My name is Nikki Lister and I am in private practice as a Specialist Wellness Counsellor working in the
East of Joburg and also on-line. I took the leap last August to take a small office in a local health centre in
an effort to make my services more freely available to the general public and not just the church
members whom I had served for a number of years. I went from having little to no overheads to having
several monthly commitments, I went from offering my services free of charge to now charging a fee per
To say that this situation caused anxiety is an understatement. I remember sitting in my now beautifully
furnished office, wondering what on earth I was thinking! I’m sure you all have had a moment like that
at least once in your life; a moment of completely contrasting emotions. Feelings of excitement and joy
contrasted with a feeling of pure terror.
I have been self employed in one capacity or another for most of my adult life. This counselling journey
seemed to teach me more in just over a year than my other businesses did in approximately 15 years. I
want to focus on the question of charging for your services in this post. However, if you are interested to
find out more about what I have learned in other areas, feel free to contact me.
I share an office with some amazing professionals. There are 2 chiropractors, a speech therapist, physio,
oral hygienist, dietitian, reflexologist, and even an oxygen chamber. Each of these ladies is passionate
about helping people in their chosen field. Each has financial commitments like me and I am not sure
about their policy with regards to charging clients but I feel that I have a conundrum that most if not all
of these ladies do not share with me. It is one that I share with my fellow counsellors though and that is
how do we turn an individual or couple away in distress, who desperately need our help but can’t afford
How does one balance the need to help others with the need to honour one’s financial obligations to
keep the doors open? This is not an easy balance to find and one that I am working on up to the present
time. I could give you ratios of paying vs pro-bono clients to take on or recommend you take a day of the
week (a quiet one where fee paying clients are working anyway) to dedicate to pro-bono clients. I have
tried both these and more, but I still had periods where I felt that I was just not reaching the desired
At the beginning of September 2020, I experienced another moment of panic as I realised that for one
reason or another I had dropped about 1/3 to 1/2 of my clients and/or income. When I am doing my job
right people feeling comfortable and confident to move on (which is a good thing), I also had people
who ran into financial trouble and needed to pay me less or not at all. I sat with a scrap piece of paper
and did a few calculations. With my current clients and the uncertainty of COVID affecting regular client
attendance at times, I was probably not going to make rent and my other commitments at the end of
Within the next few days, I had 3 new client enquires, 2 individuals and a couple. The 2 individuals could
not afford to pay me at all, the couple could pay a small portion of my fee. What was I to do? The
anxious part of me wanted to turn them away with an apology and a referral to an NPO but another part
of me was already invested in these people and I felt that I wanted to take them on regardless of their
ability to pay my full fees. So, I added them to my diary for a weekly appointment each.
As a Christian I look to God and His Word for guidance and encouragement. Galatians 6 introduces the
concept of what you sow, you will reap. This is the principle that I have learned to employ to find
balance in my counselling practice with regards to client payment. This Biblical concept extends to
everyone regardless of worldview or religious affiliation. Anyone can benefit from this piece of wisdom.
Another off shoot of this concept is the idea of “paying it forward”. And this is exactly what I am doing.
Around mid-September after taking on these 4 new clients, I was able to take on 3 new clients. These 3
were able to come regularly and pay my full session fee. I was reaping what I had sown and September
turned out to be in most profitable month, financially anyway.
You might have gathered from this article that life in private practice is a bit of a rollercoaster with ups
and downs, twists and turns. It is a white-knuckle ride that leaves me shaken and exhilarated both at the
same time. There are constant tensions to balance and tough decisions to make. I have come to realise
that there are always going to be tensions, these I have heard called healthy tensions. So, in conclusion
in answer to the above question, to charge or not to charge? Go with your gut, sew, reap, pay it forward
and most importantly enjoy the fruits of your labour, financial and otherwise.