Affordable counselling & therapy in Sydney: a useful guide

Access to affordable counselling and therapy in Sydney is an important issue. In this article, we aim to help you navigate  this process. Some clients find it difficult to pay the fees of private therapists, coaches, psychologists and counsellors and for them access to affordable counselling is a real concern. Finding a therapist with affordable counselling fees is important especially if you need or plan to attend long term therapy. Medicare rebates (available through the Better Access to Mental Health Scheme) and private health funds may apply and these rebates do help with lowering costs initially, however these rebates are capped, and in the case of the Better Access to Mental Health Scheme, limited to 10 sessions per year.  Affordability is of course a relative term and it’s important that you consider the value you are receiving through payment of the fee and ultimately the investment in your well-being.  Therapy is a process and can take some time. It’s also important to consider what your options are if you cannot afford to pay for counselling and therapy due to your personal circumstances.

Many clients ask the questions, ‘What is a fair and reasonable price to pay for a counselling, psychology or therapy session?, ‘Where can I find affordable counselling in Sydney’. Good questions with a number of factors to consider.

Here are some steps and questions to consider to help you find affordable counselling:

  • Fairly early on in the assessment of what is a fair and affordable counselling fee to pay you’ll need to consider the qualifications of the therapist you see. A university qualification in counselling, psychology, psychotherapy, coaching or social work backed up by experience in the field is a good place to start. Some therapists have worked in allied fields such as nursing, welfare work or occupational therapy and then have added to their skill set by training or specialising in counselling or psychotherapy to enhance their skill set. So don’t assume that the person isn’t qualified purely on the basis that they may not be a registered psychologist or clinical psychologist. Second to this consideration, is the experience of the therapist you see. There’s no uniform agreement about how much experience a therapist needs prior to going into private practice but somewhere in excess of 5 years would be a good place to start although you will find great variation in the actual experience (post qualifying) of many therapists.
  • Ask or check with the therapist about what the recommended fee for their industry is; this is helpful in assessing whether they provide affordable counselling. If there is no recommended fee then make some phone calls to other therapists with similar training and ask what their fees are. The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) recommended fee for psychologists is $241 (for a 46-60 minute consultation) and the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) recommended fee is $240 per hour. Professional associations such as the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association (CAPA) or PACFA may be able to make comment on the fees set for other professions and you’d be best to contact them direct if you have particular concerns about the appropriateness of a fee. We recommend that you keep the fees of the APS and AASW in mind as a ‘benchmark’ when considering therapist fees (therapists are free to charge above and below these fees however).
  • If a therapist has no formally recognised qualifications and is charging a higher fee, there are a number of possible concerns, not limited to the possibility that their training is inadequate or below acceptable industry standards. If they are making big promises on the results they will deliver then there are a minefield of concerns. No therapist can absolutely guarantee a result, this is impossible and unethical (unless not achieving a result means they are prepared to refund your money paid, however this too poses a concern as the deterioration of a client’s well being is a risk in these circumstances in which they may end up perceiving that they have failed or are ‘unhelpable’). The obvious question here is, ‘Is this affordable counselling?’.
  • Please consider that all private therapists (whether they be psychologists or counsellors) are reliant on the fees a client pays to cover their business costs and in turn their salaries and most do not receive public funding or subsidies to do this. There is considerable preparation time involved in client work (beyond the client session) in addition to administration (client notes etc). Private therapists are also responsible for their ongoing professional development training and clinical supervision. The fee paid needs to cover all of these areas. Most therapists aim to consider affordable counselling fees and some may reduce fees in some cases.
  • Be careful about making direct comparisons between therapists who may offer complete bulk billing to all their clients and those who charge a higher fee (once the rebate is applied). For a psychologist or social worker to offer complete bulk billing to a client, it is indeed a generous and kind act, mostly done in the spirit of making services accessible to a wider client population. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that therapists offering complete bulk billing to all clients in their caseload may be seeing high volumes of clients in one day (as many 10 or more) for a maximum of 50 minutes (and in some cases much less). This type of ‘scheduling’ can have effects on both the therapist and the client, particularly if the therapist is working full time (4-5 days) under this model. Let me ask you, would you like to be the 10th client seen in a therapist’s day? Some clients report feeling ‘rushed through their session’ and the treatment outcomes are likely to be compromised if this is their experience. You have a right to expect that your therapist is energised and ready to work with you, around your concerns (regardless of the fee you pay to them) and not exhausted from a long day of work. There may also limitations of complete bulk billing in which clients are unable to access therapy beyond the initial 10 sessions, and the true impacts of this are not clearly discussed with the client.
  • If paying to see your therapist means that you will struggle to put food on the table then you need to find someone you can afford to see. Although it can be difficult to discuss fees and the financial side of therapy, most therapists would prefer that you raise your concerns with them as soon as possible. If it is a case that you simply cannot afford the fees and that there is no room to negotiate on the fee (which the therapist is not obliged to do) then perhaps it’s time to look for a more affordable option. You may be eligible to access public sector, non-government or university student clinics for your therapy. Some therapists may be willing to negotiate fees for long term clients or temporarily for clients facing hardship. It’s important that you consider whether the therapist is already offering a reasonable fee (on par with a recommended fee) and appreciate that lowering the fee may not be viable for them either.
  • In some cases, therapists will offer a ‘package of sessions’ which could mean a long term saving but a big investment up front. Most therapists work on a model of a ‘fee paid per session’ basis so not to lock a client into an intractable arrangement. Making note of the therapist’s refund policy on sessions not used (if purchasing a package) is important to ensure that they are providing affordable counselling.
  • Many senior therapists, psychologists and coaches have invested considerable time, training and money into their professional development and therefore set their fees to reflect this because of the quality of the service they provide and the likelihood of good treatment outcomes and a supportive, validating client relationship.
  • There are counselling services that are publicly run and funded including those provided by non government organisations, (NGOs) and university student clinics that provide free or low cost counselling. You can still expect a high quality service and these services may in some cases be more suitable for clients on a low income, however the downside of this is that there may be a long wait and that they too may be limited in terms of sessions that they can offer.

Affordable counselling, therapy and psychological treatment is an important community issue.

Talkingminds provide affordable counselling to our clients

Providing fair and equal access to affordable counselling across a wide population of clients in Sydney and beyond is a core value of the team at Talkingminds. All our therapists charge a fee reflective of their experience and skill set and significantly below the recommended industry rates.  Some bulk billing and reduced fees (in cases of financial hardship) may be available to eligible clients. We welcome all discussions about this from clients who are seeking affordable therapy and counselling in inner west Sydney.

Contact us today to discuss our affordable counselling fees.