I am not a businessman. Ask any of my clients who have been coming to see me for any length of time and they will confirm this to you. I don’t understand marketing much beyond this website and a few other counselling sites I have my details on and I have a tendency to focus on client needs to the detriment of my finances. I probably need to be better around these kinds of things, but I struggle to be a good businessman as it often means I come into direct conflict with my being a humanistic therapist.
The two things, good person of business and humanistic practitioner, are not natural bedfellows and often are in direct conflict with each other.
I know I am experienced and qualified enough to charge my current fee of £70.00 per session and would be able to fill my diary with people willing to pay that amount (if I could get the hang of this marketing lark!).
And yet, I find I continue to take on clients and supervisees at significantly less than this amount. Why do I do this? Well, basically because I know I can help the person seeking support and I do not feel it is a kind or caring thing to deny that person my time because they can’t afford to pay me seventy pound a week to do therapy with me.
In a week where I have just got my most recent tax bill, I do find it befuddling that I have done this exact thing a few days ago, taking on a client for much less than my standard fee because I know I can help them and they cannot afford my full fee.
The taxman will not be happy I fear…
What has this to do with anything Mark I hear you ask. Well. My thoughts were drawn to this topic earlier today when talking to one of my supervisees. They have experience of working for one of the many for profit services that are popping up all over the shop offering counselling to people on a budget.
These services can offer to see a client quickly, often with no waiting time at all. They are also cheap charging around £30.00 per session. Sounds awesome on the surface, especially when you consider if you need counselling and go through your GP it can often take months just to be assessed, and there is an increasing strain on these services with little support or respite in sight for them.
However, these services are only able to offer such cheap prices as the counsellors associated with them are mostly still in training or newly qualified. I would like to make it clear that I do not have a problem with a trainee counsellor or any other counsellor offering their time to these services. It is a brilliant way for a counsellor in training or a newly qualified counsellor to gain experience and knowledge of their profession and the vast majority of them do an amazing job with their clients.
My issue is that the people running these services often treat them as cash machines and do not look after the counsellors that work for them in a humanistic and ethical way, and this lack of care is often shown to the clients that are trusting them to support them as well.
I have a number of trainee counsellors that I supervise who work for these services and they are often bound to practices that are clearly not in the best interests of the clients. This is where I struggle with these services. It is counterintuitive for me to do anything that would not be in a client’s best interests. I am not perfect, I get things wrong sometimes, but I always own my errors and do what I can to rectify them with clients should they occur.
I often hear that counsellors signed up to these services are not being shown best, ethical practice by the people who are running them and obviously want to make a profit. I think this is where the governing bodies, such as the BACP and UKCP, should be stepping in and ensuring that these kinds of counselling services are being run by the right people in the right way, which in my opinion means being led by the clients and counsellors who are doing the work, not by or for financial gain.
Most of those trainee counsellors also report that they often feel that they are not valued by the service and find it difficult at times getting information, clarification or advice from the people running them. Again, this feels like something the BACP and UKCP should be advising on and setting some kind of minimum standard around.
These services are well marketed and often look like they are quite altruistic in nature – some even invite you to offer them donations, even though it is clear they are not charities and likely do not need the donations to keep running – and clients accessing them are likely to have a positive experience. I just wonder whether that experience would be improved if they didn’t have to pay as much for them and the services were much more transparent about their nature and intention (to make money for the person running the service).
I also think the trainee counsellors can be treated like a production line for these services at times and the people they look to for support seem more interested in getting money from the clients than the clients getting what they need from the counselling. This is confusing for the trainee counsellors as they expect the person running the service to share their values around counselling and their clients. So when they are faced with the reality that some counsellors are not very person centred in their attitude towards clients, they mostly doubt themselves rather than the person they are looking up to as they see them as being more senior, professional, knowledgeable and experienced than they are.
I spend a lot of time with these supervisees reassuring them it is not their ethics or moral compass that they should doubt but the ethics of the organisation, which in truth, is often at odds with the needs of the clients and the counsellors working for them (I include some parts of the NHS in this unfortunately).
My supervisees get this, but it bruises them, as it bruised me when I experienced this conflict of interests repeatedly over the years. It is one of the reasons I now work for myself and would struggle to work for any organisation or even individual person again.
I hope my supervisees find a way to challenge this in the organisations they work for and they are able to affect permanent change in those organisations so that the client once again becomes the sole focus of any particular service, and profit and profitability are no longer the priority for so many services and organisations.
In the meantime I will have to figure out how to make sure I get paid enough to keep the taxman off my heels!