As a mental health professional, you will need to determine what fees are most appropriate for the services you provide. As your experience and your client base grows, you may be faced with the decision to raise your fees for your own financial benefit; and to improve your space or the amenities you provide to your clients. It’s understandable that there may be some discomfort or fear about how raising your fees might affect your practice and customers. However, through slow and steady increases over time, you will find that many of your customers can absorb these costs and the few that leave will be replaced by new customers.
Timing when and how much to raise your rates is entirely dependent upon your client base. Generally, when your practice approaches or reaches “full capacity” it is time to raise rates. Full capacity of course means that you are unable to take on more clients within the number of hours you choose to work. Growing demand is a natural response to quality work and the referrals your current clients will give, not to mention your increased knowledge and training. Yes, you could take on more customers and make more money by working more hours, but for the sake of a healthy work/life balance, raising your rates is your best solution. Even if you didn’t raise rates, you would still end up losing customers as your wait times increase. By raising rates, you can better control and balance your wait times, while making more money in the process.
Once you have decided to raise your rates, the next decision you will need to make is by how much you should raise them. A safe choice would be in the 10%-15% range. This change won’t be too jarring to your current customers. Plus, it will provide you with a comfortable financial benefit, particularly if you do an increase on an annual basis. Of course, you will need to monitor customer demand for your services to ensure that you continue to remain close to full capacity. As long as you maintain your customer demand, from both current and new customers, you can go ahead and raise your rates every year. For a spreadsheet to see how an annual rate increase will affect your income, click here.
Here are a couple of common questions or concerns I often hear from therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health or even coaching professionals about raising fees:
1. How should I navigate the conversation?
Many therapists are afraid to mention money to clients. One way to do it is to include in your client agreement that fees will automatically increase by 10% on June 1st of every year, or whatever date is best for you. Remember that since deductibles typically reset in January, raising fees at that time could be challenging since clients are already paying more money out of pocket. This can be done by mail in most situations; although there is also sometimes therapeutic value in engaging in a spoken discussion of the client’s feelings about the increase or at least confirming they received the notice. If you do have the fee increase stated in your client agreement, be sure to send a reminder to clients at least 4-6 weeks in advance so they have time to consider it. The more notice you can give to clients the better. Giving clients plenty of notice helps them feel in control of their choices (which they are and should be), and also decreases the sting of the increase since they have time to process it. If you have any concerns about what type of notification or discussion is required by your particular state or licensing board, by all means check with them for guidance.
2. What if I lose clients by raising my fees?
Hopefully, an incremental increase of just 10-15% won’t be enough to deter a client from continuing with you; but if it does deter the client then perhaps it’s best for everyone including the client if you help them to seek a provider who isn’t on the very edge of affordability for them in the first place. Even if you do lose 10-15% of your clients by raising your fees by 10-15%, you’ll still make the same income as you made before, and you’ll actually do it in fewer hours! This will allow you to either use the extra time to take on new clients at your new fee, spend some extra time on education, self care, networking, or using the time however you see fit.
3. Will raising my fees hurt therapeutic alliance or my general rapport with clients?
Many therapists find that by seeing fewer clients and/or being better compensated for their time, they actually provide better service to the clients they keep because they are feeling fresh, valued, and not experiencing burnout. These therapists also experience a boost from having extra resources to improve the look and feel of their office space, get a cleaning person, hire a receptionist, attend a conference somewhere sunny during winter months, or do other things that ultimately contribute to the client’s experience of working with a therapist who models excellent self care. If you are working with high functioning clients, you will likely celebrate their promotions and salary raises, and praise their decisions to take stimulating vacations, see a personal trainer, take creative classes, or treat themselves to regular massages and other “luxuries” that promote their sense of well being. The dynamic between you and those clients may actually suffer if you build resentment or excess stress because you don’t have access to those types of resources due to an unwillingness on your part to give yourself a “promotion”.
4. Does raising my fees contradict my altruistic wish to help people who are less fortunate?
Not at all. Making more money in less time actually gives you more resources with which to help disadvantaged people in a more deliberate manner than ever before. For example, on the off chance that you do lose 10-15% of your clients because you raise your fees by 10-15%, you could use a newly freed extra hour to allocate as a charitable low-fee hour to someone who couldn’t have afforded your fees even before the increase. Or, if you fill the vacated spots with new full fee clients, you could donate a portion of your increased income to the charity of your choice (and even get a tax writeoff for doing so, as well as some good social media and relationship-building opportunities that could even lead to more business as well as more opportunities to help others).
5. What’s an easy way to start?
You could announce a 10-15% increase that will occur 3 months from now for all clients. Or, you could simply start accepting new clients only at a higher fee. If you go this route, you might even consider a slightly higher increase than 10-15%, especially if you haven’t increased your fees in a long time. Once you have a certain proportion of your new clients at the higher fee, it will be much easier to explain to older clients that you’ve been seeing new clients at a higher fee for a period of time and you’re now implementing at least a nominal raise in fees for long standing clients. High functioning clients generally understand and appreciate the need for professional people to raise fees periodically. They may even express congratulations to you, and actually view you even more positively than they did before because they recognize that a fee increase generally means you’re doing well and have a full practice. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that a nominal increase is less of an issue that you feared.
Your personal income should increase over the years as you accrue expertise. Experience, training, and word of mouth will all increase demand for your services and hence allow you to increase your rates. As your income increases, you are afforded the ability to take better care of yourself, your family and your surroundings (including your practice!). A proactive, thought-out fee schedule is a must to maximize your earnings potential. If you would like more help or encouragement to grow your practice, or if you’d like to learn more details about how I navigate fees or other practice-related issues.