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Where to Practice From? Location, location, location!

Can the Client Pay?

Twice recently, while discussing with therapists who might be their ideal clients, the question of clients’ ability to pay came up. Or rather, it didn’t come up. Neither of the therapists in question mentioned ability to pay as a criteria they would consider in forming an idea of their ideal client. And yet, both of them were struggling to earn enough in their practice.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a trust fund, or an understanding and wealthy partner, most of us need to get paid for our work, especially if that work is going to go on for some time. So, in my view, the client’s ability to pay is important.

When I asked the question, each was surprised, and both agreed that it was an important factor. Isn’t it interesting, though, that it wasn’t something they thought of? Other possible criteria tripped off their tongues with ease: presenting issue, client’s age and gender, the client’s desire and willingness to do the work. But ability to pay? No.

As a profession we can be highly ambivalent when it comes to the matter of money. We need to earn a living, but many therapists seem to feel that it’s wrong to be paid out of people’s misery. A cartoon posted on Therapy Tales commented “I suspect that therapy is the only profession where the service provider feels somehow obliged to work for free.” They’re right. Doctors, Priests, Teachers, Social Workers and Funeral Undertakers all get paid. What’s so different about therapists?

eurosPerhaps this belief that it’s wrong to take money out of other people’s hardship is masking a reluctance to be seen as having needs of our own, or a fear of being thought of as “only interested in the money”? A commenter on ShrinkRap says that talking about money is more difficult than talking about sex or suicide, and I suspect that’s true for many of us. We can talk about sex or suicide because they are client issues. It’s usually easier to talk about someone else’s problems than our own. Talking about the fee for therapy brings into the open my need to earn a living, and it can be hard to make a stand for having our own needs met, perhaps in the face of the clear and pressing needs our clients may present.

And then again, maybe we make this issue far more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe it just comes down to a question of appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are the therapist’s responsibility and are part of the holding frame within which the work is done. We set out the boundaries at the outset of the relationship, including our fee (if there is one), and our policy about cancellations. We move the boundaries only if we are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the interests of the client.

It is the client’s responsibility to pay the agreed price for the service that they want and have asked for. And if they can’t pay? Well, that’s just grist for the therapeutic mill, we talk about it. I can hear the arguments against…what if the client is suicidal…what if they have a financial crisis…what if a child is involved? what if…? You have to decide as a therapist whether you’re willing to change the boundary for this client in these circumstances. If it’s a short term thing, then you may decide to take the bounce. On the other hand, if it’s likely that the client will not have the resources to pay you going forward, you may decide to wean the client onto another service that doesn’t charge, or charges less. And who knows how the client may benefit from your decision, whichever way you go!

From a business perspective, it’s even simpler. What business are you in? Providing therapy services for free? Or providing therapy services for a fee? The choice is yours. You can choose to provide your services for nothing, but that is very different from not charging because you’re unable to hold the boundary, or unable to say “no.”

One practitioner told me that after we spoke about this issue, she found herself becoming much clearer about the fee boundary, and as a result, felt freer to be totally present to the client. Interesting isn’t it?

If money is an issue in your practice, either because you don’t earn enough, or because you struggle to talk about it, I’d be glad to help. Please contact me here to avail of your free 20 minute consultation or to make an appointment or browse my services to see what would suit..

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All About Business Cards

At a recent meeting of therapists I attended, one recently qualified therapist was describing the dilemmas that she had met in deciding onIMG_9570 a design for her business cards. It’s an issue that can tie people in knots, and keep them stuck for long periods of time, while they work through their feelings. I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts about business cards: Read more

What’s in a Name?

How do you decide what to call your counselling or therapy practice? Do you use your own name, or do you opt for a name that conjures an image in the mind of potential clients or referrers? Do you choose something that captures the essence of the service you’re hoping to provide? Here are some things you might like to take into consideration in deciding what your business is going to be called: Read more

Paperwork Blues?

