Multiple Streams of Income or Multiple Streams of Distraction?

This content is provided by zynnyme, an affinity partner of AAMFT. This information is not necessarily the view of AAMFT and should not be interpreted as official policy. 

It seems like every other podcast and training for therapists is focused on multiple streams of income. Write a book, start a podcast, launch a course, start doing retreats, what about integrating plant medicine? 

The truth is, you DO have a lot of options as a Marriage and Family Therapist! But the grass is NOT always greener. Today we want to dive into how multiple streams of income can lead to more distraction, less profits, and more burnout so you can get clear about whether multiple streams of income really the right next step for you in your career is.

A Shaky Foundation

Many therapists get little to no training on how to run a business. In fact, many only have to take statistics in grad school- which is NOT helpful in developing a business plan! In fact, for many of us basic financial math was not taught or shared with us.

Colleges and universities would be doing themselves a disservice if they taught us financial math in many cases. Why? Because master’s degrees related to counseling and therapy continue to be among the top worst-paid master’s degrees. Showing a student the numbers in terms of income while they are investing sometimes over $100,000 in getting a degree is just bad math!

As we start to move into seeing clients during practicums and internships, we are often unpaid or severely underpaid. I was lucky enough in California as an MFT Trainee to have a job paying $15/hr where I could also gather hours. People were jealous of my income. And yes, I had to take a pay cut to do this work because I had been supporting myself working in corporate America previously.

Getting paid ANYTHING feels like a luxury. Most people around us aren’t getting paid much. So, being overworked and underpaid feels normal. It is normal… in this profession. We often replicate this when we start our private practices. Of course, we end up with practices that leave us living paycheck to paycheck, client to client, or without any retirement. You are NOT alone if you need more income as a therapist. You didn’t do anything wrong if you replicated and emulated what you learned and saw and are realizing it doesn’t work for you.

So, isn’t another stream of income, passive income, or a side hustle the obvious solution to this problem? In our experience, having coached therapists for almost two decades, in 90% of cases, it is a distraction from the real issue, and it will actually exacerbate the lack of income and overworking versus solve the problem.

Why are multiple streams of income a distraction for most MFTs?

The truth is, you likely don’t have additional time or energy as it is. You’ve been overworked and underpaid for so long. There are so many hours in the day. Many MFTs today are literally living and working with poverty wages, even with a master’s degree (or higher) and a professional license and it is NOT ok. The first step is not to create another stream of income and replicate being underpaid in a new way.

The first step is to get to the bottom of why your current business or full-time income is not fully supporting you. You should be able to live comfortably, have a savings account, go on vacations, pay down debt, and yes even do a bit towards retirement with one stream of income. If you living paycheck to paycheck, on income repayment for your student loans, etc. something is out of alignment. So, let’s start there.

Are you charging a fee that is truly sustainable?

We know you want therapy to be accessible to as many people as possible. But, if you are struggling to pay your bills, or even losing your love for the work because of the financial struggles that is not going to make therapy more accessible. In fact, more people are leaving the mental health field than entering it right now. We need as many MFTs to stay in this work as possible to make it accessible. So, can we get honest about what it takes to do this work? Here is a link to our free how to set fees training for therapists where we will dig into ethics and give you a clear formula for setting a sustainable fee.

Are you accepting sustainable reimbursements from insurance companies?

Why are therapists in Conway, AR getting reimbursed 40% more for the same CPT code as a therapist living in Los Angeles, CA? We can tell you it is not related to the cost of living. The truth is, insurance companies decide their reasonable and customary rate based on what therapists will agree to and based on making profits. In fact, according to Becker’s Payer Issues the top 5 insurance companies had profits of more than 40 billion dollars after paying their providers. Have you gotten clear on what your average fee or reimbursement rate needs to be in order to sustain. The truth is, the insurance companies are required to have available providers. They are not required to pay well. But, of course, in places where there are fewer therapists willing to say yes to low reimbursement rates, the rates will shift.

Are You Undervaluing Your Labor?

 Over the last several years we have seen online mental health tech companies come in and disrupt the mental health space in some good and bad ways. They helped normalize therapy. They helped normalize online therapy. But, in many cases they normalized very low contract rates for independent contractors, as well as putting advertising over quality of care. If you feel angry at what online mental health tech companies are doing there is only one solution. Do not give them your labor. Without access to boundless, cheap labor these companies cannot continue to underpay therapists.

While we believe multiple streams of income can be great- it is SO important that you focus on having one solid, sustainable source of income first. Often even additional sources of income come out of a balanced life and some stability. Otherwise, we will just keep replicating the therapist’s way of being overworked and underpaid.

As a member of AAMFT, you get special discounts for Business building help from zynnyme. You can learn more about how we help and your discount here.

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