Many, many times I see on forums or hear from people that they haven’t gone to counselling because of the cost. It’s too expensive. Even fellow counsellors.
I hear you. It can be a lot.
Depending on the counsellor (personally and professionally) you could pay anything from £20 to £80 a session in the U.K, $30 to $300 here in Australia. So that’s basically one hour of talking without any guarantee that it will ‘work’.
It’s a risk. But is it worth it?
I’m gonna go out on a professional limb here and say something that might seem scary to both clients and professionals alike: maybe it won’t work. Many of you will in fact know that it doesn’t always work, because you’ve had bad experiences with counsellors or supervisors in our profession.
But there are ways to pretty much guarantee that it will be successful beyond your wildest imagination.
To use a therapy well-worn phrase: let’s unpack those ways.
Firstly, the language around the word ‘works’ is a bit problematic. Other words, like ‘fix’ and even ‘healed’ can also be misleading. Basically if you’re showing up for counselling then you want to feel better. You want to change something. You want something to be different from how it is now. Sometimes you’re desperate and this is your last hope to get out of the world’s most giant hole.
So it’s really tempting to promise an outcome. Science and researchers are constantly trying to prove ‘how’ therapy ‘works’, which is how we end up recommending approaches that are more easily ‘proven’ than others (and really, how can we truly separate people from the world they live in?), despite the fact that the evidence suggests something completely different.
The relationship between you and your therapist is the core reason for success in therapy. There is such little difference in reported success from one modality to another that the relationship can really be the only commonality between such vastly different styles of working.
Therapy is deeply personal. Even if you’re only there to learn a few techniques to manage anxiety, it’s about YOU. It’s about who you are, your precious identity, and most importantly, it’s about being you at your most vulnerable: admitting that which we cannot change on our own and need some help with.
Aren’t you most likely to be able to do that with someone you like?
Here’s then where we run into some trouble with The Mental Health system.
By focusing on ‘proof’ that a technique ‘works’ and leading humans with human issues towards a technique rather than another human, we are leading them away from what matters most. We need each other for emotional co-regulation, to be accepted and SEEN as a person, even in (especially in) our hardest and darkest times. Skilled therapists can sit with pain without judgement and lead with gentle guidance rather than just ‘skill up’ our clients.
Therefore the best way to find a therapist you are going to do well with is to find them yourself. Which might sound wildly overwhelming. Impossible even if you are thinking ‘I’m a mess! Where the hell do I start?!’
You can start by asking someone you trust. Someone who is a bit ‘like you’. Not like the problems invading your life, but like you. Perhaps they’ve been to a therapist before and can recommend someone, or can help you look for a good fit. A solidarity support buddy.
Then you can hit Google or Facebook - preferably at a time when you are feeling pretty ok, not rock bottom worst. You can look up your problem, but be wary that there might be ‘expert recommendations’ that will fall far short of your actual needs. A little bit like going to a GP for mental health advice, the knowledge is usually very limited.
For example, if a GP or a Google search says ‘CBT is the best approach to managing depression’, go a bit further and find out what CBT actually is. Then spend some time wondering ‘is this likely to work for me?’ If the answer is an emphatic no then look elsewhere. If you read that Schema therapy will help you ‘deal with your destructive patterns’ then look it up and spend some time wondering ‘does this appeal to me?’ and then decide for yourself.
Many therapists have their own websites - it is 2017 after all - and hopefully we are getting better at talking about what we do, who we are, and how we can help in ways that can be easily understood by the average person. If you aren’t doing that as a therapist, then it might be time to sit down and try and do so.
Here are some questions to jog your thinking:
Who is being left out when we use overly academic approaches?
Does our ‘expertise’ alienate the very people we are trying to serve?
Are we addressing power dynamics and making space for us all to be human within a counsellor-client relationship?
Do we hide behind technique and then miss moments of genuine connection and collaboration with the people who arrive to work alongside us?
How can I remind myself that this person in front of me could be me had the world been a little different?
In what ways can we show our strength in being able to hold someone in their utmost pain and fear while still feeling our own emotions in the professional relationship?
Who are the clients who have had the most impact on me and that I have had the most impact on and how would I describe the power of that to a friend?
If you find a therapist or supervisor you like, give them a call or send them an inquiry email.
As an online counsellor, my website and blog posts tend to focus on explaining the ways in which online therapy is awesome.
What I expect is that people who really don’t think online therapy is awesome will turn away and rightly so. People who do think it is awesome, or are inspired by the ideas on my website will feel hopeful, connected to me, and maybe even a bit excited. They’ll email me asking for a free chat, or with a list of questions, and I will respond supportively. My fees are transparent. You have a right to know something about this person before you lay down the money to work with them therapeutically.
Which brings me back to the original point: what is the cost of therapy?
I used to be - and to be honest, still can be - very apologetic about charging fees. But over the years, and via my own experience with a counsellor as well as my own experience as a counsellor, I have come to the conclusion that something so valuable - and even crucial for some of us to live - is worth paying for.
Obviously this is not the case if you just can’t afford it, although you can still contact services offering free counselling, and request a counsellor based on a few preferences: namely things like gender, age, understanding of what you’re going through, expertise etc…
But if you CAN afford it, ask yourself: how often do I truly invest in MYSELF.
I mean, think about how much money we spend on other things…
What if I invested the money and made the commitment to something that can truly change my life forever…
Could I budget for weekly or fortnightly sessions for one year with a professional I’ve thoughtfully chosen and forgo something else?
Do I really need that new:
couch/car/pair of shoes/juicer/accessory?
Do I really need to buy expensive: pedicures/dinners/paintings/handcreams/reiki/gym memberships that I never use or treatments that don’t work?
Do I really need to go to lots of: festivals/out all night every weekend/to huge sporting events interstate/overseas holidays?
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying you shouldn’t do these things (many of them come from my own list of things I value and enjoy), but I wonder often why we think nothing of spending $100/week on entertainment, clothes and newfangled items we never use, but balk at the idea of spending $80 - $160 on counselling sessions - either weekly or fortnightly - with a commitment in our minds to continue for a minimum of one year and see where it takes us.
Truthbomb: some of the things we THINK we need may not turn out to be so important once we resolve the issues causing us to need them in the first place. When you get some peace within yourself so many other doors open.
I wonder why I feel bad about ‘selling’ something that I hold in the absolutely highest regard?
Maybe that’s for another day.
Nicole Hind is a gardening dog-loving feminist waterbaby hip-wiggler who can be found hunting for books and patches of green around inner-city Melbourne. These days she’s also an Online Counsellor and is astounded by the courage and creativity of the souls who show up for therapy. Did you know that you can write, paint, process, curl up, cry, sleep, sing, or do ANYTHING you need to straight after an online session? She fiercely believes that we all have stories that deserve to be wrenched out of the shadows, increase a sense of hope, of self-worth, and provide clarity on how to approach challenges for the rest of our lives. When it comes to counselling (and life), she values Co-Creation, Community, Social Justice, and the transformational power of stories. If you're curious Nicole would be happy to answer enquiries via her website or Twitter.