7 Tips for Easier Accounting

It’s coming up to that time of year, when the deadline for submission of accounts and tax returns for self-employed professionals looms. If you haven’t got your 2015 accounts completed and submitted yet, it might be time to start thinking about it.

Photo no (23)31 October is also the time for payment of preliminary tax for 2016. If you expect to have a tax liability for the calendar year 2015, you should have paid the bulk of the relevant tax by 31st October 2016.

Feeling depressed yet? Let me make it easier for you, and no, I’m not offering to do your accounts! But there are things you can do to make the whole paperwork issue a lot simpler for yourself. Read more

I Absolve You For Being Human

“I absolve you for being human!” That’s what my friend said to me when I told her of my mistake. “I absolve you for being human,” and then she added, “And you could absolve yourself, too!”

I try hard to get it right. I had tried hard for about 20 minutes to avoid this particular mistake, and I thought I had, but then someone pointed out to me that the very thing I had been trying to avoid had manifested just as I secretly feared it would.

I wonder if the fear of being judged for getting it wrong (especially in public) holds back many practitioners from putting themselves out there and making themselves more visible to potential clients. I know the idea is to stay hidden under the veil of being “the blank screen” onto which clients can project their view of the world, and so bring out their transference. But maybe there’s just a teensy little bit of fear that we might be seen as ordinary people; and then the truth would be out that we are really no different from those normal, mistake making mortals to whom we offer our help. If clients saw us in our true colours, if they knew how much of a mess we really are behind the role of the therapist, behind that convenient blank screen, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to catch hold of the hope that we can offer them something more.

When that kind person brought to my attention that I had made a mistake, I immediately thought, “See, that’s what happens when you put yourself out there.” And the part of me that wants to live my life from the safety of the broom closet had her moment of victorious righteousness. But there’s a bigger, braver part of me that knows that that safety is an illusion. The bigger, braver part of me knows the truth of the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” And that goes whether it’s love of another human being, or love of the enormous abundance of the world we inhabit.

So when my friend said, “I absolve you for being human,” it really hit home. The gift of humanity is that we always have a choice. We get to decide what we want. And I want more than brooms and dust pans. So I thanked her for her gift, and closed the door of the broom closet behind me as I left.

Five Ways to Make your Marketing More Effective

A therapist client asked me recently to help her create marketing material that would bring in more clients. This otherwise articulate professional found it difficult to put words together into promotional material, in a way that sounded authentic without being sleazy. If you’re going to invest money in getting a brochure or flyer designed and printed, then you’ll want it to work for you.

Here are my five tips for making your material stand out from the crowd and still be appropriate to the work.

1. Talk about them, not about you

It’s tempting, isn’t it, because you are what you know best. You know who you are, what you’ve done and what you do. Sorry to burst your bubble, but potential clients don’t much care. They’re interested in whether you can bring some relief to the pain they’re feeling. You need your words to reach out and connect with where they are.

So talk about them, what they might be experiencing, and how you imagine that feels for them.

2.   Don’t talk about process, talk about what they can realistically expect to achieve, or what they want to achievehelping hand

Again, it’s what you know best! And yes, some clients will be interested in how you work, but only as a means to an end.  You are ethically bound not to give undertakings about outcomes, but you can still focus on what a client wants to achieve, and at the end of the day, all clients have one thing in common, they want to feel better. You may not be able to resolve the problem they have with their mother, but you can tell them that many people feel better for talking about it.

3.   Talk their language, not yours 

Speaking jargon creates the impression that you are the expert. However, it can have the effect of reducing your client to a ‘case’ and is to be avoided. A potential client may be impressed by your technical knowledge, but in this world of fast paced communication, you have about 15 seconds to get your message across. If it doesn’t grab their attention, you run the risk that they drop your brochure in the waste before they reach your phone number. A potential client shouldn’t have to work to understand what you are offering them. Use language that is descriptive, easily understood and that your potential client can relate to.

