Stop Paying Therapists!

By Carl Patterson

“If you’re here to get rich or if you think you will be able to help every client, you’re in the wrong place.” 

Though possibly a bit naive at the time, I held a smile on my face as I stared ahead at the professor making this statement in a rehearsed manner on my first day of graduate school. The smile was on my face because I indeed wanted to help every client I would be humbled to go through the therapeutic process with. I wasn’t necessarily motivated by becoming rich, but I did want to be financially stable. 

I briefly looked away from the professor, my smile now matching the time of day it was. The sun had set on my face, the sun set but was not yet a frown as I cognitively searched through my rolodex of reasons for why becoming a therapist was a passion of mine. The professor’s mouth continued to move but he was muted through my internal search. He became a bad ventriloquist with a beard and glasses without a dummy accompanying him. I used the lack of sound as leverage to recall. If I couldn’t help every client, why was I getting into this field? To help some? A few? To become rich? He had already stated I couldn’t accomplish that either. He was clearly and consciously utilizing a form of pathos to connect to our values and feelings. It was working.

But I wasn’t discouraged by his comment. Maybe a bit disappointed but not discouraged. My teenage exile (exiles are younger and more vulnerable versions of who we are), who wore a cloak of depression for an extended period of time due to childhood trauma and had become unburdened five years prior, along with my adolescent exile who had witnessed so many family members age or even pass on without reaching their full potential within their passion, wouldn’t allow the doubt to creep in. As I became older, everyday became a funeral and at times I questioned what my future would be or if I would reach my full potential. Instead, I became determined.

I reflected on the ten minutes prior to the professor’s calculated speech. I was outside of the building staring at the facade. The word “Science” was bolted in the center with each letter capitalized and spaced out evenly. Six glass windows and four glass doors created the entry into my future. I was excited. I was nervous. I was ready! Or was I a bit delusional to think I could help every client? Maybe a bit of both or maybe just dedication. My professor’s opening graduate school monologue magnified my personal legend and just like Santiago, the protagonist in the classic novel The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelho, I also became more curious.

Years later, that curiosity led me to the idea of the need to stop paying therapists. As a recently Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), aka therapist, the title of this article is clearly a sign that I’m not afraid of being a risk taker. The title is somewhat meant to be an attention grabber, somewhat meant to stir up emotions (what type of therapist doesn’t intend to get their clients to feel?), and primarily meant to inspire both therapists and clients to be more intentional about accomplishing treatment goals.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was battling negative self-talk due to a poor week of managing my food intake and exercising, an internal protective part (a part that saves us from feeling hurt) sternly echoed the statements, “Be more mindful of your body! Avoid the doctor!” As an almost 43-year-old, passive aggressive serial avoider of the doctor, my protective parts know me very well. However, routine visits to the doctor are important (emphasizing important!) but I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to avoid illness and additional medical costs. Even knowing this, sometimes we tend to struggle with being consistent with our diet and exercise goals. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asserts that regular physical activity will help improve our overall health and quality of life and good nutrition will reduce our risk of chronic diseases (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023). I translate this to mean, eat healthier, exercise more and feel better (and “possibly” avoid additional costs of doctor visits).

Oddly enough, since I’m paid to be a clinician, this made me contemplate how to assist my clients without extending therapy (unless necessary) or maintaining therapy as a lifelong project. 

Therapy is a collaboration between a therapist and client(s) with the common objective to address the treatment goals established by both parties. The foundation for success is rooted not only in the treatment goals addressed in session but the tools and skills transferred to the client(s) that will be beneficial after treatment has concluded. The connection and relationship built between the therapist and client(s) is imperative to the success, but also the work the client is encouraged to do to maintain their mental and emotional health beyond treatment.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is rapidly taking over (whether or not you think that is a good or bad thing), and anybody with access to technology can quickly search for, “what is the best way to deal with anxiety?” or “what is the most effective way to treat depression.”But as we progress forward, how can therapists and clients be more intentional when in sessions to assist with maintaining and managing mental wellness? Therapists shouldn’t be focused on being replaced by A.I. or an improved search engine, however, should continue to focus on improving the therapy offered and if they are, that means at some point clients should graduate from therapy and stop paying therapists.

I determined seven subjective and not all inclusive objectives that I utilize and transfer to my clients:

  1. Interview your therapist.
  2. Become more curious.
  3. Be part of the process.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Share concerns.
  6. Reestablish and adjust goals.
  7. Fire your therapist!

Clients seeking therapy can use these 7 objectives to receive a greater return when paying for therapy. 

1. Interview your therapist: Clients should choose a therapist that isn’t just convenient but also the right fit. One of the most rewarding aspects of this field is that as a therapist there are so many ways to approach the career. In this field therapists can easily become forever learners and obtain new skills through training, books, consultations with peers, etc. Therapists can even specialize in certain therapeutic models or choose to work with a specific demographic. Some therapists specialize in trauma or grief or addiction and others lean into working with teens or couples. Knowing your therapist’s background and how they align with your presenting problem will go a long way in treatment.

For the therapist and the client, finding the proper fit is important. Essentially, both the therapist and the client should consult whether it is by phone call (15 minutes is a good amount of time to consult) prior to the first appointment (preferred method), or during the first appointment. The goal is for both parties to be comfortable with embarking on the process they are about to partner together on.

