
It’s also important if you are going to accept sliding scale fees for certain clients, to consider how many of these client’s you will keep on your caseload at any given time. If not, you may find yourself in a situation where you have set fees, but the only calls you get are from people looking for sliding scale rates.
6. Set Policy
When setting your counseling fees, don’t forget to consider things patients may do that will negatively impact your services and cost you money. For example, what will you do when a patient fails to come to an appointment? You could have booked another patient during that time. Will you charge them? What about last-minute cancellations? Will you charge or excuse the fees? There may be some circumstances that patients can’t control, like a flat tire on their way to therapy. Will you forgive those fees?
It’s acceptable to charge patients who disrespect your time or keep you from serving others, but you also want to be understanding with your policies. The most important thing is to have a cancellation policy in place and share them with new patients, so they know the expectations.
7. Adjust When Necessary
While you want to be consistent with your counseling fees, the prices you set as you launch your practice aren’t forever. Many counseling services raise their fees a small percentage each year to keep up with increases in costs like insurance and utilities.
Perhaps it’s a good idea to plan a review of your fee structure in six months or a year to see if it still serves you and your patients well. Once you decide on fees, don’t revise them often. Maybe every three years or so.
You may lose clients when you increase your fees, but it allows you space to book other clients.
Establishing Fees in Vital for Practice Health
Setting counseling fees is a challenging yet vital part of establishing your counseling practice. You want to make sure your fees are fair to everyone involved, including yourself. And that they set a solid foundation for the future of your practice.