I am often consulted for advice from art therapists regarding professional questions and concerns. Here is one, from an art therapist in a major metropolitan city in the US. She has given me permission to share this because she and I both felt it an important topic to contemplate and discuss.
Question: “I was asked what I would charge to do an art therapy group for a newly opening clinic. When I told them my fee, (the going rate in this area is $125 for a private practice hour and insurance reimburses $50 – $125) they were shocked because they wanted to pay $30/group hour. Are art therapists accepting that pay rate in other clinics?”
Response: Under all circumstances $30 an hour for a Master’s level mental health worker is not equitable pay. But let’s run through a few other factors that may make sense in terms of the gap between what you were requesting and what they are offering and then I will do a final price break down at the end and show why you would most likely find yourself in the red at the end of the year, if this is what most of your work opportunities were like.
There is a big difference when you provide fee-for-service work, also known as contract work, and employee wages. When the company reports your earnings on a 1099, you are self-employed. Employees paid on a W-2 status usually have benefits (i.e., health and life insurance, flexible spending account, paid days off, employer contributions to a retirement plan, and sometimes tuition reimbursement). When you are self-employed you do not have paid time off and you must pay for your own benefits as well as pay the employer part of the taxes, which, can be a big deal and add up to thousands of dollars per year depending on your income (between 12% – 15% of your earnings).
Second, knowing the number of groups per week they would like you to run at this rate as well as how are you compensated for documentation and/or treatment team meetings will be important. Obviously, the more groups and compensated time there, the better. You can make the most of your time if you are running three groups a day in one place, rather than three groups on three separate days. To leave the house for an hour appointment, there is a usually a commitment of approximately three hours:
- The hour to get ready, drive to the location, and prepare for the session,
- The hour for the session itself, and
- Then the time to clean up, leave some communication with other team members, and most likely documentation (which can extend this time considerably) and then the ride home.
And although you are technically not getting paid for travel you must consider this time in your worth, as we all have 24 hours in a day, no more, so you cannot fill this time with another job, time with your kids, or time making your own art.
Third, the market may be very saturated with mental health clinicians willing to work for anything. Sometimes there are many hungry new professionals, paraprofessionals, and students willing and able to take whatever work they can, thus undercutting clinicians with years of experience, appropriate credentials, and expertise. For many new graduates, $30 per group may sound really good (mostly because they may not fully appreciate their professionalism yet, nor do they fully comprehend the investment of their time, or because they are desperate with the thought of looming student loans and other living expenses).
Regardless of the stated terms, consider the added expense of liability insurance. The rate will be different if you are a contract, self-employed person versus working for an agency. It is more expensive for self-employed persons.
The penultimate consideration: Assess if the hiring agency is a big-name place that has a lot of prestige. If so, you may be surprised what doors this experience may open for you in the future and likewise, they may know this and use it to their advantage as the “honor” to work for them may be bigger than you realize at the moment (this is hard to gauge but I believe it is worth mentioning as it too can lower the going rate due to perceived prestige and because there are so many applicants).
Lastly, location can make a big difference. For example, the going rate in San Francisco versus some small town where the cost of living is very low may not be accounted for. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it may be that this new clinic is coming from a lower cost of living area and opening in your city, presumably a place with a higher cost of living or paying wage. Take this last bit cum grano salis (with a grain of salt) because most successful companies who are expanding to new cities do a detailed cost analysis including competitive pay scales before making the decision to open their doors.
If it turns out that this is a contract only job, and you are responsible for all of your taxes and have no benefits, let’s break this down:
- If your group is 1 hour but you devote three hours of your day to it, right there it is $10 per hour. Most people will pay approximately 1/3 of your income to taxes, bringing their take home pay to $20 for three hours (approx. $6.70/ hour).
- In addition to this, in order to hold yourself out as a professional, you pay dues to your professional membership and credentialing agencies, and your liability insurance. Let’s just ballpark these three figures to be approx. $500 per year which is roughly $10 per week. At this point your earnings are $10 for your three hours (approx. $3.30/hour) assuming this is the only work you have at the moment.
- But really you are paying to go to this job because, you must upkeep your credentials during the year via continuing education credits which is roughly another $30 per week, maybe more (I came to this number by taking the average cost to attend an annual conference and associated travel expenses [$2,000] and dividing it by 52, the number of weeks per year. Obviously, this number could be more or less depending on the proximity of the conference and what type of CEC’s are obtained. I personally think it is important to attend the AATA conference and do so whenever I can in order to keep abreast of the newest innovations in our field and for the collegial comradely).
- In addition to maintaining your professional standards, you need gas and insurance for the car and money for its maintenance, and your own healthcare, and if you have to pay for childcare – well, forget it!
Because art psychotherapists working as contract workers, or in private practice, must bear all the expenses for their business, they must charge well over $100 an hour in most parts of the country, which is comparable to other mental health professionals.
Now $30 an hour may be doable if you are working a 40-hour a week job with benefits. But as a consultant with this pay, you will have a similar plight as many adjunct professors. It seems you may be better off working for or consulting with a company that respects your time and expertise. Or honor your unique qualities and hard earned skills by marketing your art psychotherapy services as a private practice clinician and educate others about your worth.
I know there is a lot in this post and even more that could be said. Share your thoughts and comments below and be sure to sign up for our blog.
Need help negotiating a fair market price for your work, want to learn more about setting up a private practice, or just need some career support? Be sure to visit our workshop page or email: email@example.com to set up consultation with Mark or Michelle Dean
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