2. Become more curious: Curiosity starts with being motivated to learn and being open to new ideas to gain more understanding. One of the starting points for healing is with understanding. To be effective with curiosity, both the therapist and client will need to ask questions. Be curious and unafraid to bring questions to your sessions. Curiosity is also about actively listening and if you don’t mind journaling, I highly recommend it. Journaling can help with tracking symptoms, self-expression, give an opportunity to identify negative thoughts and behaviors, and exhibit positive self-talk.

3. Be part of the process: Start by viewing therapy as a collaboration. The therapist is there to offer a service that they have been well-trained in, but as the client, your willingness, engagement, and input into the process will serve the outcome well. 

“Not a game. We’re talking about practice!” Retired NBA hall of famer Allen Iverson is famous for his response to reporters questioning his lack of desire to practice to prepare for NBA games. However, I always tell my clients that the 50-60 minute therapy sessions represent the practice and the game is when they leave the session and implement the skills and tools learned in the session. This means clients should practice and apply the skills and tools that are learned outside of the sessions which will allow clients to make changes in real time and continue to be curious as well. The season is long and the goal isn’t to win every game but to build off of the wins we are able to accomplish; meaning practicing and applying will help you reach your treatment goals one win at a time. I encourage clients to find reading materials (if you don’t know please ask your therapist!) to help them better understand their experiences, relate their experiences to others, and deepen the conversation in therapy. Additionally, it provides an additional outlet. You can research and read articles or books!

4. Be Honest: From the initial consultation to signing up for therapy and completing the forms, to when you’re in your sessions, be honest. I imagine most of us do not enter a restaurant, take our seats, and wait for the waiter to bring us our meal without first reviewing the menu. Why don’t we? Because we are entering that establishment to be provided with a service based on what we like or want or need at that time. Otherwise, the waiter will bring out a meal that we may not enjoy. Your continued openness and honesty allows the therapist to assist you with creating the proper treatment plan and to also make adjustments as you go until you reach your goals.

5. Share your concerns: The clients I tend to make the most progress with are the clients who are open to sharing what is working and what isn’t working. In fact, at times I like to start sessions with a quick review and end them with a debriefing. This allows me to address any concerns or thoughts that the client may have reflected upon in the previous session(s) or during the current session. The therapist and client should have common goals and to stay on the same page. Clients sharing concerns is beneficial.

6. Reestablish and adjust goals: Healing during therapy can become a moving target as clients experience their day to day lives and receive treatment. This means there are changes that are possibly happening in their lives which may mean adjustments need to be made to the treatment plan goals. Some goals may not be as important as other goals at the current time or additional goals may be needed. Major life events can shift a client’s focus and for good reason. Ideally, the identified goals and the subset objectives are being actively worked on to completion, but it is important to be mindful that not everything is as ideal as we would hope.

7. Fire your therapist!: This may be another one of those attempts to grab attention. Even though I identified and labeled the objective as  “Fire your therapist”, what I’m really relaying is for clients to know when it is time to don the cap and gown for therapy and to graduate.

Therapists will also assist with this process by preparing for termination (aka graduation), exploring and processing feelings, acknowledging growth and progress made by the client, and discussing how the client will continue to utilize healthy coping strategies and other tools and skills after therapy has ended.

The Boyz II Men song titled, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” comes to mind whenever I think of this topic. But instead of grasping the sadness of moving on from someone you likely made a wonderful working connection with, lean on the progress that was made and the journey that reached its destination. Find satisfaction in the mental and emotional advancement. Sometimes the advancement is in the consistency and the effort; and that will serve clients well also.

One thing to keep in mind is that therapy isn’t something you can only attend once in a lifetime. Therapy is available when needed and I encourage people to be willing to seek assistance when needed, even if it means restarting therapy.

Which brings me back to: Stop Paying Therapists! Again, Stop Paying Therapists isn’t about encouraging people to avoid or quit therapy. It’s more about encouraging clients to utilize their time in therapy by being more intentional about equipping the skills and tools taught in order to graduate from therapy. We shouldn’t start therapy without the goal of completing therapy. The time we spend in therapy varies. At times it could be as brief as one session and at other times therapy can last for years. Whether it is one session or years of sessions, neither is wrong unless both the therapist and client aren’t being intentional about utilizing the time spent to assist the client’s needs. 

As a therapist who is passionate about my career, but more importantly passionate about helping clients, from the first day I speak with or meet my clients, I look forward to the day they can stop paying me. As a former educator, there was always a sense of sadness watching my students finish up their time with me, but also a profound sense of joy knowing they allowed me to accompany them on their journey through life, even if it was brief. And maybe my graduate school professor was correct when he said, “you can’t help every client”, but his intentionally placed words will never stop me from trying.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 9). Healthy weight, nutrition, and physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Carl Patterson was born in Jersey City, NJ and resides in Oklahoma City, OK. He has acquired a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from Southern Nazarene University. Carl is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) whom primary focus is on trauma processing utilizing the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. He enjoys reading, writing, and performing spoken word poetry. He presented at the 2017 & 2023 University of Central Oklahoma TEDx events and is the author of the poetry book titled, The Mis-Execution of a Black Son. His podcast Poetry in Layers will debut in 2024!

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