After years in the trenches, doing endless on-call shifts, working at low-paying agencies and internship sites, you are thrilled to step into the private practice world. As you get the keys to your first (sublet) office, you exclaim inwardly: “Finally, I get to charge what I’m worth! I get to make a decent wage! I get to set my own schedule!”
As you take the baby steps to build your dream practice, you’re now faced with having to do what you rarely–if ever–had to do at past jobs: talk frankly and explicitly about money. More specifically, you have to put a dollar amount on your worth as a therapist.
As a sensitive therapist, you know private practice is the right path for you. Yet, you didn’t foresee how difficult this money stuff would be.
Your research doesn’t help. Most of the money mindset advice out there is about convincing yourself that you are “worth” what you are charging. It focuses on how “deserving” you are of your full fee based on the time, energy, and money you have put into your training and career.
If it’s just a matter of convincing yourself of your worth, then why don’t you feel relief around this issue? Why do you still feel like a fraud when a client pays full fee? Why do you still struggle with telling a colleague what your rate is?
Here’s the problem with “I’m worth it.”
As a sensitive person, I pay attention (perhaps a bit too much) to the nuance of language. Saying someone is “worth” a certain dollar amount never felt right to me. If I imply that I’m “worth” a certain dollar amount now, what did that mean about my worth before? When I didn’t have a master’s degree, does that make me less worthy as a professional or as a person? More importantly, what does that mean about others’ worth that don’t have the privilege to access higher education? If I’m “worth” a certain fee, does that mean that someone else is not?
See, deep down, it feel shitty to think this way. Everyone is worth a livable, decent income. I am not more worth a certain dollar amount than another person. To imply that just because I have a master’s degree means I’m “worth” a higher fee feels wrong. It feels entitled.
To imply that you’re worth a particular dollar amount, implies that other people are not.
Perhaps if I wasn’t a Highly Sensitive Person, I wouldn’t think about this concept so deeply. Maybe I would be able to take the standard money advice and feel better about myself. I’d be able to look into a mirror and say “I’m worth charging $200 a session!” without a second thought.
However, I’m not. And, if you’re reading this, then you’ve thought deeply about this, too.
What To Say Instead
Instead of focusing on our worth as a clinician, we need to think about the value we offer our clients.
Let me break it down for you.
One of my niches (yes, I have two – #geminiproblems) is working with Highly Sensitive People that have newly discovered this trait, but aren’t sure what to do next. Often they come to me feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied with life. They may also be recognizing the impact trauma has had on their development as a sensitive child.
For people that fit this niche, and choose to see me as a therapist, I am confident that I am bringing immense value to their life. They come to me because I know their pain points and how to help them. That’s why they are paying me.
Therapy with me is worth it to my clients, but it’s not what I’m worth. See the difference?
However, if a person were to come to me with an active chemical addiction (not my niche), they may not find any value in my services. I may offer value in my warmth, presence, and empathy, but ultimately, I don’t have the clinical skills to support them in early recovery.
Since this person doesn’t want to pay me, does this mean I’m not worthy as a person or a clinician? No! It just means that I can’t provide the value of what they need. I’m just not worth it to them. (And that’s okay.)
It’s also possible for someone to come to me for therapy, be my ideal client, but not feel that therapy with me is valuable to them. This may be due to a poor connection between us. It could be because they found another therapist that offered more value to them. Either way, it doesn’t change my worth as a person or my value as a therapist.
So, how does it translate into action?
5 Steps to Focus on value over worth
Fix some tea, find a cozy blanket or a cuddly cat, and write down your answers to these questions. Complete in sequential order.
1) Start with yourself
- Write down the value that therapy has had in your own personal life. How has attending therapy changed your life? Improved your relationships?
- If you have never reflected on the value of therapy for YOU, then how can you understand what that means for your clients?
2) Keep it Broad
- Write down the value that you bring to the counseling profession, your clients, and your colleagues as a sensitive therapist. It could be your attention to detail, your attunement to clients, your compassion – to name just a few.
3) Narrow it down
- Think about your specific niche. If you don’t have one yet, think about the types of clients you love working with.
- Write down the value do you bring to your niche. This could include a unique understanding of their pain, specific skills and training to help them heal, and a genuine passion for working with that population.
4) Get super specific
- Think of your last awesome session that you had. It doesn’t have to be with your ‘ideal client’ or within your niche.
- What value did you bring to the client in that session? What tangible and intangible things did your client walk away with?
- Was there an ‘ah-ha’ moment for the client? How did you contribute to that?
- If it was a couples or family session, what value did you bring to the couple or the family?
5) Make meaning
- Integrate the answers and emotions from this exercise to really feel this concept of value as a more tangible measure.
- What is your takeaway from this exercise?
- Who do you need to share your answers with?
- What themes did you see in your answers? What does this tell you about you as a person? A clinician? An entrepreneur?
- What’s the next step for you based on these realizations?
This strategy won’t work if…
Another reason that the “I’m worth it” argument can be problematic for sensitive people is it may trigger your money trauma or money shame.
Often money shame comes from the subtle (or not so subtle) messages about money during childhood and throughout your life. Money shame can take root when we are shamed for having needs, emotions, or desires beyond what is “acceptable” for our caregivers, partners, employers, or culture of origin. Often money shame is a way for the person shaming you as a means to control you, keep you safe (in their mind), or make themselves feel better.
It’s entirely possible to have a harmonious relationship with money
If money shame is the case for you, you’re not alone. While the strategies we talk about in this article can be very helpful, they will ultimately fall short in the long run if you don’t acknowledge the deeper motives and emotions around money that drive your behavior on an unconscious level.
As you unpack your money trauma, you’ll begin to experience clarity around your financial issues and attitude towards money. You’ll offer yourself compassion and forgiveness for past money choices. With these changes comes the freedom from the money shame you’ve been fighting your whole life.
This newfound liberation from money shame will translate to a quiet and assured confidence. You’ll begin to feel on a visceral level what you knew all along – you’re entirely capable of handling your finances and running a successful private practice. You just needed a little reminder of your amazingness.
You know it’s time.