Therapists hate selling therapy.
And what I mean by that is that most therapists struggle to promote their therapy services and ask for money in exchange for their therapy services.
Should therapists profit off of providing therapy services? The answer is yes. But most therapists struggle to say “yes” confidently.
This adverse reaction to sales shows up in two ways:
- Avoid doing sales, even when their survival depends on it
- Shame other therapists for selling therapy
1: Some Private Practice Therapists Avoid Doing Sales, Even When Their Survival Depends On It
This isn’t an issue for therapists who are in an agency or group setting where sales are not their responsibility. But for therapists in private practice, selling is very much their responsibility and without it, they risk the survival of their private practice.
Yet many therapists, even when they are in private practice, still struggle to prioritize doing sales.
They get stuck in an impossible tradeoff. Their well-being for “the well-being of others.” Or their well-being for “doing what’s right.” Or maybe something else as we’ll discuss in this post.
Whatever the case may be, many therapists struggle to charge for their services or do so without emotional distress.
2: Some Private Practice Therapists Shame Other Therapists For Selling Therapy
The second way sales aversion shows up for many therapists is in their public treatment of other therapists.
In common spaces where therapists hang out, it’s common to witness therapists judging other therapists for selling therapy.
Phrases like, “That’s unethical” or “How could you charge that much!?” are common in conversations among therapists about selling therapy or profiting off of selling therapy.
You can also often spot therapists proud of how charitable they are, “I always have sliding scale spots because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Of course it’s likely projecting and protecting behaviors. But it still hurts! It hurts both the target of such comments as well as the vibe of the entire private practice therapist community.
Why I’m Publishing This: An Attempt To Be A Helpful Witness On The Therapist Experience
Before I dive into my thoughts, I want to clarify “the why” behind this article: the primary reason I’m publishing this is in hopes of being a helpful witness.
Drawing from both my own healing and what I’ve seen around me in over 6 years of helping therapists with their businesses, this article contains the things I’ve noticed and connected together.
While I am not a therapist, I am someone who likes to learn and think.
And perhaps by publishing my notes, it might inspire self-awareness, self-curiosity, or self-empathy for therapists struggling to charge for their services. Plus this could help increase compassion among therapists too.
No matter what spot a therapist is in with the idea of asking for money in exchange for therapy services, when you witness
- Yourself having an adverse reaction to selling
- A fellow therapist having an adverse reaction to selling
- A fellow therapist judging or shaming someone else for selling
…make space, take a breath, and drop into yourSelf. When you do, you might find that our own system as well as the systems of others are attempting to protect or get a need met. With this stuff, it seems pretty common that cognitive mind is not in the driver’s seat. If this stuff feels irrational – it’s because it is. And that points to a need for greater empathy, not less.
All therapists are good people. And all of them are also humans. And many of them are hurting just like the clients they are trying to help.
Content Warning – Descriptions Of Dark Core Beliefs Ahead
A few sections down from here, this article will delve into descriptions of the beliefs that can be installed by trauma.
If you feel this may trigger you, or you do not have the capacity for deep thinking or feeling into such beliefs about yourself, it is advisable to avoid reading. Venture gently and kindly forward.
What Are Sales?
Broadly speaking, sales are all activities involved in selling products or services in exchange for money.
When we talk about sales for therapists, sales usually consists of the conversation they are having that help a potential client become a client.
When done well, that conversation includes:
- Being curious about the emotional experience of your potential client
- Identifying what their current pain is
- Being present with them
- Asking clarifying questions as needed
- Being relatable, warm, and human
And it is all in an effort to help a therapist understand a potential client’s needs enough to suggest a right-fit solution to their problems.
At that point, it could be that the therapist’s own services are a right-fit solution and if so, part of that sales conversation is confirming fit, inspiring hope that transformation is possible, and caring for any concerns that they have that could keep them from taking the next step.
Sales does not include: pressure, convincing, persuasion. Instead sales empower a potential client with the insight they need so they can make their own decision.
That is sales.
The concept of sales is simple to grasp if you’re in your cognitive mind, and not referencing any emotional lived experiences of selling, being sold to, or traumas triggered by feelings related to sales.
Let’s walk through an example that has nothing to do with therapy to see how a sales experience can go:
If I can make custom hats, I might set up a hat shop and start letting people know, “hey, I can make custom hats. If you want a custom hat, I’m here.”
If someone hears about my shop and comes to visit my shop, I would start engaging in sales the minute I start talking to them.
