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Counsellors offering discounted rates? Good or bad?

At the height of the lockdown I, like many other counsellors all over the UK, offered drastically reduced cost or even free online counselling to front line members of the NHS or care home staff. The job they do and the danger they put themselves in every day is mind boggling and I just want to recognise what they do and try to do something to help them.

It is my intention to maintain the offer for the foreseeable future but this matter has caused some discussion among the counselling industry as to whether it is a good idea, in general, to implement discounted rates for counselling.

I think I can see it from both sides.

On one hand, when a counsellor first sets up his business and sets his rates for what the sessions will cost, he is placing a value on his time. It's important that the counsellor feels he is receiving an adequate payment for the job he is doing. Therapists, especially those in private practice, very soon realise that the job of counselling a client for one hour does not take 60 minutes of their time. I won't go into detail about what the counsellor goes through to prepare for and then recover from each client session but there is significantly more head space required than 1 hour.

So those that are uncomfortable with discounting prices may argue that by lowering the price you charge could lead to you feeling your time is viewed as 'less valuable'. The toll it took on you when you charged £50 per hour may have been acceptable, but is it still acceptable when you're charging £25 for the same sessions? Would a counsellor charging 50% less than usual somehow give only 50% effort during each session, which would mean the client getting some sort of lesser quality of service? There are some that argue it is possible to almost develop a form of 'resentment' towards the client that pays less, although I personally don't go along with that theory at all.

Alternatively, lowering prices at a time when clients are likely to be feeling the strain of financial problems could mean that more people actually get valuable psychological help, just when they need it the most. Knowing they are providing their service at the most critical of times may give the counsellor a greater sense of wellbeing towards his practice which can, in turn, lead to a somehow 'enhanced' service with the counsellor feeling especially good about thee job he is doing. In this respect counsellors are no different to any other human being. They tend to perform better when they feel better.

These are just some of the things that come up with this touchy subject. How about what a client may think when he sees that a counsellor has reduced his rates? Will he think that counsellor is just desperate for business and therefor can't be very good? Or how about if a different client sees that a counsellor is still charging his normal rates when he must know that everyone is suffering financially at the moment? Isn't that insensitive or selfish?

It really is a minefield.

As is often the case in matters like this, it is very much down to the individual counsellor as to how they feel and whether whatever they do sits ok with them.

Broadly speaking, a counsellor should be charging what he feels is right for himself, not the client. Just one of the things he will think about while working out what price is best will, inevitably, involve a consideration of the sorts of people he expects or hopes to work with and whether their financial situation needs to be considered. But at the heart of that is the acceptance that each client has 'autonomy' to do whatever it is they want to do. If they want to search online for 'cheapest counsellor in my town' they will do that. If they decide that they want to pay for the most expensive counsellor on the BACP register because they must be the best, they will do that too. It is up to the client to consider their own financial situation and judge whether investing in their mental health is the right thing to do in their situation at that moment. We, as counsellors, should give people credit for knowing what is best for them at any given time.

Bottom line for me is that I want people to have access to the right therapy when they need it. Personally I don't feel I am undervaluing myself by reducing my rates for a period of time. I know my clients get 100% of me for that time, no matter how much they have paid. I trust myself to do the right thing for myself and my clients. As long as a counsellor can honestly say that then surely nobody can say they are doing the wrong thing.

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