Despite all of the deeply personal subjects discussed in counselling, there is one issue that can often be the most difficult for a counsellor. Asking for payment.
On the whole counsellors are a nice bunch. We generally enter the profession with a desire to help people, however that looks. So, when at the end of an emotionally charged session, we lean forward and ask “how do you want to pay today?” it can feel like a commercial intrusion into what should be an altruistic exercise in human compassion.
My first role as a professional counsellor was with the charity Relate. Even though I was asking for payment for the organisation not myself, I still almost felt ashamed to be asking. It was as if this somehow belittled the service being offered and reducing it to a commercial transaction rather than a supportive one.
As time went on and I became more used to discussing payment I began to think about this differently. Most couples seeking help recognised the importance of counselling so would happily pay the asking price. Sometimes they paid more to help us support clients on lower incomes. And this made me realise that talking about payment for counselling should be a positive and empowering experience. We are professionals, with high levels of training and ongoing commitments to professional development. Payment for counselling can be seen as a recognition of this level of professionalism, as well as a sign of the commitment of the clients to the counselling process.
In private practice it is the norm to agree payment amount and method in the first session so that everyone understands what is expected. But those first sessions are generally functional anyway, discussing practical elements of the contract between counsellor and client. This makes the money conversation so much easier. During the actual counselling it can be a more sensitive topic to raise.
Now I’m in private practice I’m obviously more aware of the importance of payment! For me to get to be the professional I am has cost me in excess of £20,000. As well as many, many hours of stress, time and effort (for me and my husband!) I aim to be the best counsellor I can, so continue to spend money on training, books, professional memberships etc. And, I have to eat too (as does my husband and the cats!) So I have to charge for my services.
So, taking payment for counselling positively reinforces the professional status of the counselling clients receive. Equally crucially it represents an investment on the client’s part in the counselling process.