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Is it okay to charge for counselling?

This question is often asked by counsellors who want to set out on the path of establishing their counselling centres or going professional.

There are organizations and individuals who offer free counselling services. They could be supported by other means of income or they might be doing it just as a service to the community. That is definitely useful and appreciated.

But if you want to charge for counselling, you should go ahead with it. You have invested time, effort, energy to learn a valuable skill and if you are charging for it, there is nothing wrong with it. It is like any other skill that is exchanged for value.

I was wondering why counsellors get this doubt at all. No other person who has learnt a skill doubts about whether she should charge money for it. Mostly, I figured it is the guilt-laden thoughts that come up. Guilt that is either self-induced or provoked by others around us. Here are two main guilt-laced thoughts that come in the way of charging for the service.

Guilt 1: “How can you make money from other people’s miseries?”

That is enough to drive a person on the guilt trip. If charging for helping with other people's miseries was wrong, then there would be no private hospitals. All doctors, nurses, paramedical staff should be working free. All medicine should be available free. But it does not work like that. People understand being charged for physical ailments and even just consultancy. A counsellor when he charges is doing it because he alleviates the emotional misery of his clients. He/She is not taking money and giving misery in return. So this reason is not valid.

Guilt 2. “You are charging money just to listen to someone?”

Throw this line at a new counsellor and this can cause them to shrivel and shrink. A counsellor is not charging them to ‘just listen’. Although that is one the main item on the agenda. If people around them were available to ‘listen’ to this person in emotional turmoil, then there would perhaps be no need of a counsellor. Listening is not an easy skill. Ask any member of the family. Besides listening the counsellor offers empathy, valuable emotional support and guidance to the client. A counsellor brings a host of skills to the table. A counsellor might prevent the issue from becoming bigger or the client doing something more drastic. While some professions are preventive and some offer cure, a counsellor often does both. She might prevent something more damaging happening and help in relieving the distress of the client.

Both the guilt-laden reasons for not charging for counselling are not valid. It is up to the individual whether to charge for their services or not. There are many counsellors who charge some people and offer it free to those who are not in a position to pay. Some charge when they take clients privately but do it free in an NGO. So if someone wants to charge for offering counselling services they should go about it without any guilt.

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