Tuesday, January 20

Counseling by the Numbers

Here's a quiz: Who should get paid more: Your lawyer, or your counselor?

If you guessed "lawyer," buzzzzzzz.

Your lawyer spent less money, and less time, to become a lawyer than your counselor spent to become a counselor.

And every year, your counselor keeps spending more than your lawyer to stay in business.

Becoming a therapist in Washington State is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than becoming an attorney. Not only does it take three to four years longer to become a therapist than an attorney; in most cases, the actual annual cost is simply higher to maintain a practice.

You enjoy looking at numbers? Here's a chart!

We compare the costs of becoming an attorney (JD) in Washington State to the costs of becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) -- one of the eight credentialed categories of mental health practitioners in Washington. 

One-Time Costs Amortized Costs
Over Career
Expense Attorney Therapist    Attorney
 (20 years)
  (16 years)
Bachelor's in psych (1) (2)
Grad school (3) (4)
Internship (usually unpaid)
one summer
one year
Qualifying exam (5) (6)
Required post grad work (7)
Annual license registration (8) (9)

Annual continuing education (10)

Annual liability insurance (11) (12)

Property insurance/Annual average

Small office rent/Annual average

Other expenses: Rough average/year (13)

Total annual expenses (pre-taxes, travel, other expenses) (14)
Average cost per client hour (15)

1 Craven, J. & Jones, E. (2013). Best Majors for Law School.

2 Average annual cost: $22,826 x 4. From (2015). What's the Price Tag for a College Education?

3 Law School Cost Calculator, 2015-2016. (University of Washington's three-year program, at an annual fee increase of 2%, and including $18,573 annual cost of living).

4 Cost of Tuition, 2014-2015. Antioch University's four-year Marriage and Family Therapy program, at an annual fee increase of 2%, plus $18,573 annual cost of living.

5 Washington State Bar Exam, 2015.

6 Department of Health's LMFTA initial application and license fee ($241), plus AMFTRB national board exam fee ($295).

7 Marriage and Family Therapists must spend two years working under supervision following graduation. Many work as unpaid interns; others work under paid supervision, at an average cost of $100/hour for the 200 required hours of supervision.

8 WSBA annual registration fee.

9 AAMFT annual membership fee ($251) + Washington DOH annual license fee ($156).

10 Attorneys must earn 15 hours per year of continuing education; Marriage and Family Therapists must earn 18 hours per year of continuing education credits. Estimated cost per credit: $100.

11 Low-end insurance estimate.

12 Discounted fee with AAMFT association membership.

13 Bare-bones costs for accounting and bookkeeping, health insurance, business licenses, billing software, utilities, internet, office equipment, furnishings, software, janitorial, consumables (paper, ink, cleaning supplies, postage)

14 Those expenses for staffing, taxes, legal compliance, travel, full staffing, and other items can run into the tens of thousands, but they're an equal expense for both attorneys and counselors. If your counselor or lawyer has a receptionist and an office larger than a shoe box, expenses (and cost per hour) will double or triple.

15 For each hour an attorney or counselor spends with clients face-to-face, there is an average of 15 minutes of associated administrative work (documentation, billing, other record-keeping). In a 40-hour week, professionals have 32 available hours of client contact. At 32 hours/week, 50 weeks a year, there are 1600 hours in a working year, before continuing education, professional development, etc.

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