Therapists, we possess unique expertise on mental health to provide care for the clients we see. Sometimes, we can use that expertise on a larger scale to reach more people and try to provide support on a broader scale. Unfortunately, the companies who want to partner with us to make this information available often expect us to work for free while they profit off of our knowledge.
Several months ago, a certain company who (according to Google) is currently valued at almost $200 billion asked me to help create an application featuring resources for parents. They balked at my suggestion that I be compensated for my time, even though they planned to sell the app to make even larger profits for their company. Excuse me?
Multiple times per week I get messages on LinkedIn asking to have “just a conversation” to “pick my brain” about mental health, almost always by large companies who plan to use my knowledge for their own profit. Many of my colleagues experience this too. But when we want to be paid for our labor, we’re greedy for not wanting to help people.
(Incidentally, when I started charging a consultation rate for my expertise, that added income has freed me up to increase my sliding scale and pro bono therapy hours! Multi billion dollar companies don’t need a break. People who are just trying to get mental health support do.)
I have started setting boundaries around my professional energy and set up consultation services for which I charge a rate that reflects the specialized expertise that goes into the role. Here are my tips for offering consultatoins.
- Your rate should be high. The companies who seek this service plan to use your knowledge to make them money, and they should pay you at a rate that reflects the value that you bring. Frankly, no matter what rate you choose, you’re going to be told that it’s too high (especially if you’re a woman, doubly so if you’re BIPOC). You need to factor in the unpaid time you spend listening to people argue with you about your rate, and don’t be afraid to cut off anyone who wants to negotiate with you about it.
- No, higher than that. Whatever number popped into your head when you read #1, add $50. Seriously, you are worth it. Graduate school trains us to not expect compensation for our labor, and it is a problem. You have specialized expertise that took years to cultivate, and you deserve to be compensated accordingly.
- Your rate should be set. This is not a negotiation. Your consultation rate is what it is, and they can pay it or they can stop wasting your time.
- Publish your rate. While it didn’t eliminate the problem of companies expecting unpaid expertise, I significantly reduced requests by putting my consultation rate in my LinkedIn profile. This also allows me to respond to the requests that I do get by confirming that they saw the information in my profile. They can’t claim it is a surprise – it’s the first thing on my page.
- They should pay you up front. I have heard multiple stories of companies stating that they agree to the consultation rate and later claiming that there was a “misunderstanding” – “That first meeting was just an interview!” “No, we never agreed to that.” “Oh no, our funding fell through!” – and again, the therapist was considered rude or cruel for still expecting to be paid the agreed-upon rate. It’s not ok for them to manipulate us like that, and one way to avoid that is to request pay in advance.
- You’re not being rude for expecting to be paid. They’re being rude for expecting you to work for free. I had to re-train myself to be assertive about consultation fees, and it took some work.
Companies trying to maximize their profits using therapist expertise are not the same as the clients we serve. Anyone who plans to turn your knowledge into their profits should compensate you accordingly. I hope that the more we push back on the assumption that our expertise is available for free, the more these companies learn to stop expecting it.