When I decided to start my own private practice, I was fresh out of graduate school. I had two supervisors (one for counseling and one for art therapy). Given my “newbie” status, I looked around at what other therapists with my level of experience were charging. Here in Tucson, Licensed Associate Counselors (LAC) were charging about $75/hr. The few art therapists I could find were all experienced (5+ years in the field) and charging $100/hr.
So I decided $75/hr was a fine rate, with some wiggle room for sliding scale clients (I was willing to go as low as $40/hr).
As clients came rolling in, I realized I could easily raise my prices. So I went up to $95/hr for all new clients.
As my confidence in my therapeutic skills and practice increased, I continued inching up my prices every month for new clients.
Going over $120 was a big deal for me. The majority of therapists in Tucson, no matter how skilled or experienced, do not go above $120.
When I started my practice, I did the best I could with the knowledge I had about setting fees. But I was not factoring in some key points:
Our level of “experience” as therapists is not solely based on how many years we’ve been practicing as therapists. I graduated from my program at age 34. I had YEARS of professional experience in other fields that made me a skilled business owner and therapist
Our own life experience contributes greatly to our skills as a therapist. We all know that the number one predictor of client growth in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and client. I think a lot of our ability to connect with others is due to our life experiences and our investment in our own therapy and growth.
There were also some unique factors to my situation that I hadn’t factored into my price:
I was being supervised by TWO supervisors, which was about 3 hrs/week of supervision. My clients were receiving excellent care and insight from three experienced, educated, and caring minds
I had a masters in mental health counseling AND extra education in expressive art therapy. I had to do TWO separate year-long internships - meaning I had twice the experience.
My final point is one that the art therapy field needs to know loud and clear:
The standard market price is too low.
As art therapists, we have a special skill set that is INCREDIBLY helpful to others AND demanding on our own well-being (the emotional, mental, and energetic cost).
Due to our martyrdom mentalities, we are willing to sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of others.
We feel we “should” be helping others, and thus often even feel guilty for setting our prices at even the standard market value.
Which is already TOO low.
Why is it so low? It’s in the history of the “helping” professions being undervalued. It’s in the history of helping professions being “women’s work” and thus not being treated as seriously or compensated as equally as other professions.
We as therapists then absorb these toxic messages and repeat them.
We look around and think, “Well, this is what everyone else is charging. Who am I to charge more? Am I selfish? Am I preying on people who need help?”
No, it is none of those.
The reality is if your private practice is your sole income, you need it to pay for your business expenses, your retirement, your student loans, your vacations, and more.
Our private practices can provide for these things, but it means we need to set our prices accordingly.
Tiffany McClain, a therapist who helps other therapists with money mindsets, teaches a great model for this with her “fee calculator.” Essentially, therapists add up how much money they need to make in a year. They then factor in how many weeks they want to work and how many hours of clients they want to see each week. At the end, the calculator shows what your hourly fee needs to be.
Mine was $200/hr. And this was me having a very conservative budget.
I struggled with this number. I wouldn’t get to “serve” all of the people I wanted to. But the truth was, I could only serve a limited amount anyways. I also wouldn’t serve them fully if I was overbooked and drained.
I was also worried about my social justice values. I wanted to promote and live change.
But I cannot solve systemic problems with individual sacrifices. That will not get us there. It will just leave me depleted.
Organizations and nonprofits can receive grants, governmental support, donations, and more that make it possible for them to financially operate with low fees.
I do not have any of that support.
I have to ensure that I can stay in this field for the long-run, which means looking after my emotional, mental, and financial well-being. I need to take care of myself. Which means higher fees.
So I did it. My fee is now $200/50 min and $300/80 min.
I raised my fees in May 2021 for all new clients to that level, and then for all existing clients by August 2021 (that’s a story for another time).
I am being transparent about this because I want more for the art therapy field.
I want art therapists to thrive. To not have art therapy just be a “side hustle.”
We will never get there if we keep looking around at the market and basing our prices on that.
Want help raising your fees?
I provide consultation for therapists who want to create their ideal private practices.