Babies Think Logically Before They Can Talk / Visual Thinking is Logical

Babies Think Logically Before They Can Talk

A new study shows language is not a prerequisite for some basic reasoning

By Bret Stetka on March 15, 2018

Symbolic communication in the form of language underlies our unique ability to reason—or so the conventional wisdom holds. A new study published today in Science, though, suggests our capacity to reason logically may not actually depend on language, at least not fully. The findings show babies still too young to speak can reason and make rational deductions. (Visual thinking)

The authors—a team hailing from several European institutions—studied infants aged 12 and 19 months, when language learning and speech production has just begun but before complex mastery has been achieved. The children had to inspect distinct objects (visual thinking) repeatedly—such as a dinosaur and a flower. The items were initially hidden behind a black wall. In one set of experiments the animation would show a cup scooping up the dinosaur. Half of the time, the barrier would then be removed to reveal, as expected, the remaining flower. In the rest of the instances, though, the wall would disappear and a second dinosaur would be there.

The children deduced in these latter occurrences that something was not quite right, even though they were unable to articulate in words what was wrong. Eye-tracking—a commonly used technique to gauge mental abilities in preverbal children and apes—showed infants stared significantly longer at scenes where the unexpected object appeared behind the barrier, suggesting they were confused by the reveal. “Our results indicate that the acquisition of logical vocabulary might not be the source of the most fundamental logical building blocks in the mind,” says lead study author Nicoló Cesana-Arlotti, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. A major component of human logic, he notes, relates to thinking about alternative possibilities and eliminating inconsistent ones: Does the dinosaur sit behind the barrier or does the flower? In a formal logic this is called a disjunctive syllogism: A or B; not if A, therefore B. (A syllogism is a conclusion derived from two distinct premises.

As part of their study, Cesana-Arlotti and his colleagues also reported infants’ pupils dilated when watching animations featuring illogical outcomes. This is known to occur in adults tasked with logic problems and provides more evidence babies are aware of the way things “should” be. “Their approach of using multiple trial types is very strong,” says Johns Hopkins psychologist and reason researcher Justin Halberda, who was not involved in the study but wrote an accompanying analysis in Science about the new paper. “I think many people would say that most of their reasoning happens when they are silently talking to themselves in their heads. What this new study reveals is that preverbal infants are also working through this same type of serial reasoning, and doing so before robust language abilities have been mastered.”

Cesana-Arlotti acknowledges his findings do not negate the importance of language and symbolic communication to human brain development, and to our evolutionary backstory. Yet the new research suggests that perhaps it is not entirely necessary to shape the brain’s logical reasoning capacities. He plans further work studying how preverbal logic might still differ from reasoning abilities that emerge once language comes along, as language may open additional reasoning abilities unavailable to the speechless brain. (Why can “brain researchers” not grasp that visual thinking is fundamental to the human brain, just as it is in other primates / mammals? Word language  introduces “word magic” – the default magical thinking of neotenic modern social humans, a “thought regime” that is very far removed from logical reasoning!) He also hopes to explore more deeply the mental development of young children. “Our research aims to investigate the earliest foundations of our ability to reason logically,” he says, “a major basis for learning, creativity and flexibility in the human mind.”

“To our knowledge, nobody has ever directly documented logical reasoning in 12-month-old infants before,” he adds. “The exploration of the initial state of logic in the mind is a very exciting enterprise.”

YIKES! Visual thinking IS LOGICAL. Word language IS NOT unless confined by  torturous rules and much self-discipline.



Verbal Logical Reasoning Tests

Verbal logic tests always consist of a series of questions (usually 20 to 30) based on short passages called stimuli. Each stimulus takes the form of an argument – a conclusion based on evidence. You will need to understand the stimulus to answer the questions based on it. Common types of questions include weakening, strengthening, assumption, main point, inference, and parallel logic. Each is designed to test your ability to understand, analyze, evaluate and manipulate arguments.

Test Taking Strategy

The best approach to tackling logical reasoning tests entails being an active reader. This means thinking about what you’re reading; paraphrasing the complicated parts; determining the topic, scope, the author’s purpose and passage structure, and author’s voice; and asking yourself questions about the passage.

