Yesterday’s work brought up the issue of payment for missed sessions. Most therapists these days expect patients to pay irrespective of whether or not they turn up, even if this is due to a booked holiday. The case for this system is that when a contract is agreed, the patient hires a specific time in the therapist’s working calendar and it is then up to them whether they ‘use’ that time or not. At one level this seems entirely reasonable – after all that is what theatres do if one books a ticket, and similarly our Yoga teacher expects us to pay up front at the beginning of term, and then if we miss a couple of session—tough! We argue that she should have a two track system so that one can pay for individual sessions – and therefore not for those one misses -- but at a slightly higher rate. (It occurs to me that therapists could do the same).
As a ‘hobby therapist -- my main income has always come from my NHS work rather than directly from therapy -- perhaps I am not best placed to have a view about this. But I have never used this ‘pre-booked’ system. If patients let me know by 9.00 am on the day of their session they aren’t charged. This has the practical advantage for me that I reciprocally feel free to take breaks when I chose – obviously letting patients know well in advance – rather than being tied to ‘analytic breaks’. So perhaps in my way I am just as self-serving, as at one level, I believe the standard system to be.
Nevertheless, ‘my’ (I am sure there other who work this way too) system has a better feel. I am not controlling my patient’s choices. If their ambivalence is such that they don’t want to come (and what psychotherapy patient isn’t ambivalent) they are not punished financially – only by missing the experience of the therapy. Since the prime aim of therapy is to enhance people’s autonomy, it seems to me the official system is disadvantageous in that has a controlling aspect, and also forces the patient to think about the therapist and his/her financial needs, thereby introducing an extra element of reality into the frame which can potentially distort the transference. It implies in a superegoish way that the patient ‘ought’ to come to sessions, and for ‘role reversal’ patients make them thik they are looking after the therapist rather than vice versa. In a way it trades on ambivalence. And yes, therapists, need to make a living, have to pay for the hire of a room etc – but then we have chosen to go into this profession, so should take the consequences. I suppose my view is that in the end if the therapy/ist is any good the patient will turn up; if not then they won’t and it is unethical to set up a system in which patients pay for one’s own inadequacies.
The counterargument to this is that the system helps patients overcome their ambivalence, and the resentment that having to dance to the therapist’s tune arouses is all grist to the transferential mill. The wonderfully paradoxical highest expression of this is the German state-subsidised system in which patients only pay if they miss sessions – although there too that is avoided if they give five days notice (so still pay if seriously ill which doesn’t seem right; but might help using a minor illness to miss session). As always in our work there is no right answer. I wonder what others think.