why it turned me off to get a sliding scale offer in an intro email from a therapist...
After spending time seeing a grief therapist following my dad's death, I was at a place where I could see I wanted more long-term support. For the moment I had sorted through some aspects of my grief that helped me feel like I was moving forward. The grief therapist charged $100/session and I loved her. She was incredibly helpful, I felt supported, not judged, and like she held a strong space regardless of what I brought her.
Fast forward to a referral she gave me for another therapist for me to transition away from her. After I asked to meet, informed her I'd be paying out of pocket, and asked her rate, she immediately replied with her rate and an apologetic caveat that she offered a sliding scale. At first, I couldn't figure out why this rubbed me the wrong way. I replied that I'd be glad to pay full price and decided to give her a chance.
I saw her once, and left feeling confused and uncomfortable. I ended up letting her go after that first session. I did a lot of processing this experience, trying to put it all together to figure out why that initial email offering me a sliding scale would have caused me to have a reaction, and why that first session did not feel good. What was it about my grief therapist that felt so helpful that this woman didn't have and was it related to the money I was paying?
This is what I concluded:
It wasn't about the money, necessarily, it was about how confident the therapist felt in charging the money. It was about the therapists' confidence. The $100 therapist was more confident in her rate, I could bring up finances, or anything, really, without her flinching or getting caught up in my story. The second therapist immediately offered me a sliding scale. In a bigger sense, I wonder if this is how she relates to other topics. She did get caught up in my story and ended up leading me down a path that I didn't want to go down in my session, which is why it felt uncomfortable. I didn't want solutions or problem-solving brainstorming ideas. I can do that with my friends. I go to therapy to be held accountable, to work on myself, to support me to go into my feeling experience, not continue analyzing (I do that enough on my own!).
My analysis is that her inability to see my need and instead impose her agenda showed a lack of boundaries, as did her jump to offering a sliding scale without even knowing me. I realize I want a therapist who is comfortable with themselves, who is comfortable with what they charge, who is aware enough that when things come up in the session that interest them or make them want to fix or change, they can watch themselves and not get sucked in, instead deferring to the client to take the lead.
Basically, a therapist who doesn't let their countertransference dictate A. what they charge and B. how they show up.
This is why as therapists it is so so important to continue to do our own work, continue building our self-awareness. Because new things come up all the time as life happens - new parts of ourselves come out, old parts come back when triggered by life happening. If we don't stay on top of it, it WILL come out in sessions. With self-awareness comes the ability to notice our countertransference, and respond to the client rather than react to our feelings.
Money is just one avenue into personal insight.
I want a therapist who isn't afraid to charge money. I want a therapist who knows her worth, and helps me live into mine. I want a therapist who is clear on what she is charging and will ask for it. I want a therapist who has looked at her relationship to money, has seen how it plays out in her business life and has some clarity around what she asks. And I want a therapist who knows how to prioritize herself so she can hold me accountable to do the same.