I might ask them how they heard about my shop and ask what type of hat they are looking for. I might let them try some sample hats on. I might let them know what the hat’s can be made of, how long it will last, and what the process of getting a custom one made for them would be like.
I could also listen and care for their concerns. Maybe they aren’t sure about the investment into a hat, concerned that the hat would be crushed in their suitcase when they take it on a trip. In that case, I might be able to show them hat boxes or how to pack hats so they don’t get crunched up.
If the customer buys a hat, I would have successfully sold my hat making service in exchange for money.
Both sides of the transaction would be happy. I would be happy because I get to do what I love. They would be happy because they get a right-fit hat – one that is made to fit them.
In The Actual World, Sales Isn’t Only Transactions
It seems a bit reductionistic to believe that sales is only about a transaction. In the real world, there’s a bit more to it.
Sales are also about worth, honesty, transparency, justice…
- What is the hat really worth?
- What profit margin is ethical to charge?
- How were the materials for the hat made?
- Does selling a hat made with materials from unethical labor change the ethics of the sale itself?
- If a salesperson intentionally hides shortfalls of their service, are they profiting off of the ignorance of the customer?
And then there is also deserving. You can see that many people judge “giving money to big corporations” as less good than “giving money to a local business” – this means that some of us in society may feel there are more and less moral choices around who to purchase things from.
Capitalism, with its slogan of “profit by any means possible,” isn’t an economic system that prioritizes the care and safety for humans beyond the ability to turn a profit.
If anything, capitalism provides an economic incentive that compels humans to exploit others rather than care for them. The point is to be the exploiter rather than the exploited.
This is at odds of course with our needs for connection, belonging, attachment to others. So is it getting complicated enough yet?
Sales in the real world isn’t ever as simple as “just a transaction.” This complexity adds to and informs many of the ways therapists, or any human, can get emotionally distressed by participating in sales as the buyer or the seller.
No Therapist Wants To Be “That Yucky Salesman”
While people have positive sales experiences almost every day – the experiences that stand out are the bad ones. Blame that on brains that are wired to pay attention to threats more than safety.
So that one time a salesperson was super pushy, the time a salesperson was manipulative, the time you got home with four bracelets that you didn’t even want to buy but you did because you felt pressured by how persistently the bracelet dude followed you around at the festival, these negative sales experiences can all lead to feelings like fear and disgust.
It makes sense that we don’t want to be like THOSE sales people.
Therapists will say things like
- “Selling feels bad”
- “Selling feels gross”
- “Selling feels manipulative”
- “Selling feels like I’m taking advantage of someone”
And this urge to distance oneself from bad sales is influential for sure. That’s certainly part of what I believe is going on and has a basis in all of our lived experiences of being victims of bad sales.
But for therapists, I don’t believe it’s merely these bad sales experiences that make them sales adverse. I believe there’s more to it.
I Don’t Want To Be “Yucky” Plus More…
Dig a little deeper, float the feelings back a bit, and you’ll uncover therapists sharing sentiments statements like,
- “But they need my help, how could I charge them money”
- “Considering the way the world is, it’s wrong to charge for therapy”
- “If no one else is helping them, who will?”
- “If I charge just enough to cover my basic needs, if my head is just above water, that’s enough”
- “Since they are suffering, it feels bad to profit off of that”
Statement’s like these are not reflective of wanting to “not be a yucky salesman” – there’s something more going on. And I believe what’s going on is a bunch of unhealed stuff, aka: trauma.
Is It About The Money? A First Example Of Trauma Installed Beliefs Leading To Sales Struggles
For some therapists, their aversion to sales may be about money. But for others, perhaps not.
It’s not so much about “sales” or “money” but rather about how “sales” and “money” are received in the system of the individual.
Informed by my own healing experiences, my sales and money blocks have always been about my system protecting me from the overwhelming and unbearable feelings.
Both sales and money are strategies for getting needs met. They can totally be carried out in a healthy, ethical way. But when we are avoidant, emotionally dysregulated, or overwhelmed by these strategies, it may be pointing to something in need of our care.
For example, if I don’t believe I’m worthy and therefore how I help is of no value, it would certainly be difficult to feel great about selling my help for money. In my system, I’d feel as if I’m lying, manipulating, or cheating people when I was selling my help. After all, that’s the definition of a scam: being dishonest about the value of something just to make the sale.