Understanding Assumption

One type of logical reasoning question involves identifying an assumption. An assumption bridges the gap between an argument’s evidence and conclusion. It is a piece of support that is not explicitly stated but that is required for the conclusion to remain valid. When a question asks you to find an author’s assumption, it’s asking you to find the statement without which the argument falls apart.

In order to test whether a statement is necessarily assumed by an author, you can use the denial test. Simply deny or negate the statement and see if the argument falls apart. If it does, that choice is a necessary assumption. If, on the other hand, the argument is unaffected, the choice is wrong.

Let’s consider an example:

“Edward plays badminton for Epsom High School. Therefore, Edward must be over six feet tall.”

In this statement, the second sentence is the conclusion and the first sentence is the evidence for it. However, in this case the argument is not complete. The piece that is missing is the assumption.

From the information above, we can rephrase the example as: “All badminton players for Epsom High School are over six feet tall”. Now we can use the denial test. If it was not true that all badminton players for Epsom High School are over six feet tall, then we could not logically conclude that Edward must be taller than six feet. It would be possible that he was, but it would also possible that he was not. By denying the statement like this, the argument has fallen to pieces; it is no longer valid. This is our proof that the statement above is a necessary assumption of this argument.

This is an example of a typical question from a verbal logical reasoning test:

“If all beaches were publicly owned, we would have to rely on government funds to maintain them. It is true that more people would have access to the ocean and beaches, but at what cost? If the beaches are not cared for adequately, soon there will be nothing left worth having access to. We should consider carefully before nationalizing more coastal property.”

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the argument above?

  • A – The public does not want additional access to beaches.
  • B – The government is currently responsible for the maintenance of all public and private beaches.
  • C – The public already has some access to many beaches.
  • D – Other property has been nationalized in the past, with no complaints from the original owners of the property.
  • E – Some privately owned beaches are not well maintained.

The correct answer is B. Here’s why:

The evidence is that, while nationalizing will allow more people more access to beaches, it could also lead to worse beaches. The author points out that access to beaches is only good if the beaches themselves are cared for adequately and are therefore desirable.

The author’s conclusion is the last sentence: We should consider carefully before nationalizing more coastal property. So, the author believes we have reason to be concerned that the beaches won’t be taken care of as well as when they were privately owned. Note that nowhere is this claim supported; it is assumed.

So the answer choice must deny the central assumption and imply that the government would do a good job taking care of beaches. Choice two agrees with what we want, by saying that private beaches are cared for by the government. So, if the government were to nationalize those beaches, nothing changes: It should take on no new maintenance obligations, and we have little additional cause for concern about dirty beaches.

Tips on how to prepare for your logical reasoning test

Logical reasoning ability is closely correlated with general intelligence. However, familiarity with the types of questions you might face and some strategies for solving the questions will certainly help you perform better. Here are our five top tips:

  1. Practice sample diagrammatic IQ tests. Many test publishers also provide practice tests that you can access, such as Graduate Monkey and JobTestPrep; this is certainly worth doing.
  2. It can be useful to develop a mental checklist of strategies to solve logical reasoning questions, such as a list of different rules that govern size, shape, number etc. This can help you to work more methodically in the test.
  3. Look at one rule at a time. There may be extraneous data within the question, which is designed to confuse you. Focusing on a single aspect can help you work out what is important and what’s not.
  4. Manage your time. Sometimes you will come up against a question where you just cannot see the answer. Tempting as it can be, don’t spend too much time on it. Move on and if you have time at the end, go back and check it.
  5. If you’re struggling to find a pattern, sometimes there are clues in the answers. Look for any patterns or themes in the possible answers; that might help you spot what is important within the question. For example, if you have a sequence of shapes and all of the answers are squares or triangles, you know that the next shape in the sequence must be either a square or a triangle, which could help guide you as to why.

Just for the fun of it: Visual Reasoning

To my mind this has little to do with visual thinking, rather, it’s a form of “bookkeeping” using graphics instead of numbers / letters / words / vegetables / shoe styles / any set of objects. Once you learn the accounting method, what’s the point?   

Can you catch the instructor’s mistake(s) ?

Further information on aptitude tests

You may also want to check out these articles:



Asperger Hell / Social Interaction Re-Post

This problem was solved, but the “process” is relevant for almost any Asperger female attempt to negotiate NT male behavior. 