4.  Don’t try to be all things to all people, you’ll just end up being nondescript. Choose something that you are interested in and focus on that

You don’t have to be an expert in everything.  And the purpose of marketing is not to display all your knowledge and expertise on all subjects. The purpose is to answer the client’s question, “Is this someone who might be able to help me?” Choose something that draws you and talk about that. Because you are interested, you will find it easier to talk (or write) about it congruently and from the heart. This tells a potential client (or referrer) something of who you are as a person and will help them to connect with you.

5.  If you want clients to find you, they have to be able to find you

A client has to sort through a lot of information to make a choice of therapist. You need to make it easy for them. That means having your contact details out there where clients are likely to look, whether online or offline. The more places your name and phone number appear, the better. You will also need to find something that makes you different from others. People remember your quirks! If you can’t think of something to differentiate you, include a good photo of yourself.

Finally, you could spend a lifetime trying to get it just right. Aim for good enough, and review it before you reprint.

If I can help you with any aspect of promoting your practice, or finding the ideal clients for you, I’d be happy to do so. Please contact me with your questions or queries, or to avail of your free 20 minute consultation.

Summertime and the Living is Easy…or maybe not! Coping With Seasonality

It’s been a glorious summer, sunshine all the way. But for some practitioners, any summer, and a fine one in jugaad1particular, is not the good news it might be.

For many reasons, the holiday season can result in a fall off of work for counsellors and therapists. Clients feel better, they go on holidays, or they decide they’d rather spend the money on tennis lessons. Of course, it’s nice for us to have a break too. Unless of course, you haven’t planned for the drop in your income.

How do you cope with the seasonality of this business? Are you a “seat of your pants” person, crossing your fingers and trusting that there’ll be enough in the bank to see you through the lean times, or do you take a more structured approach? It’s probably too late for this year, but when you’re looking at next year (You do plan, right? Okay, maybe a post for another day!) consider building in a reserve to cover the times when work is not as plentiful.

For example:

Joe Therapist knows that he will have full (or almost full) capacity for about 40 weeks of the year, half capacity for another 4 weeks and will earn nothing in the remaining 8 weeks of the year. He needs income for all 52 weeks, so how does he do it?

  1. He can pretend it’s not a problem, and eat little or nothing when his clients are on holidays.
  2. He can put a little aside in each of the weeks when he has full income to help him over the weeks when he has less or he has none.
  3. He can arrange his expenses so that they largely fall when he has full income.
  4. He can borrow to cover the holiday period, and pay it back when he has income.
  5. He can arrange his affairs with clients so that his income is more constant (for example, by contracting with a client that a limited number of holiday weeks can be taken)

With a little bit of forethought, the holiday season can be as comfortable as the rest of the year, and when it’s a fine one, you can sit back and enjoy the unexpected bonus, knowing that your bills are covered.

How do you manage the seasonality of your work? Share your experiences with us below.

Jude Fay MIAHIP, MIACP, FCA is a practising psychotherapist and counsellor in Naas and Celbridge Co Kildare. Her interest in the business side of running a psychotherapy practice reflects her earlier career as a Chartered Accountant.

If you would like to speak to Jude about any aspect of starting or running a therapy or counselling practice please click here: Contact Us

…And Then There Was The Accountant Who Spun Plates!

In most professions you get the generalists and the specialists. In medicine you have the GPs and the Consultants. In Law you have the Conveyancers and the Criminal Lawyers. You have the local dentist who does fillings and polishing, and you have the orthodontist. In counselling and therapy too, we have those who specialise in one field such as addiction,or adolescents, and those who can turn their hand to many issues.

Plates Spinning on Sticks
Plates Spinning on Sticks

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Do you Advertise or Not?

I often get asked by practitioners, “Is it okay to advertise my services?” And in particular, “Is it okay to advertise on the Internet?”

Those in favour of advertising online will argue that we live in a technological age, free soapand that potential clients will reach for their phone, iPad or computer as the first source of information about what they’re looking for. It makes sense, they argue, to be where their clients are looking for them. The detractors will argue that the best sources of clients come from personal connections, people you already know, people who know you and what you can do. Some will argue that it is inconsistent with professionalism to advertise our services at all, and especially on the internet. Read more