If your system believes that you are worthless
And therefore that your help is of no value
Then it makes sense that selling something of “no value” would bring up feelings of disgust as well as trigger all the stuff that’s the source of these beliefs.
What deeper-level stuff is going on that makes sales and money so challenging for therapists?
Shame: The #1 Reason Therapists Hate Selling Therapy?
While there are a lot of potential reasons for therapists to hate selling, from what I’ve witnessed, it seems shame is the most common source.
It makes sense because shame is one of the most challenging feelings for humans to experience, acknowledge, and process.
Brene Brown says that shame is an, “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
And this feeling that we are flawed can connect into our limbic-system-level of survival. It may not stop at “I feel unworthy of love and belonging,” but go much deeper into, “I am unworthy of love and belonging and therefore I will not survive.”
Our system’s inability to feel that sitting with shame is survivable shapes the way we interact with ourselves, each other, and the world.
And it certainly could affect our view of sales.
Core Beliefs Rooted In Shame That Could Lead To Sales Aversion
- I’m Worthless
- I can’t sell something that I create because what I create isn’t of value
- I’m Undeserving
- I don’t deserve to make sales and money
- I don’t deserve a good life
- I don’t deserve to live a comfortable life
- Why would I deserve a good business or life while others are suffering?
- I’m Selfish
- It’s not ok for me to feel good when other people are struggling
- If I make sales and money than I’m greedy taking something away from other people who need it more
- I’m Inadequate
- I don’t have enough training to charge money for my help
Loss Of Control’s Connection To Witnessing Injustice
Beyond shame, there’s also something to be said about one’s reaction to witnessing injustice in the world.
And indeed. Mental health care IS inaccessible to many.
Wages aren’t high enough, cost of living is sky high, there aren’t enough social support systems, and the health care and insurance systems don’t care for patients or providers. Both sides get the short end of the stick.
“But mental health shouldn’t be a luxury”
“The system is broken”
“Everyone should have access to mental health services”
“No one else is fixing the system so I need to do something”
“I can’t accept that horrible things are happening”
Witnessing injustice can be a trauma trigger: triggering helplessness or responsibility-related beliefs. Parts of a system can activate to protect from feeling helpless, trapped, or out of control.
Core Beliefs Rooted In Loss Of Control That Could Lead To Sales Aversion
- I’m Responsible
- I can’t charge money for doing the work that is my responsibility
- I’m personally responsible for saving others
- I’m personally responsible for other people’s feelings
- If I don’t take care of others, I won’t survive. My survival depends on the survival of others
- Since no one else is helping others, I have to
- I’m not in control
- The world isn’t safe
- I’m not safe unless I make the world more safe
“If It’s Not Ok For Me To Charge Money For Therapy, It’s Not Ok For Other Therapists To Either”
While all sorts of trauma wounds could lead to a therapist shaming other therapists for selling therapy, wounds triggered by witnessing injustice feel particularly relevant as a catalyst for this behavior.
“If other therapists are charging money for therapy services, then they are part of the injustice” they think. And it is this very injustice that they are self-sacrificing themselves for everyday.
In my experience, knew that I made progress in my healing when I was able to fully recognize that I am not responsible for, and don’t deserve to, suffer and die for the cause.
Self sacrifice truly is too high of a cost for social change. And furthermore, when we’re able to operate from scars, and not wounds, we may be able to see that self sacrifice is an ineffective and inefficient way to cause change too.
But unfortunately, for many wounded therapists, they hurt others in their quest for “justice,” shaming other therapists for profiting in private practice.
If I Can’t Be Trusted, Then Should I Sell Therapy?
One of the key traits of trauma is disconnection from one’s Self. Often rooted in the denial of our Self to stay attached, we may be conditioned to feel safer outside of our feelings, needs, and bodies than within them.
If a therapist has wounds that lead them to be untrusting of their own Self, of course it would be challenging to confidently sell services that they provide.
Core Beliefs Rooted In Not Trusting Yourself That Could Lead To Sales Aversion
- I can’t trust my judgement
- What if I’m manipulative and I can’t tell that I am being manipulative?
- What if I tell someone I can help them but I can’t actually help them?
- I can’t trust my abilities
- What if I can’t tell what my clients actually need and end up hurting them?
- What if I don’t have enough training to help?
- Other therapists know more than me so I’m not ready to help others.
And To Top It Off, There Is Incredible Social Pressure On Therapists To Work For Less
With all of the core beliefs about themselves that can limit a therapist’s ability to sell therapy, there’s also incredible social pressure.