Can I trust a 1972 Chevy truck to be my one and only means of transportation?IMG_0975wp real

A week of dealing with vehicle problems has left me exhausted; it’s not organizing solutions and repairs, but the extensive conversations with people. Since I’m a “little old lady” and not a natural mechanic, nor do I have the familiarity with all things mechanical that some men have. Where I live jobs are not white collar, but blue collar mining and other resource extraction: I depend on energetic and honest “guys” for help, who are luckily, common in Wyoming. But…

Vehicles are life and death and absolutely essential for “work = money” in our “empty region” so, when I need help the “panic” factor is always involved. I have found that no matter how simple a problem may be, the world of vehicle repair is not immune to SNAFUs; the cost will always be higher than expected; obtaining parts can involve extensive searches, and I don’t do well sitting at home waiting for “call you back” calls that never happen. Being passive is HELL for me.

I know that the mechanic will never call: there is some “social ritual” involved. I don’t thinks it’s malicious, but “guys who can do real things” know that they hold power over everyone who can’t (college idiots). Plumbers, electricians, any practical skill – the best  one can hope for is that the job is done correctly and the cost is less than three months worth of mortgage payments.  But, as an Asperger, I know to ask thorough questions, even if a “stupid question” might be embarrassing. The mechanics in this case jumped on the “solution” of selling my other truck to them (the Dodge) to avoid an expensive fuel pump replacement, and gave a real low-ball offer.

Not so fast: a woman must remember that males can be genuinely helpful, but at the same time believe that women are inferiors in the social hierarchy and legitimate easy targets.

Asperger females do their homework!

It may take one day to resolve my current vehicle dilemma: it may take weeks. Once the Asperger brain starts an analytic process, time ceases. The optimum plan of action must be worked out in the intuitive arena. Right now I’m only at the opening stage of  vacuuming up relevant info. Scanning for a scenario that makes sense. Of course, at times I’m terribly wrong in making decisions – usually because I’m socially inept and easily blindsided by behavior that I can’t comprehend! Like mean people choosing to be mean, just for the fun of being mean. Or a person  whose job it is to screw up other peoples’ lives, everyday – and they love their jobs.

Ask, ask, ask questions. Men like to show off what they know, in case there is a woman alive who hasn’t noticed.

Being persistent means that you’ll succeed in 1. finding out if the “reality guy” knows his job. 2. His attitude toward women 3. Can he describe the specific work to be done and assign a cost to that work? 4. Will he write up an invoice for labor charges and parts before starting work? 5. Will he save the “bad parts” and show them to you? 6. Can he agree to do these things without going berserk?

It’s not that “reality guys” don’t do this “social ritual” with other NT men. Most men today know nothing about cars and trucks and are at the mercy of mechanics and high-tech design that forces consumers to pay outrageous prices for parts and repair. Case in point: New fuel pump 72 Chevy – $25.00. Estimate for the Dodge? $300. + labor. So, for my specific needs, can I get by with the Chevy – cheap and easy to repair – and sell the Dodge, which as it sits, needs a total of $1800. in repairs?

It all comes back to, how much $$ can I get for the Dodge?

Oh dear. The owner of the auto shop just called (surprise!). First dance: he wants the truck, but I’m not interested in his low-ball price, and said so. Then came the  manipulation / negotiation: He wants to give my truck to his teenage son. I’m supposed to say, Awwww. I’m a sucker for kids; you are being a great Dad, so of course I’ll sell it to you for nothing and screw myself.

This is what I find exhausting! My decision-making style is disconnected from social typical “warfare” in which someone “wins” and someone “looses”. My brain goes blank; Asperger blank at this proposition. I hate having to negotiate in the coercive manner that is normal for social typicals. It’s demeaning for both parties. I don’t dislike this guy, but I know that even if he “likes” me, given the opportunity, he will “beat me up” over the price and do his best to make me “feel bad” about my end of the deal, (I got ripped off) and I won’t feel “good” about any part of this “social ritual”.

The next Asperger step? Avoid decision. Stall. Be a Mule. And these behaviors, while attributed by psychologists to a “defective brain” are simply a response to being hurried, pushed or manipulated. Aspergers are thoughtful and careful people who are exhausted by social warfare.

