Today I want to talk about the elephant in the room: When our desire to help people at any cost wins out over our desire to provide for ourselves and our family. Helping professionals undercharging for their services are on the fast track to burnout.

Take it from me. As a former social worker turned entrepreneur, I saw the personal impact that it took on my colleagues. Pro bono work, staying late at the office, missing dinner at home, putting in extra hours on the weekend to catch up on paperwork can negatively impact one’s own mental health.

It’s a real struggle for helping professionals who are taxed with also having to ask for upfront payment by clients. Being in the helping profession, you’re in the business of providing accessible services, not creating barriers.

These professional struggles aren’t novel. Studies show that counseling professionals often feel guilty when a paid session isn’t as productive as they might’ve hoped; while at the same time, can feel undervalued after an extraordinarily challenging session that they undercharged for.  

The problem is that helping professionals are in the unique position of being both an entrepreneur and also have a vocation – and helping professionals didn’t exactly go into business out of love for the commerce side of things, right?

So saying, “Cheque please” can feel pretty darn uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing: We are actually doing clients a disservice by low-balling our rates.

How so?

A helping professional may enter the session feeling undervalued. It is difficult to be an effective helper if you aren’t centered yourself or if you’re stressed worrying about your own finances or lack of time. There is also the risk of fostering feelings of resentment towards your business because it is keeping you stressed out, overworked, and financially stretched.

Fun fact: Clients are statistically more likely to show up for sessions if they are paying out of pocket. (98% more likely in fact vs just 20% with free counselling).

Payment sets a much-needed boundary in a therapeutic professional relationship. It kind of levels the playing field in an otherwise natural power imbalance. The client pays. They can continue to pay for services; they can also fire us. That is empowering.

Before my marketing career, I was a practicing social worker working in community development and mental health services. I loved that work.

And yet, I remember the stress of trying to meet my personal goals (you know, pay off student loans, buy a house, have a baby) with the insecurity of chasing government contract work.

I remember bringing it up to my manager: I want to buy a house, but I can’t without permanent status. I love my job, but I want to meet these other goals, too.

I was told: Well, you know, we don’t do it for the money!

Okay, fair point. But as someone who is pretty anti-poverty for myself and others, I think it’s not unreasonable to advocate for our own self-care.

Working in the helping profession should not rob us of our own personal aspirations. If we let it, we are severely shortchanging ourselves.

I am here to tell you that it is totally possible to have it all: Greater impact, more financial and personal freedom. And who doesn’t want that?

But in order for that to happen, we need to do two things:

First: Do our own personal work of getting comfortable with the fees that we’re charging. I mean, really do the work. Find comfort in knowing that the decision to honor this will increase the likelihood of a client’s participation and will increase their own sense of personal power with money being the great equalizer in the therapeutic relationship.

Second: Prioritize your own self-care, your personal aspirations and honor your physical and emotional needs as a human being needing to provide for yourself and your family. This will allow you to reconnect to the heart of your business, feel more present knowing you are also honoring and valuing yourself in that shared space.

Every morning like clockwork, I practice mindfulness with my morning cup of tea. I take a pause and meditate on feeling gratitude. While usually this practice never lasts more than 5 minutes (interrupted by dogs barking, or my son climbing on top of me if any longer than that). But truly I find it’s all I really need to center myself for the day.

I believe there is room for all of us to dream a little bigger, allowing the self a little space and grace to reconcile our desire to help others, and also have a greater impact in this world and give ourselves the gift of more time and personal freedom.