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Why Do I Have To Pay For Therapy?

For those who find it strange to pay for someone's attention

Key points

  • You are paying for your therapist's time, not their compassion.
  • Paying for therapy helps you value it more and work harder.
  • Your therapist is not a partisan friend but an objective, outside professional.
  • Paying for therapy means there is no mutuality necessary. It's all about you.
Digital Market Asia
Source: Digital Market Asia

Anyone who has ever been in therapy has experienced the twinge that comes when you write out your check or Venmo payment to your therapist. The question is seldom spoken, but often felt: “Why do you want money for this? Don’t you care about me enough to do it without my paying you?” In other words, there is a clash and a contradiction between the interpersonal intimacy of the therapy hour and the mercantile exchange of money. The topic is seldom addressed directly in session so I want to try to look at some of its facets here.

Here’s the simple and logical answer to the question: you are not paying for your therapist’s caring, you are paying for your therapist’s time. Your therapist’s caring is not for sale, but her time must be compensated if she is to be able to making a living doing what you are going to her for.

Here’s another answer to the question: Without paying for therapy, how much will we value it? It’s not always true but it’s sometimes true that those clients I’ve seen for reduced fees would not work as hard on themselves as those who were paying full fees. It’s easier to fall into “chat mode” when the time you’re spending with your therapist doesn’t cost that much. When every minute you’re spending costs something significant, you’re more likely to push yourself to make the most of it.

Here’s a third answer to the question: Your therapist is not your friend, but a professional who’s working to help you. Money is just one aspect of many that marks a therapist as different than your friend. Your friend is usually partisan for your side; your therapist is trained to be more objective and to push you to look at things — even things that make you uncomfortable — in a way a friend can’t or won’t do. To say nothing of the years the therapist went to school and was in training to learn how to help you look at those things.

A fourth answer to the question: Because you are paying your therapist, you have the right to expect that the relationship will be tilted in your favor. With friends and acquaintances, there’s a social contract for mutuality. If your friend listens to your problems, you are expected to listen to his. In therapy it is all about you, all the time (or at least it should be). It can take some getting used to, when you first start therapy, that the focus will always be on you. But that’s what you’re paying for.

A fifth answer to the question: payment is literally one of the differences of what makes someone a pro. Your neighbor may know how to fix your leaky faucet, but a plumber you pay for is a professional who has done the job hundreds if not thousands of times and can handle a wide range of plumbing problems that your neighbor has never dealt with because it’s what your plumber does full time. So too with a therapist: by working full time in the field there is a depth of experience, a calmness and a professionalism that comes with it that makes it safer for you to open up your inner secrets more directly.

And the final answer I’ll list, though I’m sure there are more, is that therapy is not as easy as it looks. On the surface, it looks like we’re just sitting there, collecting money to nod our head and say “what do you think?” I remember once reading a depiction that a good therapist looks like a swan, gliding through the water. Underneath the surface, the swan is paddling like crazy. So too is it with therapy: what looks on the surface to be quiet and stillness or ready explanations for whatever the client says covers what’s happening beneath the surface: an ongoing dialog within the therapist’s head as he checks, measures, wonders and focuses on every nuance of the client’s behavior. It’s hard work, which is why no therapist can see 40 clients a week. It just requires too much mental focus to do so.

This is just some of what you’re paying for.

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