UPDATE: My neighbor bought the fuel pump for the Dodge and did the replacement in 30 minutes vs. the 5 HOURS estimated by the mechanic. Savings? $500.



Impoverished Neurotypical Visual Environments / Infantile Perception

I’m wary of this type of “train your brain” website, but….

BRAINHQ / Rigorous training for better brain health:

BrainHQ is an online brain-training system that represents the culmination of 30 years of research in neurological science and related medicine. It was designed by an international team of neuroscientists, led by Michael Merzenich—a professor emeritus in neurophysiology, member of the National Academy of Sciences, co-inventor of the cochlear implant, and Kavli Prize laureate.

I’m finding discrepancies between “categories of visual attention” as researched by neuroscientists (detailed brain activity in laboratory tests) and THE EXPERIENCE of VISUAL THINKING. As always, this is the prompt to go back to basics! One “missing piece” seems to be the assumption that “attention” only takes place in the present, but subjectively, I know that “attention to present visual experience” can and does occur simultaneously with “attention to stored visual memory”. That’s what pattern-searching activity requires!  


How Vision Works

Solving the problem of converting light into ideas, of visually understanding features and objects in the world, is a complex task far beyond the abilities of the world’s most powerful computers. Vision requires distilling foreground from background, recognizing objects presented in a wide range of orientations, and accurately interpreting spatial cues. The neural mechanisms of visual perception offer rich insight into how the brain handles such computationally complex situations.

Visual perception begins as soon as the eye focuses light onto the retina, where it is absorbed by a layer of photoreceptor cells. These cells convert light into electrochemical signals, and are divided into two types, rods and cones, named for their shape. Rod cells are responsible for our night vision, and respond well to dim light. Rods are found mostly in the peripheral regions of the retina, so most people will find that they can see better at night if they focus their gaze just off to the side of whatever they are observing.

Cone cells are concentrated in a central region of the retina called the fovea; they are responsible for high acuity tasks like reading, and also for color vision. Cones can be subcategorized into three types, depending on how they respond to red, green, and blue light. In combination, these three cone types enable us to perceive color.

Signals from the photoreceptor cells pass through a network of interneurons in the second layer of the retina to ganglion cells in the third layer. The neurons in these two retinal layers exhibit complex receptive fields that enable them to detect contrast changes within an image; these changes might indicate edges or shadows. Ganglion cells gather this information along with other information about color, and send their output into the brain through the optic nerve.

Figure 1. Component colors are detected by cone cells in the retina All colors in the visible spectrum can be represented as a combination of red, green, and blue. In the retina, a full-color image is broken up into component colors by cone cells specialized to detect red light (long wavelength), green light (medium wavelength), or blue light (short wavelength). In the cortex, the responses from these three types of cone cells are compared to interpret colors.The optic nerve primarily routes information via the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, where visual perception occurs, but the nerve also carries information required for the mechanics of vision to two sites in the brainstem. The first of these sites is a group of cells (a nucleus) called the pretectum, which controls pupillary size in response to light intensity. Information concerning moving targets and information governing scanning of the eyes travels to a second site in the brainstem, a nucleus called the superior colliculus. The superior colliculus is responsible for moving the eyes in short jumps, called saccades. Saccades allow the brain to perceive a smooth scan by stitching together a series of relatively still images. Saccadic eye movement solves the problem of extreme blurring that would result if the eyes could pan smoothly across a visual landscape; saccades can be readily observed if you watch someone’s eyes as they attempt to pan their gaze across a room.

Most projections from the retina travel via the optic nerve to a part of the thalamus called the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), deep in the center of the brain. The LGN separates retinal inputs into parallel streams, one containing color and fine structure, and the other containing contrast and motion. Cells that process color and fine structure make up the top four of the six layers of the LGN; those four are called the parvocellular layers, because the cells are small. Cells processing contrast and motion make up the bottom two layers of the LGN, called the magnocellular layers because the cells are large.

The cells of the magnocellular and parvocellular layers project all the way to the back of the brain to primary visual cortex (V1). Cells in V1 are arranged in several ways that allow the visual system to calculate where objects are in space. First, V1 cells are organized retinotopically, which means that a point-to-point map exists between the retina and primary visual cortex, and neighboring areas in the retina correspond to neighboring areas in V1. This allows V1 to position objects in two dimensions of the visual world, horizontal and vertical. The third dimension, depth, is mapped in V1 by comparing the signals from the two eyes. Those signals are processed in stacks of cells called ocular dominance columns, a checkerboard pattern of connections alternating between the left and right eye. A slight discrepancy in the position of an object relative to each eye allows depth to be calculated by triangulation.

