Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT
Getting Paid: Money Talk About Pricing, Services, Rates—The Words You Use to Describe Your Services & Rates Make a Difference
Talking with clients about therapy services, cost, and payment—and the importance of making and keeping regular appointments—is a vital part of therapy. Finding the right words to use professionally and clinically to convey the value of these services and the appropriate cost, timeframe, and involvement—is key to the success of every therapist’s private practice.
However, today many therapists are finding that they must spend significant time and energy to reset a client’s, or prospective client’s, expectations for therapy with regard to cost, frequency, duration, participation, and involvement in the therapy process. As a result of these challenging money-driven clinical conversations, many therapists have reduced their rates significantly—and are undercharging and being paid too little for therapeutic services.
Unfortunately, it is a common misperception that charging as little as possible is the best strategy for attracting new clients and filling a practice. However, undercharging and underearning can seriously harm your practice if you are mainly providing low-cost offerings to clients—you and the work you do aren’t valued by many of these low-paying clients, you still need a lot of clients, and any new client makes very little difference to your income.
If you’re in private practice you have a responsibility to work with enough clients who can pay your rates and keep you and your practice solvent so you can do the work you were meant to do instead of spending all your time and energy trying to fill a practice.
Therapists are tired of undercharging and underearning. They want to work less, earn more—and make a bigger difference. More and more therapists are seeking out clinical and practice coaching so they can take charge of clinical money conversations and refocus them on the value, relief, and life/relationship/health changing/enhancing, conflict/anxiety/depression reducing benefits that clients are seeking from one-on-one therapy work with a trained professional—and they charge more and are paid accordingly. Their income increases, they attract more clients, they fill their practice. Therapists deserve to earn a good living for the work they do.
The Wording You Use Can Make Difference in Your Income
As in any clinical endeavor, the words you use to describe your services do make a difference. In this case, the amount a client is willing to pay for therapy with a trained professional—and in order to receive the desired result/relief/outcome. Yes, the meaning your words convey can either increase or decrease the amount of money you are paid for therapy. You’ll find that most people will pay in full and out of their own pocket for your services, when they believe you are the professional who can give them what they want—and the wording you use to describe your services conveys that.
Money Talk: Words & Phrases to Consider
Here are some examples of words that can make a difference in income when a clinician talks, writes, or communicates about therapy or money matters—and how and why these words can affect the perceived value, and subsequently, the amount a person is willing to pay for the therapy services provided by a clinician.
This information applies equally to face-to-face conversations in real time or virtually, to emails, texts, social media postings, and what’s printed in marketing materials or is on your website. Each one of these words and phrases can have a direct effect on the amount a client pays for your clinical services.
As you read the following information, be sure to remember:
Many therapists, clients, and lay people refer to therapy as: help, support, advice, listening, guidance, appointment, etc. When it comes to the amount of money a client is willing to pay for each of those ‘services,’ the perceived value and worth is low since these are things that non-professionals—friends, colleagues, neighbors, parents, siblings, online forums, etc.—can, and do, provide.
Exceptions to these are: professional help/support/advice/guidance. These have a higher perceived value of worth to clients.
Contrast the words: help, support, advice, etc., with the following ones that have a higher perceived value and worth: session, service, psychotherapy, counseling, treatment, recovery, consultation. Now combine them: psychotherapy session . . . therapy session . . . counseling session . . . psychotherapy services . . . therapy services . . . therapeutic services . . . professional services . . . depression treatment . . . anxiety treatment . . . bipolar treatment . . . trauma recovery . . . professional consultation . . . etc. These terms mean business. They are definite and professional—and position you as trained and capable professional of delivering the services they need.
Other terms can be added when appropriate: licensed, certified, approved, supervised by, etc. Yes, clients will pay you more for your service when these words are added.
Here are two examples of lower perceived value wording: my services, services I provide. However, when you add other words to those phrases you come out with higher perceived value: psychotherapeutic /psychotherapy services I provide. Add another certifier to that and you then have the highest perceived value: psychotherapy conducted by a licensed psychotherapist/clinician.
What word or terms do you, and your clients, prefer—or use—to talk about or describe the services you provide? Which would you or your clients pay a higher amount for?
2. Ask, Get, Take, Accept, Charge
I ask $ . . . What I ask is $ . . . How much do you get for a session? I can take $ . . . The fee I accept is . . . I charge $ . . . What I charge is . . . What do you charge?
Are you asking or is it the cost? Are you asking or is it the price?
Be professional and definite: “The cost is . . ." not “What I ask is . . .”
State what the cost is for. “The charge/price/cost for/of the 60-minute session is . . .”
Here it’s important to remember that a client doesn’t “give you money,” a client pays for services rendered. You earned the money by providing services to the client—services provided by a highly-trained professional as we have quite a bit of education, training, skills, and experience, not to mention licensure or supervision by a licensed person. Therapists deserve a fair rate of professional compensation.
Here are some alternative words and phrases to consider when stating the prices for services in your practice. Using these terms positions you and the services you offer as confident and of high value and worth:
The PRICE is . . . The COST is. . . The RATE is . . . The AMOUNT for that is . . . The session price is . . . The session cost is . . . The session rate is . . . The Price/Cost/Rate/Amount/Charge for that service is
Decide for yourself what fits you, your clients, and your practice best. Try a few of the phrases out. See what fits you best.
3. Free, discounted, reduced, lower
“No charge,” “no cost,” and “complimentary” are better terms for practice success than the word “free” which seems to mean to people that your services aren’t worth much and they should expect to receive all your services “for free,” all the time.
Discounted, discount, and reduced rate are popular words but aren’t the best for practice success as they train people to always ask for “a discount” or reduction. A better choice in wording is “special” price/pricing or “introductory’ pricing, “a special offer” or even, “a limited time offer.” With these words and phrases, people associate your services as something of worth that are available at this pricing for a limited amount time.
Sometimes people ask if you have a “lower” fee or if you will “lower” the fee or even, “What’s your lowest fee?” Some better alternative words and phrases are an “adjusted” fee or “special pricing” or “professional courtesy” pricing or even “college student, unemployed, etc.” pricing.
It’s important for mental health professionals as a profession to not train people to expect us to always reduce, discount, lower or charge the lowest fees just because a client wants but doesn’t actually need an adjusted fee.
It’s important that therapists, as a profession, maintain a reputation for being paid well for the good work they do—work that’s worth every dollar they’re paid. It’s not a good thing for therapists to be known for charging the lowest rates in town to anyone who asks even when they don’t need a price adjustment.
4. Fee Scale—Prices, Pricing, Rates, Fee Range
When talking numbers around the amounts you charge for your services, most therapists find it’s better received to refer to pricing, prices, and rates, as a “price range” instead of a “fee scale.” Using the term “price range” is associated with “a range of services and pricing.” People seem to understand that concept easily. “A price range” connotes choices and options whereas “fee scale” suggests some type of ranking or judgement.
That’s enough for today about money matters and getting paid. Try a few of these out and see what happens.
Previously published in LA-CAMFT’s November 2019 Voices.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT, AAMFT Approved Supervisor, is in private practice in Santa Monica where she works with Couples and Gifted, Talented, and Creative Adults across the lifespan. Lynne’s been doing business and clinical coaching with mental health professionals for more than 15 years, helping them develop even more successful careers and practices. To learn more about her in-person and online services, workshops or monthly no-cost Online Networking & Practice Development Lunch visit www.Gifted-Adults.com or www.LAPracticeDevelopment.com.
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