What is affordable counselling?
For many of us, the best counselling is usually free counselling, but that can mean long NHS waiting lists, limited sessions and, often, very little say in who you see or what kind of therapy you have. This isn’t to knock the NHS – we are incredibly lucky to have our NHS and I dearly wish we funded their mental health services better, but it can be a frustrating process to navigate when you are already struggling.
Private counselling has the advantage of allowing you to choose a counsellor who feels like a good fit, and you may be able to negotiate longer-term counselling, if needed, but the costs involved in having weekly counselling sessions can feel impossible.
Sadly, this can leave many of us stuck between a rock and a hard place, resulting in many people simply drifting, not getting the support they so desperately need.
Know your own worth
I knew when I set up my private counselling practice, that I wanted it to be as affordable as possible, for the widest range of people, but that is a risky premise. Countless business start-up blogs talk about the importance of ‘charging what you are worth’, with price being intrinsically linked to quality. Charge a low fee and perhaps you aren’t, or you don’t feel that, you’re worth more?
I think there is a truth in that. As a society we often look at the end product without really understanding the time and cost that has gone into producing it (and, in some sectors, that can lead to exploitation in supply chains).
As a counsellor, it has taken me a number of years, a lot of money, a lot of unpaid placement hours and more emotional investment than I can really calculate, to be able to sit across from you and hold that space for whatever you most need to say. I fully agree that I should value that appropriately.
Private practice also involves insurance, monthly supervision and, often, room rental, before you factor in personal living costs. It can involve fluctuating client numbers and unforeseen circumstances, like the global pandemic that we currently find ourselves in. Standard counselling fees are a sensible interpretation of that risk, ensuring we can afford to do what we do, for as long as we can.
The personal IS political
And yet… I can’t separate my counselling practice from my politics, and my politics has always centred accessibility.
How accessible can private counselling really be, if you can only access it from a position of financial stability? Where does that leave people in insecure or low-paid work? These questions then lead me to this one: does that then result in an unintentional self-selection of the types of clients and issues we work with?
Like most counsellors, I have been a counselling client myself, benefitting from NHS counselling when I really needed it and, later in life, being fortunate enough to pay for private counselling. I was surprised by how liberating it felt to go private. There was something in that idea of literally investing in my own mental well-being, that made the process feel like it belonged to me.
Yet I’m convinced that part of the reason that I had such a good experience with private counselling, was due to my having had access to free NHS counselling in the past. I already had trust in the process. I know that if I’d only had the private sector available to me, back when I first knew I needed to see a counsellor, I’d never have been able to access help.
Where do we go from here?
I don’t know the answers to the questions posed above, but I am interested in trying something different and I’m inviting you to come along with me. I’d like to see if there is a compromise; a space where you can have that sense of agency over your own mental well-being, at a cost that feels manageable for you.
But I can’t do it alone. This is a project that requires community, where the folk who want to pay a little more, are willing to do so, to free up some flexibility for those who need to pay a bit less. It asks you to consider what you can realistically afford to pay, but it also asks you to engage in the idea of affordable, accessible, counselling.
By offering a sliding scale approach, I am providing clear boundaries on the amount I am able to accept, ensuring that I can meet my basic outgoings, whilst still leaving it open enough to give you the flexibility to choose what is best for you. Not having a tiered fee structure also means no need to plead a case for a discounted fee.
Access to private counselling, regardless of your circumstances.
Affordable counselling, for everyone.
(Blog image by Jon Anders Wiken)