Finally, V1 is organized into orientation columns, stacks of cells that are strongly activated by lines of a given orientation. Orientation columns allow V1 to detect the edges of objects in the visual world, and so they begin the complex task of visual recognition. The columnar organization of primary visual cortex was first described by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, resulting in their 1981 Nobel Prize.

Figure 2. Depth is calculated by comparing the images in the two eyes Two objects located at different distances from the face will appear slightly differently in the two eyes. In the figure, the circle is closer to the face than the square, so the angular spread between the circle and the square will be greater in the left eye than in the right eye. In visual cortex, this difference in the angular spread is used to perceive depth.Interestingly, this checkerboarded, columnar organization of V1 is extremely fuzzy at birth. The visual cortex of a newborn baby has a hypertrophy, or overgrowth, of haphazard connections which must be carefully pruned, based on visual experience, into crisply defined columns. It is actually a reduction in the number of connections, not an increase, that improves the infant’s ability to see fine detail and to recognize shapes and patterns.

This type of activity-dependent refinement is not limited to V1, but occurs in many areas throughout the cerebral cortex. At the same time that the ability to discriminate lines and edges is improving in primary visual cortex, cells in secondary visual cortex, V2, are refining their ability to interpret colors. V2 is largely responsible for the phenomenon of color constancy, which explains the fact that a red rose still looks red to us under many different colors of illumination. Color constancy is thought to occur because V2 can compare an object and the ambient illumination, and can subtract out the estimated illumination color; however, this process is strongly influenced by what color the viewer expects the object to be.

If this is what you expect to see, “NATURE” will be invisible.

In fact, almost all higher order features of vision are influenced by expectations based on past experience. This characteristic extends to color and form perception in V3 and V4, to face and object recognition in the inferior temporal lobe, and to motion and spatial awareness in the parietal lobe. Although such influences occasionally allow the brain to be fooled into misperception, as is the case with optical illusions, they also give us with the ability to see and respond to the visual world very quickly. From the detection of light and dark in the retina, to the abstraction of lines and edges in V1, to the interpretation of objects and their spatial relationships in higher visual areas, each task in visual perception illustrates the efficiency and strength of the human visual system.

Au contraire: The entertaining animation of previous generations actually taught kids “physics”. Poor old Wile E. Coyote represents the “neurotypical idiot” and suffers the  consequences of a “supernatural” defiance of how the universe works. “Nature” is represented by the Roadrunner, who relentlessly tries to educate Coyote by example after example of the “stupidity” of defying the natural order. 

Note that “experience” is a huge factor in the development of the visual processing system. Mapping of “the environment” is crucial to later visual perception of “the world”. Poor exposure to all but manmade environments (the child is confined indoors, in impoverished environments, exposed only to TV, digital gadgets, artificial lighting, plastic toys, “stuffed” animals, animated and highly distorted and unnatural animals and settings, garish colors, etc.) without exposure to the natural world, essentially blinds them to Nature. Their “expectations” of what they will see are overwhelmingly dominated by socially-constructed images and surroundings. They expect a supernatural “world order” to exist, in which the laws of physics do not apply!

The ability to reason is learned from the natural environment, which is inherently “reasonable” – that is, nature obeys universal laws that describe the interaction of matter and energy, which are predictable. The “supernatural” manmade “universe” seeks to ignore, deny, overcome and destroy natural order.

Is neurotypical estrangement from physical reality – how the universe works – a mystery, when children have no “experiential map of reality” to guide their perceptions? And only possess a highly distorted and restricted socially-imposed “visual environment” as their “expected” perception. Neoteny-juvenalization. Neurotypicals forever frozen in an “infantile” visual experience. 


