Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT
Getting Paid: Talking Fees, Pricing, PricesThe Words You Use to Talk to Clients About Money Matters in Therapy Do Make a Difference
As a mental health professional, the words you use in money conversations matter to you, your clients, your colleagues, your employers, and to your therapy practice. When communicating about money and therapy services it pays to pay attention to the language we use in our clinical role because the meaning our words convey can either increase or decrease the amount of money you are paid as a therapist. Yes, the words and phrases you use truly contribute to the bottom line of your therapy practice.
This is the second article in a series on getting paid and talking with clients about money. If you’d like to read more, here’s the first article: Getting Paid: Talking with Clients About the Price & Value of Therapy.
Money Talk: Words & Phrases to Consider
Let’s look at some of the words that can make a difference when a clinician talks, writes, or communicates about therapy money matters—and how and why these words can affect the amount a person is willing to pay for the therapy services you provide as a clinician.
This information applies equally to face-to-face conversations in real time or virtually, to emails, texts, phone calls, social media postings, and what’s printed in marketing materials or is on your website. Yes, each one of these words and phrases can have a direct effect on the perceived value of the services a therapist provides and the amount a client is willing to pay you for the clinical services you provide.
As you read the following information, be sure to remember:
My fee . . . I charge . . . What I ask is . . . What is your fee? How much do you charge? What do you charge?
Do clients pay you or do they pay for therapy services or the sessions you provide?
The fact is that most clients don’t really want to pay you. Clients want to pay for therapy or services or for the help and expertise that a therapist provides. When therapists pair the words, “I, me, mine, you, your,” with fees and pricing it can make paying for therapy seem like a personal interaction instead of a professional one. Many clients will pay less or feel reluctant to pay for what seems like a personal transaction of caring and help
When a therapist uses the words, “I charge,” people unconsciously think, “Ok, you charge that; how much do others charge?” Saying what you charge sounds like it’s arbitrary and negotiable. When clinicians use the term, “my fee,” the same principle applies.
Making one small change—using the word “the” in place of “my, me, mine, and I”—works surprisingly well to communicate a professional charge for services rendered. The very personal and idiosyncratic “my fee” becomes “the fee.” “I charge,” becomes “the charge.” “Pay me” becomes “Paying for therapy or the session.” Which sounds more professional to you? Does “the fee” seem like it’s automatically open to adjustment?
Here are some alternatives:
The cost of the session is ___
The price of your session is ___
The charge for your session is ___
Using this type of focused clinical language activates the cognitive/thinking parts of the brain and helps a person operate from an integrated thinking, analyzing, and decision making mode instead of an “emotional” mode which is more feeling driven and can make these types of money matters conversations more personal, intense, and stressful for both therapist and client.
Therapists often use the word fee to address the amount of money that is charged for therapy services provided/delivered/rendered. However, the word "fee" seems to come with quite a bit of baggage for both clients and clinicians. To most clients encountering the word “fee” in the context of therapy is synonymous with “fees are always negotiable” or that the number is meant to be adjusted to a lower amount.
Substituting one of the following words in place of “fee”—price, charge, cost, amount, or rate—helps clients cognitively understand and process that this number is the actual amount it costs and that they’re expected to pay for services. With these words people don’t usually react so reflexively to negotiating to make the amount lower.
Think about this . . . when you go to the doctor or dentist or other professional, do they usually use the word fee? Most likely they use words like charge, price or cost. Consumers are used to this type of pricing language and understand this is the number they must pay. People do not automatically associate these definitive words with the possibility of negotiation and adjustment to a lower number.
By using this type of consumer wording, therapists can bypass the client’s automatic reflexive perception and response to the therapist’s “fee” as a starting point for negotiating payment even when no fee adjustment is realistically needed.
As a result, of making this change in wording the clinician’s money conversations are usually shorter and the amount a client pays for therapy is usually higher but is still what the client can afford.
My full fee is . . . My regular fee is . . . The full fee is . . .
What actually does “full fee” mean? Is there a “partial fee?” Why do we as therapists say, “full fee?” Why don’t we as therapists just use fee or price or charge without the adjective?
Attaching the word “full” to the word “fee” with regard to therapy causes the client to wonder, think, entertain, ask or explore what the fee that isn’t "full" is—and then clients ask you about that other fee! What a pickle for the therapist. As professionals, we don’t realize when we are inadvertently inviting discussion and negotiation about the amount of therapy payment when it’s not needed.
An alternative to using “my full fee” is to use more definite and clear language, such as “The price for a 50-minute session of therapy is . . . ” or “The charge for your therapy session is . . . ”
Decide for Yourself What Fits You, Your Clients, and Your Therapy Services Best
Confidently take charge of money conversations by using the aforementioned professional and clinical language suggestions and recommendations tailored to your client population and clinical practice. Focus on the value, cost, worth of the therapy service to the client and their life.
Remember to keep the language, wording, and focus of the clinical and professional money matters conversations on the client responsibility for payment for services needed, received and provided— not on what or how much the therapist gets or charges. Allow the client to pay a fair price for the therapy benefits they receive from you.
That’s all for this article on getting paid and how the wording you use as a clinician to talk about money matters can increase or decrease the money you earn from your client work. I hope you have found it to be useful, thought stimulating, supportive, and encouraging to your efforts to get paid what the therapy you provide is worth. See for yourself how the words you use can increase the amount of money you earn from your practice.
The next article, the third in the Getting Paid Series on money matters conversations, will address words to use to refer to the services you provide, to describe your prices and fee scale, and how to introduce and talk about your sliding scale.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT, AAMFT Approved Supervisor, is in private practice in Santa Monica where she works with Couples and Gifted, Talented, and Creative people across the lifespan. Lynne’s been doing business and clinical coaching with mental health professionals for more than 15 years, helping them develop their careers and practices. To learn more about services, training or the monthly LA Practice Development Lunch visit www.Gifted-Adults.com or www.LAPracticeDevelopment.com.
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