Therapists are a naturally a caring bunch of people. We want to help and improve the quality of life for just about anyone who crosses our paths. When we own private practices and get to choose our own fees, we often want to “help” everyone we can by lowering our fee to accommodate every client.
However, lowering our fee can compromise our ability to sustainably support ourselves. Our financial sacrifices for others can limit our ability to pay off student loans, create a financial safety net, save for retirement, take needed vacations, and more.
“Giving back” by lowering our fee isn’t always the healthiest way to help others. We cannot be fully present for the people and obligations in our lives if we are drained and depleted. We can fully give back by first ensuring our own needs are met - that we are emotionally, mentally, and financially resourced. This will allow us to show up fully for everyone in our lives (such as being energized for our clients and having capacity to be present with our family after work).
I meet monthly with a group of art therapists in private practice. I brought this topic up to them, and they pointed out that therapists can “give back” in many ways that do not include sliding scale fees.
We talked through some of the ideas, and here are a mix:
Sharing our knowledge and experience in free and accessible ways
Blogs (ex. Like this one!)
Podcasts (ex. I recently was on the podcast Best Life, Best Death)
Interviews (ex. Accepting requests to be interviewed by art therapy students)
Presentations (ex. Presenting at conferences)
Workshops (ex. Providing free or low-cost workshops to local organizations)
Groups (ex. Running low-cost or free therapy groups)
Resources (ex. I provide free art activities on my website)
Speaking engagements (ex. Speaking at local organizations when requested)
Internships (ex. Supervising student interns)
Investing our time and money in the community
Donating money to other organizations (ex. I donate to ARCS-SPAN, a local nonprofit that supports youth who are transitioning to adulthood)
Volunteering therapy hours (ex. Volunteering to see a client at a clinic for under-supported individuals)
Volunteering our time (ex. Working with an organization of our choice)
Therapy funds (ex. I created an art therapy fund so more people can access art therapy.)
Projects and programs (ex. I run a grief support donation program for families who lost a loved one due to COVID)
There are limitless ways we can help others. What we do can also shift over time as our energy capacities, time, and money fluctuate. I do not do all of the above things at once.
I would like to stress that we are still “good” therapists and “good” people if we choose to not give back in any extra capacity. We all have different life demands. We are worthy and full humans simply by being present to the world. Our actions and contributions do not determine our worth.
We are already in an emotionally and mentally demanding field. We can stop falling into martyrdom mentality, where we sacrifice our own needs for the sake of others. We can choose to show up for ourselves fully, AND then give back how we choose.
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