Diagnosed Autistic as Adult / Warren Mayocchi Blog (Aus)

I found this blog while looking for a “free” read of the “Not Guilty” paper discussed in this post. – Couldn’t find one.  WM is a software developer. The blog has a section on autism. 
It’s important to note the neurotypical equation: different = wrong, which is internalized as guilt, which is a socially-based judgement); I’m different = I’m wrong = I’m guilty of causing “all this”American neurotypical psychology defines “being Asperger” from this pathological point of view. Psychologists openly “mock” Asperger individuals who see themselves as different but not wrong; not guilty. From our own life experiences it becomes obvious that many of the difficulties we experience are the result of the daunting task of “operating” in a psycho-social system that is judgmental rather than inquisitive about human variety; a society that is crushingly conformist and religious, and anything but kind and “creative”.  

How much talent is wasted because society doesn’t like the package it comes in? 


Experiences of humans diagnosed in the autism spectrum as adults

“There is nothing new under the sun” is a funny phrase. Everything was new at least once, so it cannot be a true statement. But I understand the intent and human experience does form relatable pathways, particularly when there are shared elements, like being in the autism spectrum. A research article was bought to my attention recently – ‘The Not Guilty Verdict’: Psychological reactions to a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome in adulthood1.

The paper discusses shared experiences in the transition from ‘being an outsider’ to finding identity for adults diagnosed in the autism spectrum. It describes the process as a problematic search for an explanation which reaches a turning point when understanding is gained, resulting in a mixture of emotions (usually requiring professional and personal support). “Indeed one of the strong messages from this research is that diagnosis, for the individual with Asperger syndrome at least, should be considered not as a single event but as a process that may span months, if not years.”1 There are parallels in this process with the search for meaning most people undertake during their life, however the details do show the differences and difficulties introduced by being autistic.

Before examining the research in further detail, there is another important observation in the article to highlight. It demonstrates the value of diagnosis, even for adults, as undiagnosed adults can be impacted by “a variety of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and self-harm”.1 Also, in contrast with the adult experiences, the research does indicate an improvement for the lives of children with an “early diagnosis is associated with positive psychological outcomes for these individuals. The feelings of ‘difference’ from others, or indeed ‘inferiority’, is likely only to grow and be reinforced over time.”1

There are six common discussion areas detailed in the research paper – it is well worth reading from the results section onward. Quotes from research participants are included along with accessible commentary. Other people’s experiences has been constantly interesting to me, and reading about others was one of the recommended first steps for myself in the days subsequent to my own diagnosis. It was recommended to me as another way of testing the validity of diagnosis – probably as I am beyond trusting anyone, particularly in their judgements of me. So, here are the six areas from the research article with passages from my story2 to add further elaboration.

“Negative life experiences: The impact of negative life experiences on individuals before they were diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
Participants frequently experienced negative life events prior to receiving a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, often starting in their childhood and teenage years. One of the main experiences participants highlighted was of not feeling accepted and feeling they did not fit in with their peer group.

Participants reported a number of coping mechanisms they utilized to deal with their experiences. Often, these involved becoming more withdrawn and avoidant of social contact with their peers.

As a forty-four year old adult I do not recall any time in my life when I have thought well of myself. I have always known there is something different about me.

I am usually extremely quiet and reserved. It is a coping strategy. The less I say, the fewer chances there are for other people to notice the differences in me. There’s not much to identify me as autistic to the casual or maybe even prolonged inspection, especially when I am being unnaturally normal.

“Experiences of services (pre-diagnosis): The individual’s experiences of health services (good and bad) prior to receiving a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
All participants described having experienced mental health services of some kind prior to gaining a diagnosis […] failed interventions and reinforced feelings of not fitting in and being different.

“I knew there was something wrong with me from an early age”

“I had read loads of books and stuff . . . to try and find out why I was the way I was but . . . I never really found a satisfactory answer.”

“I am always dead paranoid that someone is going to say, ‘Oh we have made a mistake and you haven’t got Asperger syndrome . . . you are just depressed and psychotic [laughs]. So you can’t have access to any of the services. Go away.’”

Being “not me” was the communication style I had developed. I did not know how to behave in the presence of the people I wanted to help me – I ended up feeling disingenuous and hidden despite wanting to be open and as honest as possible.

Though I knew I needed help, I had not been able to ask for it in the right way. So, after many attempts, in 2011 I gave up looking with the conclusion that it was pointless. I concluded I was broken in a way not to be helped by medical professionals.

