Should therapists reduce their prices in a crisis?

As therapists, most of us have to be business owners as well as offering our services, and our practices are subject to the same economic pressures as any other business. Although I don’t want to jump on the coronavirus bandwagon too much here, this is a very topical subject judging from the discussions going on via social media so, I thought, why not add to the discussion? Let’s start by looking at how businesses of all types react in times of crisis and then apply this to therapists.

How businesses respond to a crisis

In the past, businesses have traditionally increased prices when things get tough, arguing that it helps to bring demand in line with supply, and prevents hoarding because people just buy what they need when it’s expensive. It’s also said to incentivise companies to step up production of vital goods and services so they can maximise their profits while prices are high.

Applying this principle to therapists in the coronavirus lockdown, where face-to-face therapy is impossible and not everyone offers an online option, those who do could charge more because it’s become a premium service. And that ability to charge more may encourage other therapists to offer online therapy where they hadn’t done so before.

This approach is good for the profit margins but unpopular with consumers, who (probably rightly) feel exploited. It also leads to some vulnerable people being unable to afford vital good or services, and has led governments to bring in laws protecting consumers against excessive price rises and exploitation in emergencies, referred to as price gouging.

In recent years, however, the opposite response has started to be more common. After Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in 2017, for example, companies reduced prices of essential services such as flights out of Florida (JetBlue), and many phone companies waived text, phone and data coverage fees in the affected area (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon). During the Coronavirus crisis, Amazon are releasing free children’s audiobooks, TV shows, and educational apps, authors such as Neil Gaiman are waving copyright rights so teachers can read their books online, and many financial institutions are offering payment holidays or relaxing other rules.

Social media is said to be one reason for this change, because of the positive and negative feedback posted by consumers. So, the cynical amongst us may think that what appears to be an altruistic decision may in fact (at least in the long term) be a PR-based one, increasing customer liking and loyalty to the brands involved. But whatever the underlying reasons, the consumers still benefit.

Your therapy business in a crisis

The problem is that these examples are, in the main, huge businesses which will weather drastic changes in the economy much more easily than the average therapist. So, what should we do?

Before we look at the pros and cons, be aware that I’m not going to be able to come to many conclusions here because, in the end, the answer is going to be down to your individual circumstances. But I do hope to give you some new thoughts and ideas to help you make the decision.

I am also coming from a point of view that makes a few assumptions. Here they are…

  • You are a therapist who is willing and able to continue to work with clients during this crisis, almost certainly online. (If not, reducing your prices won’t help because you’re not working with clients anyway, although you could be considering what happens when you re-start your business after the lockdowns.)
  • You are a small business, most likely a sole trader or a company that just employs you. (The economics for larger businesses, or those with multiple employees, are different.)
  • You believe there are a large number of potential clients suffering fear, anxiety and stress, but worry that many have lost or significantly reduced their income, or they are generally uncertain about the future and therefore may be wary of committing to paying your usual prices. (If you have plenty of clients willing to pay your usual rates, you would probably not be considering reductions).

Should you reduce your therapy prices in a crisis?

Drawbacks of reducing your prices

  • Valuing yourself – you may feel you are not being paid what you’re worth, or that some who could pay your full prices are ‘taking advantage’ of your wish to help.
  • Client relationship – coming over as ‘desperate’ may change the dynamics between you and your client, so consider carefully how you will present the idea of reduced prices.
  • Price and value are different – but low prices might still impact on clients’ perceptions of the worth of your service. 
  • It’s a short-term strategy - it may be difficult to put your prices back up again after the crisis is over.
  • Getting support - if you are still working and being paid, however little, it may impact on your ability to claim support, loans, grants or benefits from the government. Make sure you look into this before making any decisions.

Benefits of reducing therapy prices

  • Debt avoidance - some money is coming in to help cover fixed costs such as insurance, rent, websites etc. even if it’s not enough to pay you as well. This might be especially important if you are a sole trader who has personal liability for any debts incurred by your business. 
  • Engagement - it helps you feel that you are doing something to keep your business afloat and/or to help those in need.
  • Brand loyalty - if a lot of your business is from word-of-mouth referrals, discounted clients now could convert into more full-price customers when things return to normal.
  • Genuine altruism - you may feel you have a moral or ethical obligation to help people in a crisis, even if they can’t afford your usual rates.

Other options - keeping your therapy business going in a crisis

  • Look at cost-cutting – can you reduce any of your overheads or have a break in any of your regular payments?
  • Offer a lower rate only to specific groups, such as key workers, or those who can demonstrate that they have been affected financially by the crisis.
  • Add value by including extra resources in your therapy packages instead of reducing the price – offer recordings, workbooks, etc to support the work you are doing with the client. 
  • Use your downtime wisely so you are ready to go when the lockdown ends. (This article may give you a couple of ideas about how to do this.) 
  • Review your business model - consider offering online therapy if you don't already do so, develop some additional income streams that don’t require your physical presence, develop some self-help resources for clients which you can sell via your website, sign up for some affiliate schemes whose services might sell better than yours are doing at present.

Every therapist wants to help people, it’s why we are in the job. We have to find a, sometimes delicate, balance between doing that and running a viable business every day because we know that, in the long run, if we don’t make a profit, we won’t be able to help anyone.

We know there are people out there who could benefit from our services who can’t afford us, which is why so many therapists do voluntary work as well as paid. In a crisis, these issues are thrown into relief. It’s not just the wish to tide our businesses over the crisis period, but also the wish to help where we can.

I hope that this has at least helped to clarify your ideas about pricing in a crisis and wish you all the best until ‘normal service’ is resumed.


Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
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