We all like to get things free. We’ll even buy one to get one free. There’s something about the word “free” that grabs our attention. When something is free, a part of us can delight in the feeling that we’re getting away with something. We might in fact feel a little bit sneaky, or fear that we’re taking advantage of the donor in some way, however cash rich that donor might be. Free things provide an opportunity for us momentarily to live vicariously in the world of those who do, in fact, steal from others. How many of us, at least once in our lives, have said with a smile, “It was a steal!”

While I can appreciate the appeal of free products and the role that “freebies” play in the world of marketing, I have also observed that the childlike excitement over getting things free seems to have morphed in our society into a sense of entitlement. Recently I received a call from a woman who inquired about my life coaching services. She briefly told me of her current life circumstances, and I told her that I thought I would be able to help her. I explained that I offer a free 30-minute consultation during which we could talk in more detail about her concerns and I could answer any questions she might have about how life coaching works. She responded, “…and then what happens after the 30-minute consultation – I have to PAY?”

Although I have worked with a couple of hundred clients in my therapy and life coaching practices and have received countless reactions to the issue of fees, for some reason this recent response has stuck with me, and I find myself mulling it over and over in my mind. Life coaching, psychotherapy, and alternate therapies are often about empowering clients to act on their own behalf and in their own best interests. The creation of no-fee dependency is in direct contrast to empowerment. Interesting, isn’t it – while the offer of free services on the surface would seem to be a most altruistic approach, it can simultaneously serve to undermine the goals shared by the service provider and the client!

I will never know whether this particular woman would have valued my services, and worked as hard in her coaching process, if I had offered the services at no cost. Based on my past experience, however, my conclusion is that a client who sacrifices time and money to obtain desired services will place a higher value on the services and work harder to achieve the results sought. Some of my past clients have paid deeply discounted fees – which to them represented a lot of money – and they have been among the hardest-working clients I have seen. For that reason, I am completely comfortable offering a sliding fee scale that is based on income and financial need. But I stand firm when I say to clients, “Yes, you do have to pay.”

Author's Bio: 

Mary Ellen Halloran is a Life Coach based in Tolland, Connecticut. She received an MBA from the University of New Haven, West Haven, CT; a J.D. degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law, Hamden, CT; and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA. From 1999 to 2007 Ms. Halloran practiced as a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco, working with adults and children ages 2 to 12. In 2007 she relocated to Connecticut and opened Transitions Life Coaching in 2008. Her coaching services include the areas of anger management, self esteem and parenting skills. Ms. Halloran teaches a credit-free course at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT entitled, “Healthy Anger: Understanding It and Expressing It Effectively.” She is the author of Anger: Let the Tiger Out, But Keep It on a Leash (2007) and How Did I Get Here, and Where Am I Going? (2009).