“Beliefs about symptoms of Asperger syndrome: The framework in which an individual’s difficulties were explained prior to receiving a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
Following on from their experiences of not ‘fitting in’ with their peer group, eight out of the 10 participants stated that this continued throughout their lives and that they came to believe they were ‘different to other people’. This feeling of ‘difference’ was often not specific and was highlighted either through their own personal awareness or other people’s insight into their differences.

Although many individuals stated that they held this belief, they were often unable to offer any specific explanation as to how they were different.

[D]espite their efforts to mask their difficulties, most soon realized that this was unsuccessful and could potentially make symptoms worse due to increases in stress levels.

“I knew I had something going wrong but I didn’t know what. I had known even when I was still at school that I had something wrong with me.”

“I didn’t know what was wrong with me all of my life, why I felt different.”

“I think that people only need to know me for a short time to realize that there is something wrong.”

Unlike the various hypotheses that attempted to explain me over the years – isolated child, force of nature, fatigue of work, typical man, and introvert – the autism spectrum has a comprehensive explanation.

How can I tell aspects are missing when I haven’t experienced them? There is never a clear sign. I can attempt to measure the evidence of my difference in the reactions of people around me, but I first have to be suspicious of a difference to start measuring. My suspicions can be raised in my dealings with other people – for example, why am I regularly confused when everyone else around me understands?

Something about me is unexpected. Many times I’ve heard people say my reaction was different from how they thought I would behave. Others tell me I confuse them, or they cannot read me at all. This is another source of evidence highlighting my difference – the feedback from others.

“Identity formation: Experiences of integrating Asperger syndrome and its symptoms into an individual’s sense of identity.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
All of the participants in this study had gone through their childhood and teenage years without having any understanding of their difficulties…In the absence of having any other framework within which to explain their difficulties, many individuals appeared to believe what other people were saying and internalized these ideas…[and then] felt that their lack of understanding of their difficulties had contributed to their mental health difficulties. By the time 2013 is reached I came to believe that not only am I a ‘failure of a person’, but I have a toxic effect on the people close to me. A great deal happened in between the younger and older me, but I understood early on there was something wrong with me.

I was not able to express those feelings to anyone. There are things I knew to be core truths, but they were difficult to translate into words. For me, I knew I was different. It seemed something was wrong with me, but there was nothing I could name. I could see in people’s reactions and how they treated me there were things I should have understood. How could I talk about it or even explain it when I didn’t understand? I didn’t understand what was happening, or that it was exceptional.

“Effects of diagnosis on beliefs: Changes in an individual’s beliefs and views of themselves, following a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
[Diagnosis may be helpful in these ways:]

  • provide a framework for them to explain their difficulties both within themselves and to wider society
  • offered an explanation for their previous experiences
  • exonerated them from being blamed for their previous difficulties
  • allowed individuals to access services and support that they had previously not received
  • meeting other people with Asperger syndrome, making friends and feeling as though they ‘fitted in’ with a group of people

However, despite this positive reframing of some symptoms, all individuals were still aware of their difficulties.

“Slightly depressed . . . not because I had Asperger syndrome but because I felt . . . like somebody released from prison after 20 years, or in my case 40 years and being told, ‘We are sorry we put you in there, we got the wrong [person]’ and then realizing that I won’t get another 40 years of life to make up for it.”

I did not imagine the diagnosis would improve my current situation, nor would it change anything about how my life had been.

For a while I thought there would be a reversal of this verdict. Perhaps a mistake was made, or maybe it was a joke, another prank on me. Neither of these retractions, or any others, transpired.

And there were other people in the world like me.

What an absolutely fantastical idea. More people like me with similar life experiences. Not so alone anymore. There were books about us. So many books, and articles, and blogs, and videos, and forums.

“Effect of societal views of Asperger syndrome. The impact of others’ beliefs about Asperger syndrome on the individual.”

Not Guilty Verdict Extracts1 Warren’s Story2
[Typical reactions:]

  • been aware of their differences for a long period and therefore were not surprised when they heard of the diagnosis
  • families felt relieved about the diagnosis as it absolved them of any blame for their relative’s difficulties

[R]egardless of the nature of the reaction by friends and family, all participants had realized that there was a lack of understanding of what Asperger syndrome was and how it affected the individual.

