2016 is already showing itself to be a year for facing challenges head-on, letting go of what isn’t working, and making room for something better!
The greatest challenge I have faced over the past 15 years of offering Counselling, Healing and Spiritual Support services has been to find the balance between running a sustainable, professional practice, and remaining accessible to people in every income bracket.
I have made it my mission to find a fair and equitable approach to making these services accessible to everyone, while still honouring my business needs, the value of the services I provide, and the integrity of every client.
In 2014, I launched an initiative called Pay What You Get Paid as a trial for a new kind of fee structure. It was a bold and idealistic move that garnered both accolades and criticism. Accolades – for being visionary, courageous and idealistic… Criticism for being potentially unrealistic, and at least a little bit nuts!
The beauty of the Pay What You Get Paid fee structure was that for those in lower income brackets, it significantly reduced disempowerment, diminishment, feelings of inadequacy, shrinking, shame and other barriers to an empowered client experience. BUT… in testing it over the last year and a half, I have discovered a number of significant problems:
1. The system isn’t structured enough. This created confusion and concern for many clients – especially those on fixed incomes, or whose income fluctuates seasonally or otherwise. It also continued to leave many clients feeling like their contribution wasn’t enough.
2. Not everyone honored the system in the way it was intended.
3. The system did not encourage clients to rise above their current circumstances to further empower themselves.
4. The system did not adequately provide for the needs of the business, or sufficiently honour the time and expertise of the therapist.
5. As a long-term solution, the system ultimately proved unsustainable.
It is as important to me as ever to offer an equitable fee schedule to my clients. So… having given Pay What You Get Paid a heroic run, and having been forced eventually, to admit defeat… I headed back to the drawing board.
In developing a new system for trial, I wanted to ensure that every client pays in consideration of their actual hourly wage, and that no client has to invest more than 2 hours of their time to pay for a single hour of mine. I wanted to create a system that better honours my business needs, time and expertise. And I wanted to create a fee schedule that every client can easily see and understand as being as fair as possible – for everyone.
By providing a fixed fee for each 2 hour session, based on the Industry Standard Counselling rate of $120/50min, and pro-rated in consideration of each client’s actual hourly wage, the new Fair Fees system addresses the issues encountered in the previous system by implementing more structure, safeguarding against misuse, asking every client to empower themselves by investing in their self-care, offering somewhat greater consideration to the business and therapist, and hopefully – proving to be more sustainable over the long-term.
I won’t know how effective it is until I’ve tried it, but I’m ready to give it a go… so, without further ado… I am pleased to announce the new Fair Fees schedule for integrated Counselling, Healing and Spiritual Support services!
I am often asked why an equitable fee schedule is so important to me. There are a multitude of reasons. Here are a few of the top ones:
1. It is important to me because our societal system rewards some efforts, expertise, and achievements significantly more than others, yet requires the same remittance for survival from everyone.
This is a paradigm that doesn’t fit for me. I believe that every single one of us should contribute equally – in consideration of the resources each one of us actually has available, and within a framework that encourages self-respect, empowerment and dignity for all.
2. It is important to me because there is a big difference between a minimum wage and a living wage; and an even bigger difference between a minimum wage and a prosperous wage.
Minimum wage in BC is currently only $10.45 per hour, and only $9.20 per hour for liquor servers. The average cost of shelter for a family in BC is $1500 – $2000 per month. The average cost of basic expenses is in the neighborhood of $1711 per month per household. This is as much or more than an entire month’s wages BEFORE TAXES for 2 people working 40 hours per week at minimum wage in BC – and this is only if they do not spend a single cent on clothing, furniture, recreation, education, gifts, or incidentals.
3. It is important to me because the Industry Standard Rate for Counselling is $120 per 50 minute session.
A first-rate counsellor earns every penny of this, but that doesn’t change the fact that an awful lot of people go without the quality services they need because their wages simply aren’t high enough to pay for them.
4. It is important to me because I have really and truly been there…
I know exactly what it’s like to be working your face off at a low-paying job (or 3), raising 2 kids, going to school, and desperately trying to make ends meet. It’s during times like these that we most need to engage in Self-Care. And it’s during times like these that we are the least likely to do it, because when it comes down to a question of whether to go see a Counsellor or put food on the table – the food wins. Every. Single. Time.
Over the years, I have tried a multitude of approaches to equalizing access to the professional services I provide. These approaches have included sliding scales, barter, pro bono services, and so on. The problem with all of these approaches is that in small but meaningful ways, every single one of them disempowered the same clients they were meant to support. Here’s what I discovered:
Sliding scales looked great on the surface, but those clients who could not afford to pay the ‘regular rate’, always felt that in some way they were falling short of a target they simply couldn’t reach. This meant that they came to sessions already diminished and ashamed in a quiet way that no amount of reassurance from me could ever erase. I can’t remember a single person paying at the lower end of the scale who ever did so without saying “I’m sorry” as they handed over the money they worked so very hard to earn.
Attempts to barter often resulted in clients who had fewer monetary resources at their disposal, offering services or items for barter that I didn’t need. This placed them and me in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between either accepting/offering a trade that wasn’t really equitable, or refusing a trade – often leading to further feelings of inadequacy on the part of the client.
Offers of pro bono sessions had the unfortunate effect of not requiring that clients make an effort to invest in their own healing & evolution – communicating to them on a subconscious level that I didn’t believe they were resourceful enough to take care of themselves. This inevitably lead to clients who, despite their successes, quickly began to devalue sessions and themselves as they shrank under the weight of my charity.
In all of these situations, clients’ shame was subtle but powerful, and ultimately interfered with their ability to fully embrace their intrinsic self-worth – creating a major barrier to empowerment and healing.
Through Fair Fees, I sincerely hope to level the playing field in a way that is truly fair and empowering.
I’ll let you know how it goes!