Jeff Guenther on Aug 04, 2019
I’ve been a practicing therapist since 2005 and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job. I have my fair share of cringeworthy mistakes that I’ve made as a therapist but none stick with me in the way that mistakes around money do. Money, and peoples relationship with money, is so fraught and complicated. It’s not fair how money is divided up in this world. Money issues are especially loaded these days because of how much income inequality there is. This week on my podcast, Say More About That, I talked with fellow therapist Annie Shuessler about money issues in private practice. We discussed why talking about money in session is more awkward than talking about a client’s sex life, how to work through money shame with clients, how to respond to a client that feels like you might only care about them because they are paying you and so much more. Click play below or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
The following five money mistakes I’ve made in my practice are burned in my brain. I might not be very proud of any of them but they all taught me important lessons… I hope.
If you are a fan of my podcast (and how can you not be!) you might already know that I probably use self-disclosure more than the average therapist does. I only disclose when it’s therapeutically appropriate, but I don’t mind sharing parts of my life with clients. Recently a client was talking about their struggle trying to find affordable housing. Out of pure curiosity, but it also felt like out of nowhere, my client asked me what neighborhood I lived in. I had just moved into a semi-fancy neighborhood and I felt hesitant to share. He could sense my hesitation. And before I could really answer he asked how much my mortgage was. My mortgage was higher than the rent that he is able to pay. I instantly felt shame and guilt. I asked him why he wanted to know and he brushed it off. I tried processing it a bit more but I felt awkward so I moved on. I don’t think I made a mistake about not sharing my mortgage payment. But I definitely moved on from the topic without spending time unpacking where that question came from. I was too scared and guilty to stay on the topic.
I hate charging for missed sessions. I hate that we really should charge for missed sessions. I hate talking about charging for missed sessions. I hate how when I hang with a group of therapists we always inevitably talk about charging for no-shows. It’s boring. It sucks. There is no good answer in my opinion. I tell therapists all the time they should charge. But I am the absolute worst at doing it. I’m bad partly because I have other streams of income. However, that is really just a convenient excuse for me to not take responsibility. The biggest problem for me is that I don’t charge a client and then they no-show again and I feel like a complete ass if I decide to charge them when I didn’t the first time. So I just let it slide and if it continues then I end up resenting them a bit and being really disappointed in myself. You’d think I would learn. But I still haven’t. Don’t do what I do kids. It’s not a good way to run a practice. But if you do…I get it and I don’t judge you for it. It’s hard to do!
Yes, I’m not a fan of Psychology Today. And yes, if I could write about how much I hate Psychology Today every week, I would do it. But just like every other therapist, especially therapists that are trying to build their practice, I too signed up for a Psych Today profile in the past. But the more I learned about Psych Today, the more I couldn’t stand paying them a monthly fee. I have already written about how Psych Today is obsessed with young, thin, white women. I have listed five reasons you should quit. But what irks me the most is how they just don’t evolve. If you’re a mental health website or magazine then, in my opinion, it’s your job to help move the industry forward by being inclusive and fighting mental health stigma. On Psychology Today’s directory, you can’t filter for a therapist that specializes in non-mongamy. You can’t filter for a therapist that is in the LGBTQ community. You can’t find a therapist that has specialized training in racial justice or social justice. You can’t find a therapist that believes in Health at Every Size. The list goes on. Psychology Today just recently added “non-binary” as a gender option after years and years of us begging and hounding them to include a third gender. They finally added a third gender after my petition started gaining steam.
My absolute hatred and disappointment in Psychology Today motivated me to create TherapyDen. TherapyDen fights racism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of hate. We have progressive and inclusive search filters too. If you want to sign up for a therapist directory that you can be proud of, TherapyDen is a good choice.
Okay, please don’t judge me but when I started my practice in 2005 I only charged clients $25. It pains me to type that. I felt like I was only worth $25 and that clients shouldn’t pay me a penny more. Unfortunately, but predictably, I attracted clients that didn’t take therapy very seriously at all. They weren’t engaged, they didn’t show up, they tried to pay me even less and they rarely stayed long term. I can’t say this about every single one of those clients. There were a few that stayed with me for years. But it was a bad idea to be so cheap and I don’t encourage anyone else to do that if they want to actually make a living off of their practice.
I had been seeing a client for five years. The whole time she saw me she was doing her absolute best to work her way up in the design agency world. Her dream was to work for a very specific, well-regarded agency and become an art director. She had dreamed of this position since she was a teenager. We talked extensively about the pressure and expectations that she put on herself to reach this goal. A goal that was hard to achieve and a position coveted in Portland. But with her hard work and talent she finally did it. She couldn’t wait to come in and tell me all about it. She told me and I practically leaped from my chair when I heard she got the position. When she told me how much she was going to get paid and how excited she was for the raise I responded enthusiastically and said, “You’re rich!” All of a sudden, the air was sucked out of the room. She sat back on the couch and looked really upset. I asked what was wrong and she said that she hadn’t thought about what people would think of her now that she’s making over $100k. She hadn’t thought about what it would mean to make that much money. She had a negative view of people that were wealthy. I felt horrible because it seemed like I had ruined her moment. I wasn’t trying to make her feel bad about the money she was making. I was trying to celebrate the fact that she is finally getting paid what she is worth. She didn’t take it that way and I was the cause of her trigger.
Money is weird and there is probably nothing we can do about that. We all have such different relationships with it. I’d like to think that I have an evolved relationship with money, but I probably don’t. It’s just as fraught and complicated as everyone else’s relationship with it. However, I do work on my feelings about money and as the years pass, I am able to talk about money with less shame and that makes it easier for my clients to talk about their issues with money. I hope this article encourages you to look at your relationship with money and figure out how you can feel better about it – both in session and out in the world.
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.