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Why I Use a Sliding Fee Scale

March 30, 2016

Although people have access to public counseling services, most such services have long wait-lists, limited flexibility in terms of service delivery and the client cannot choose their counselor. While some workers have access to their company’s employee assistance program (EAP), again there is limited flexibility as well as a set number of sessions available and you typically cannot choose the actual counselor.

Given the above, many people turn to private counselors –people who are entirely self-employed who offer counseling services for a fee paid by the client directly. Here the client can choose their actual counselor and while persons in private practice can generally offer more flexible services and are more readily available, there is the question of cost.

Depending on the counselors experience, training and office expenses, private counseling services can range anywhere from $75.00/hr to several hundreds of dollars per hour.  Although some semi-public services offer counseling on a fee-for-service basis and use a sliding fee schedule, one seldom sees a counselor in private practice using a sliding fee schedule.

I do and here’s why.

People experience a vast range in income. Most people seeking counseling can’t wait for service for fear of the problem getting worse. People would like to choose their actual service provider typically on the basis of competence, experience and reputation. Reputable and accessible private counseling for many is not affordable regardless of how necessary it may be.

By offering a sliding fee scale I can offset the cost of those who cannot afford to pay my average rate by those who can afford to pay my higher rate. In this way, I can be responsive to a wider range of people given their different income levels. I do have a bottom line below which I cannot offer service and I do have an upper limit consistent with my years of experience and expertise. I do not negotiate my fee beyond my sliding fee scale and my fee scale is publicly available on my website for every service I provide. No guessing.

I have had people at both the upper and lower points of my fee scale complain about the fee. High income earners have asked to negotiate my fee and I have turned away their business. They can afford to see me if they want to. I have had low income earners also ask to negotiate my fee and there too I have had to turn people away. I don’t feel badly about the former but do feel badly about the latter. Unfortunately, I too have to earn a living from my profession. This is my livelihood.

On rare occasion I am asked if I will alter my fee for special circumstances. I tend not to do so. I cannot contemplate all the special circumstances and in fairness to me and other clients, to begin altering in one case and perhaps not another can open me up to a concern for unfair billing practices. As such, my fee schedule remains as noted.

Typically though, I am only thanked for my sliding fee scale by folks across all incomes.

In the end value is not really found in the fee. Value is found in the service and while no one is ever helpful to everyone I am typically well regarded for what I do.

I do wish more counselors and mediators would use a sliding fee scale. We enter this profession seeking to be helpful, recognizing we need to earn a living. I try to achieve both as responsibly as I can. The sliding fee scale helps me better achieve both. That’s why I use it with all my services.

Need help with a family, relationship or parenting matter? Check out my services. You can read the description of each service and you can view the fee scale. Just please don’t ask me to negotiate it further. I hope that makes sense.

It would be my pleasure to be of service.

Know someone who might benefit from this information? Please scroll down and share this article.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

  1. Gary, Well put – it’s hard to be a social worker and not be concerned for those that have little means but hugh needs. I am also using a sliding scale and feel comfortable in the fact that those that are better off subsidise those that would otherwise not avail themselves of quality services provided by experienced workers.

  2. Comments from my other social media:

    I have found that potential clients who take issue with the fees you charge will find issues with you and how you provide your services. I love that you provide them with alternative options. That’s exactly the way to handle a situation like that.
    I do this as well. People still argue with me but I say to them that my time is $$ and I do give them alternatives as well. I am an addictions counselor so I’m very busy and I don’t have time between working full time and having a part time practice to deal with all the drama.
    I offer a sliding scale and I encourage other therapists to do so as well. I believe we all have some room for a sliding scale and you also have to know when to say “no”. After all I need to pay for my living and business expenses too. It’s OK to redirect people to other services providers.
    I’m with Amy on this too. Transparency, and decades of experience is worth paying for.

    • I totally agree with your reasoning. Time is money. People will mess with you if you let them. We deal with CHAOTIC PEOPLE AND LIVES We don’t need to be part of the Chaos though. Traumatologist, Psychotherapist, clinical lead and College Lecturer. ~ George Milton Keynes England UK.

  3. Martin vamos permalink

    Well worth reading…

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