March 16, 2009

Why charge a fee? And how much?

I’ve come to peace with charging money for offering spiritual direction. In fact, I believe that my charging a fee benefits my directees, and not just me. Why?

1. A fee brings clarity.

Charging for spiritual direction brings definition to the relationship. When you walk into my study and hand me money, or tell me you’ve “Venmoed” me, or whatever, we know that the coming hour is about you. You can ask me how I’m doing, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to thank me effusively, give me gifts, or wonder whether I’m expecting something.

I see this idea at work in the relationships I’ve had with my own spiritual directors: Paying them, or in the case of my current spiritual director giving a monthly donation to her favorite charity, gives me freedom in our conversations. Knowing that I’ve paid something helps me relax into the clear space and let our conversation be all about my own spiritual journey.

2. Money signifies value.

When you pay for something, you continuously re-evaluate whether it’s worth it to you. I think and pray about my meetings with my director before I meet with her, and I show up on time, because I value the gift of meeting with her. Donating to her favorite charity (which is how she prefers to be paid) adds something to that sense of value and helps me remember the significance of the time. I stay engaged.

3. A fee makes the practice sustainable so I can keep doing it.

It takes more than an hour to offer an hour of spiritual direction. I schedule empty time before and after each session so that I can be prayerful and present with each person who comes to me. I deal with scheduling glitches and last-minute changes. I reflect, sometimes at length, on how to word a sensitive email. I read, study, and attend retreats and trainings to continue my education. I meet with a supervisor to maintain openness and transparency in my practice. (See About supervision for more about the importance of supervision.)

These things take time, and some of them cost money. But all of them, I believe, make my practice as a spiritual director more fruitful, and they all benefit my directees. Charging a fee helps me recoup my costs, but more importantly it helps me to sustain my practice without feeling resentful. I hope to offer spiritual direction for a long time, so I need to make sure I’m not being drained emotionally, spiritually, or financially.

How much do spiritual directors charge?

California poppies at Sky Farm

California poppies at Sky Farm Hermitage in Sonoma

It varies a lot! In California, I’ve encountered spiritual directors who charge anywhere between $60 and $180 for a one-hour session. My current director does not charge, and she said that if I really wanted to pay, I could consider donating to one of her favorite charities, which I now do each month. Other than her (and she is exceptional!), I don’t know any spiritual director who doesn’t charge a fee or suggest a donation, though all the directors I know seem willing to adjust or even waive their fee at times, if money is an obstacle. Students in training programs often are not allowed to charge a fee for offering spiritual direction while they are students.

I met a spiritual director who suggests to people that they pay her what they themselves earn in an equivalent amount of time. This seems awkward to me, but maybe it works for some people. Some spiritual directors are paid by a retreat center or church and therefore don’t charge a fee, or they ask that you donate to their umbrella organization. Some retreat centers offer low-cost spiritual direction when you pay for it as part of a package deal.

As for group spiritual direction, prices vary. New College Berkeley currently charges each participant $60 per two-hour session.