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Let's talk: The cost of counselling

I don't think a year has gone by where I haven't heard someone somewhere exclaim that therapy is expensive.

As a therapist, I get the question “why is therapy so expensive?”, A LOT. It might surprise you to learn that some of those questions have actually come from therapists themselves! (We have to pay for therapy too, amongst a whole heap of other things!) In fact, just the other day, I found myself in a conversation with a fellow therapist on Twitter about the cost of continuing professional development courses for therapists, as they definitely set you back a bit.

Anyway, back to the point... The fact that I keep getting this question though made me think. People might want to go to therapy, but are likely put off by how much therapeutic intervention costs. To be honest, I hear that. I was put off by the cost of therapy when I started. Some of you may know this, but whilst you train as a therapist/counsellor, you have to engage in therapy. Now, they give you a bit of time to settle yourself in before you are supposed to go. But, most counsellors/therapists will have gone through a minimum of 2-years of counselling before they qualify.

I remember back then I was a student, I had a part-time job, but I wasn't earning a lot of money. The course itself was a major expense, and (for some reason) therapeutic textbooks don't seem to come at a low price point either! Then add in living costs, such as food, water, gas, electricity, and petrol, and you find that there is far too much month left at the end of your money! So, to then be told that you also need to engage in weekly therapy, when quite frankly, you are living paycheck to paycheck, is a stress that you just don't need!

Now, I'm not going to claim to know all of your individual circumstances, or claim that they are comparable to where I was. I tell you this to show my experience, as it might in some way be relatable to yours.

I remember looking for a therapist and wishing there was a sort by price button on the Counselling Directory website. You know, like they have on almost every shopping website, “sort by price low to high”. That's the kind of girl I was, and to be honest, I still am today. So like some of you may have been, I was horrified by the cost of counselling when I first started looking for a counsellor.

I too had asked that million-dollar question, why does counselling cost so much? And it was only when the tables turned, I qualified and had to set my own prices, that I really understood.

There are so many factors that go into the cost of counselling, and if you have ever wondered why it costs what it does, I'm hoping I will be able to answer at least some of this in this post.

Let's start with what you are paying for when you go to therapy. In fact, before you read on, I'd like you to answer that for yourself. What do you think you're paying for when you go to therapy? Once you're done, come back and finish reading this. See how your answer compares. I just want to say here that there's no right or wrong answer - I just thought it would be interesting to see.

So, firstly, just like any other professional service you take up, when you pay for therapy, you are paying for the level of expertise of the practitioner. This includes the professional qualifications they have obtained. For example, for myself, I did both an undergraduate degree for 3 years and then a master's degree for 3 years as my core training to be a therapist. Then, in addition to that, there is the professional membership that you have to subscribe to in order to practice as a counsellor. This will also be factored into the costings of the practitioner you work with.

In addition to that, every counsellor has to engage in monthly supervision with a practitioner who is more qualified and experienced than themselves. You have to engage in a minimum of 1 1/2 hours of supervision per month, and depending on the complexity of the clients seen by the practitioner, you may have more. This will also be factored into the price.

The next thing that is factored in is the price of an hour. Now some of you who have already been to therapy may know that a therapeutic hour is 50 minutes long, rather than 60. However, this doesn't mean that you don't get an hour of your therapist's time. In fact, the remaining 10-minutes are used to process the information that you have given your practitioner during the session, write up notes about the session, and note down any plans or directions to take in your next session. And obviously, it doesn't stop there. As I mentioned before, you will also have time during your practitioners' supervision session, where they will be working with their supervisor to ensure that they are working the best that they can with you. Typically, a therapist might spend 20 to 30 minutes discussing each client in supervision.

If you see your therapist in a physical location, such as their therapy office, then the cost of that space will also be factored into the cost of the therapy session (likewise with virtual therapy and any fees paid to use the platform they see you on). And in addition to this, any buildings insurance that is needed to be obtained as part of that will also be factored in. While we are on the subject of insurance, I should also mention that the professional indemnity insurance that each practitioner has to have is also factored into the cost.

Then finally, all therapists have to engage in 30 hours of continuing professional development per year. As I explained earlier, there are a lot of therapists who were not happy with this, as the continuing professional development for therapists is pretty pricey. But this is also factored into the cost.

*These factors are a general summary of what is taken into consideration for the cost of therapy*

When I sat down to create my pricing structure, I was overwhelmed by just how much had to be factored in. The systems and processes around becoming a counsellor are set up in a way that makes it very costly to actually be a practitioner.

I haven't even mentioned that most therapists are also in therapy themselves, because sometimes client consent can be triggering, and we need to make sure that we don't cause our clients any psychological harm because of that. So we take our stuff for therapy, too.

Now I'm not going to sit here and attribute the cost of therapy entirely to the systems and processes around becoming a therapist, because I've had a look at some people's prices and know they could charge more than they do. I have also looked at others and know that they could charge less than they do. So there is also an element of therapist discretion in the prices that are charged.

I'm not here to tell anyone how much they should and shouldn't be charging for therapy. I am also not here to tell anyone how much they should or shouldn't be paying for therapy. The purpose of this post is to inform what I hope is an information-gathering process that potential clients are going through, to help them understand and decide what is a reasonable amount to pay for therapy. That amount is going to be different for everybody based on their individual circumstances.

I know that I would have found this information useful when I started out looking for a therapist. This is because my relationship with money at that time, and the money I had, meant that I was immediately put in a negative thought process and space when I started the journey of looking for a therapist, because I didn't feel like I could afford it, and I didn't understand what I was paying for.

I want to also note here that I have very much focused on the practical things that fall under the cost of therapy. I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that in addition to all of this, you are paying for an outcome, too. Now this will look different for everyone. When I went into therapy, I never imagined I would work through and process everything that I managed to. And I think some of the difficulty with the outcome of therapy is that there is no guarantee of what it will look like.

Now, I think this is a discussion that could take a while, so it's definitely a topic for another article. But I do want to leave you with this:

"If I didn't have to do therapy as part of my course, I don't think I would have done at the time that I did due to being put off by the price".

I am so thankful that my life circumstances forced me to have therapy, because I now see the value in that price, and personally, I think I would have regretted not going had I waited until I saw the value to start.

That is my experience, and as I have said, my experience is not shared to say anything negative about yours. Instead, what I invite you to do if you are considering counselling, is think about your relationship with money. Think about your financial circumstances, look realistically at the things that you do afford on a monthly basis. Ask yourself how much they help and support you. Look around at different therapists, and take a look at organisations that provide therapy, because they are often able to provide therapy on a sliding price scale.

There are options out there that mean that you can access professional therapeutic intervention at a price that is manageable for you. Make sure you do your research so that you don't get put off and end up not having something that you truly want and feel you would benefit from.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a comment below or send me an email.

I'll see you again soon

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