What NOT to Do When Determining Your Therapy Session Rates

August 13, 2021

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I'm Aisha — private practice strategist for mental health therapists looking to ethically blend their clinical skills with entreprenuership without burnout. 

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When launching a private practice, you’re about to embark on an opportunity to not only earn a livable wage, but probably the most money you’ve ever imagined making as a licensed mental health provider.

You probably hear a lot of private practice coaches and business consultants talk about building a six-figure practice and you swoon at the idea of earning more and working less.

Well, as we all know the primary way that therapists generate revenue in their practice is through their therapy sessions and the top inquiry I hear is “How do I determine my rates?”

What you DON’T want to do is determine your rates solely based on what another therapist is charging and here’s why

Don’t Assume

I’ve noticed a trend where people say their private pay rates, how many clients they see per week and then you automatically assume that they’re charging their full rate for each client. That’s a safe assumption to make right?!


There are plenty of people out there who do not have a caseload of full-fee clients and here you go, creating a lengthy dialogue about what they’re doing and not doing and how that reflects your work and worth.

Please don’t do this to yourself.

You do not know the ins and outs of someone else’s business and frankly, with the exception of ME, no one is EVER going to be 110% transparent with you about what they do and don’t do within their private practice.

Your Business, Your Expenses

When you’re creating a business, you must keep in mind who you serve, what you offer, and how you offer it. Your business plan is going to help you tremendously when it comes to holding yourself accountable to what your business needs to charge in order to operate. In my opinion, the goal is to build a profitable business, so if you’re determining your rates based on someone else’s practice, then you’re also assuming that your expenses are also their expenses.

I know we all have student loan debt, but some of us have savings, family that helps us afford our lifestyle, roommates, multiple jobs, dependent children, serve as caregivers to our parents and family members, and some of us…don’t.

So, when you base your rates on other therapists’ rates, you’re negating what it takes to sustain your current lifestyle.

And what about your desired lifestyle? Would you like to take a 3-month sabbatical in Quarter 3 of Year 4 of your private practice? Well, you’re going to need to cover the costs. And guess what, how much you charge for your services in addition to how much your accrued expenses (business and personal) are going to impact whether or not you take that sabbatical on your time table or at all.

Market Research

To some people it sounds gross and trust me there are sleazy ways to go about conducting Market Research, but from a business acumen point of view, it is important to know WHO your competition is, WHO they serve, and WHAT they’re offering.

Conducting some market research will help you determine HOW you can serve your target population differently in comparison to other therapy practices. How do you think Apple determine which features to include in their latest and greatest model? They conduct market research and determine what their competition is and isn’t doing to serve their target audience and they try to do things differently, in order to fulfill an unmet need.

And you know how entrepreneurs always say, “The Riches are in the Niches?!” Well, Market Research can help you fine tune your therapy practice niche, so that when your ideal client comes across your information, they’ll reach out because they resonate with your clear messaging aka your marketing material aka boosting up your Know, Like, and Trust Factor. 

Keep in Mind

One pitfall that a lot of new and aspiring therapists fall into is feeling defeated when another therapist demeans their goals and aspirations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard future private practice creators share their plans with a mentor, professor, boss, clinical supervisor, or therapist stranger from social media, only to be met with condemnation about their rates. “You’re not experienced enough to charge that much!!” “Who do you think you are?” “You’re got into this work for the wrong reasons, if you think making that kind of money results in you helping people who truly need it”

These disparaging comments are toxic and don’t align with the value of decolonization, and here's what I have to say about that –

Were you too inexperienced to…

·       take on 6-figure of student loan debt to cover the cost of your graduate school education?

·       have an astronomically high caseload without supportive supervision and guidance?

·       serve as free/low-wage labor during your mandatory field placement and internship?

When it comes to being a helping professional, I choose not to feed into “pay your dues” culture and you can make the same choice too and as far, as I’m concerned, all the work you’ve done up until this point counts as paying your dues; so the ride on the Exploitation Express ends with you launching your new private practice.

You don’t have to sacrifice your mental health, physical health, well-being AND livelihood to serve others with a wise mind and open heart.

So, in summary, when it comes to setting your session rates, do not base them on what others are doing – don’t make assumptions that how they run their business will apply to you, set your rates based on your revenue goals, business + personal expenses, and don’t feed into the toxic rhetoric of the Exploitation Entourage. With a well thought out plan of action, helpful guide, and supportive community, you’ll create the career, biz, and life that nurtures you as you nurture others.

If you're looking to recalibrate how you set your rates, so that you're not only meeting your needs, but also meeting the needs of your ideal clients, sign up for the weekly newsletter for more private practice strategies. 

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