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Do Good or Make Money: Which Side are YOU on?

For those of us in the helping professions – therapists, social workers, psychologists – there is a split that divides us. It goes something like this:

There are those of us who are in the field to “help people” and those of us who are just here to “make money.”

Or at least that’s the attitude that subtly (or not so subtly) makes its way into the conversation when talking about money and therapy.


I’m at a therapist-civilian party. I am talking to a therapist colleague of mine and I point out a friend who works in tech.

The response: “Oh, she works in the corporate world,” an unmistakable sneer curling the upper right corner of the fellow therapist’s lip as he spits out the detestable word. Corporate.

Then there are the frowns of disapproval and chagrin when a peer speaks of raising her fees and refusing to accept any new sliding scale patients. The implication being that she already sold out by choosing private practice over non-profit work and now she is raising her fees?!

Given our extensive education, we therapists know that when we bristle and attack, we are feeling threatened. At the heart of this false binary – doing good OR making money – are feelings of fear and envy.

Upon hearing about our colleague’s financial success, a set of complex responses is set in motion.

  1. We remember our heap of student loans, feel a twinge of guilt about that credit card balance, and realize that our rent is due tomorrow.
  2. We are suddenly awash with envy as we imagine how relieving it would be to have a financial safety net and the opportunity to splurge on a nice dinner without fear of falling impossibly behind.
  3. Then the defenses kick in. In order to justify the choices that led us to a financial landscape based in fear, we go into attack mode, putting ourselves on a pedestal of altruism (“doing good”) and devaluing the other for being selfish (“making money”).

The truth is this false binary sets up a situation in which we can burn ourselves out “doing good,” which, in the end, does no one good. And, on the other side of this false binary, there’s a feeling that if we set financial goals, we are no longer contributing to the world.

We have all experienced the burnout that comes with working in a broken system while reaping little financial compensation. We want to make change. We get together in groups to discuss all the ways the systems are broken. But then, at the end of the day, we go home, pass out, only to begin another 12-hour slog the next day.

This often leaves us feeling resentful, frustrated and defeated.

In reality, money is simply a tool. Despite the skepticism I see on the faces of my colleagues when I point this out, there are many people who use their money to do good. With more money, it is possible to do more good – for others and for yourself.

For example, one colleague I know uses the income she earns from clients who can afford her fee to hire web designers that come from marginalized backgrounds. She is able to employ and mentor contractors who are in urban areas that provide little access to local job opportunities.

It is inevitable that the false-dichotomy attitudes make their way into our clinical work, whether that be with low-income families, incarcerated youth or Fortune 500 CEOs.

If we’re conflicted about our own financial well-being, then we are undoubtedly operating from a poverty mindset that impacts the ability of our clients to succeed. We are unconsciously suggesting that if you win, I lose and if I win, you lose. This perpetuates an environment of paranoia, passive aggression, and competition.

At the end of the day, it is a choice. Some of us experience incredible fulfillment working long days helping populations that our society pushes aside. Others of us find fulfillment in doing work that leads to enough monetary gain that we can both care for ourselves and care for others, with plenty to go around.

Pay careful attention to your feelings when hearing of colleagues’ financial success. Do you respond to them from a place of openness and support, or do you shrink away, responding to them with envy and resentment?

It is possible to do good and make money. Join me at www.HeyTiffany.com where I help therapists escape the scarcity mindset.

It starts with you.

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco where she specializes in working with young professionals who straddle multiple identities, be this professionally, ethnically or economically.

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