No therapist in the world can escape social sentiments like:
- “Therapy should be free”
- “Therapists charge too much”
- “Therapists are profiting off of people’s pain”
In many cases, the social pressure is an exact word-for-word quote of what the therapist may be already telling themselves.
It’s like a teen girl feeling she isn’t thin enough and then opening Instagram to see super bony-thin models, hearing her mom constantly shaming herself because she’s “too fat,” and seeing diet, low fat, zero calorie products in every supermarket.
Plus Kim Kardashian promoting a weight-loss drink!
Is that teen, who already has a belief about themselves about not being thin enough going to be helped or hurt by the world we live in?
The social pressure for therapists to undervalue their work is very real. And the culture of generally undervaluing mental health is real too.
Therapists live in a world that does not tend to value the service they provide which makes healing all the more challenging.
Therapists struggle to assert their value so they charge less then they ought to for their own survival. Incoming clients don’t always appreciate their low fees though. In fact, many take it for granted or try to negotiate even lower fees. The experience tells the therapist, “See? My services aren’t valued”
If I’m moving around in the world, feeling like I’m worthless, or like I’m personally responsible for taking care of others emotionally, or that I can’t trust myself not to manipulate people into giving me more money, and then everyone else treats me like that, then that could add evidence that my core belief about myself is true!
And it’s not the fault of the many people who need low-fee therapy either. I’m not blaming people for needing affordable-to-them mental health care.
I believe that the entire system of how society cares for mental health is broken. And it hurts both people and therapists.
But one thing is for sure: therapists are not the sole group of humans that should shoulder the burden of fixing it. Yet they often do – or at least they try.
Therapists Hate Selling Because Of Trauma Wounds? Maybe There’s More To It, Or Less
As I stated in the beginning of this article, this is all based on my witnessing and my own experiences. What I perceive and how my own system interprets it is limited. And there’s about a 100% chance that much of what I shared here in this article is me projecting.
I could also be reading more into it than is there. Maybe for some therapists, it’s literally not that deep.
Maybe they hate sales because it just feels uncomfortable – like outside of their comfort zone. It’s simply not something they’ve done before and feels alien. If that’s the case, the cure for them would be a simple, cognition-level “mindset shift” or some training.
Or perhaps sales it’s something that doesn’t match their personality. Maybe they just aren’t the “sales type” and would be better off in a group practice or another setting where they don’t have to do sales.
For some therapists, they could take a private practice building course, learn the skills, build a fantastic practice, and thrive.
And to be honest, I have witnessed that happen too. It’s certainly not the majority of therapists that experience that, but it does happen.
In any case, I encourage you to do your own discovery around what’s true for you. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet 🙂
Becoming A Healthy, Self-Protective Giver With Great Emotional Boundaries And Trust In Oneself = Goals
“Money mindset” and “ethical business and sales” courses are pretty popular. But I don’t believe they tend to heal stuff.
Just like you don’t want to operate your life from wounds, you don’t want to operate your business from wounds either. But getting to a place where you have the space and energy to work on the project of healing the deep stuff: well that takes time, resources, capacity, and especially requires safety.
If you are coming into awareness around how your trauma may be affecting your business, you’re not alone. A healthy nervous system is key to true business success.
Something that’s been helpful in my own journey is the idea of the self-protective giver. HBR defines self-protective givers as, “generous, but they know their limits. Instead of saying yes to every help request, they look for high-impact, low-cost ways of giving so that they can sustain their generosity — and enjoy it along the way.”
Vital parts of becoming a self-protective giver are being able to develop and hold great emotional boundaries and trust in oneself.
Sounds great. But how do we get here? Through healing.
Therapists Need Therapy Too
I realized recently that therapists are providing the service that they need themselves in order to sustainably provide the service that they provide.
It’s kinda a circular problem. Therapists routinely undersell and undercharge, feel stressed because they don’t have the time or money for their own healing, and therefore are unable to access the exact thing they’d need to lift themselves out of underselling and undercharging.
But as I said, I have been there. I can relate. And for me, the answer has been making my own healing a priority, even though healing is a lot of work.
If you’re in a space where you feel you can take action, I invite you to explore the answer to the question: what would it take for me to start healing?
Sales confidence comes from being healed. True compassion is boundaries. Trusting oneself results in exponentially better results in every area of life.
And you CAN get there. Go out there and heal. And not just others, yourself too. <3