Family members who had been alienated by me now made sense of their experiences with me. For children there are interventions that will make a difference during their life. Many people question the value of an autism spectrum diagnosis for adults. Contrary to the doubt in those questions, the value of understanding extends well beyond me. It positively affected many people around me. Diagnosis was just the beginning of understanding though.

Though I have mentioned the reason for adult autism spectrum diagnosis previously, this has been a good opportunity to delve further and elaborate on the subject. Here are a few statements from the paper about adult diagnosis:

[It is important to recieve] a diagnosis in order to provide an explanation of behaviour, discuss previous negative experiences (including bullying and ‘not fitting in’) and gain access to support. […] Of particular note is the significant feeling of alienation and ‘difference’ from others experienced by the participants in this study … often without an apparent explanation. […] [E]arly identification and support for individuals with Asperger syndrome must be the ongoing goal of services yet, in cases of late diagnosis, there is a clear need for post-diagnostic support, informed by an understanding that a lifetime of negative self-appraisals is unlikely to be undone in a single assessment appointment.1

Punshon C, Skirrow P, Murphy G (2009) The ‘not guilty’ verdict. Psychological reactions to a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome in adulthood. Autism 13(3): 265–83

Mayocchi, W. (2015). Human: Finding myself in the autism spectrum. Brisbane: Crusma Pty. Ltd.

Visual Thinking / Inattentional Blindness

This post deals with a problem that few people pay attention to – inattentive blindness as the “normal” state of  neurotypicals.


What would we do without the crazy upside-down world of psychology?

Check out this gem by Marc Green, PhD

“The eye is not a passive device that automatically converts images of the world into conscious perceptions. Very little of the sensory information registered by the eyes (or ears, or touch receptors or proprioceptors, etc.) contributes to perception, with most going unnoticed. Everyone (he’s referring to Neurotypicals, NOT Aspergers) is inattentionally blind to almost everything during every single moment of every day. Most people falsely believe that they seldom experience inattentional blindness because they are unaware of being unaware….”

“Lastly, inattentional blindness should be viewed as generally a good thing. It is the price we pay for the gift of attention. Paying attention to one thing (like texting while driving?) means that we don’t pay attention to everything else. Without this ability to block out the irrelevant, we could not function.”

“The irrelevant” content he refers to just happens to be the universe that we inhabit! Any Asperger who reads this will recognize the inattentional blindness of  neurotypicals, who ceaselessly defend diminished sensory awareness as “normal” and criticize Asperger individuals for “seeing” a physical environment that social humans simply cannot perceive.


It’s unbelievable. The small number of people who can run really fast go to the Olympics, win medals, and are praised as super human. Aspergers types, (those who are visual thinkers), can perceive an entire world that is hidden to neurotypicals. We are labeled defective, and are kicked out of society as useless. Makes perfect sense!


Two interesting videos: The first, which demonstrates “light brightness” and attention to detail (he calls it distraction; I would not) are familiar to me. I always wear sunglasses when sunny and those “distractions” are potentially worthy as subjects of  photographs)

The second situation is also familiar! “Seeing” explanations for something “wrong or odd, out of place, not functioning as it should” and not having other people “recognize” the problem, occurs frequently. It’s frustrating, puzzling, and hard to let go, even when the Asperger understands that  neurotypical attentional deficits are real. “Pick your battles” is good advice. Just let it go if no one’s life is in danger. LOL

Evolution LIPS / Primate and Human Examples

Using our lips to suck is one of the very first skills we have after we’re born. In fact, it’s so fundamental to our survival that it’s known as a “primitive reflex”; we’re born knowing how to suck and no learning is necessary. That’s true for nearly all mammals. (A friend, who became a father for the first time, was astonished when he observed that an infant automatically suckles, but must learn to chew.) 

It’s the sucking reflex combined with another primitive response, the rooting reflex, that allows infants to breastfeed. The rooting reflex works by turning the infant’s head to face anything that strokes its mouth or cheek. As soon as something grazes the newborn’s lips, the sucking reflex is activated. While the tongue then does a lot of the work, the lips are vital to maintain a tight seal so that the infant can swallow.

Mammals without “human type lips” manage to suckle successfully.

That means feeding, whether from breast or from bottle, is not a passive behaviour on the part of a newborn infant. It’s more like a conversation, with each side doing his or her part in a dance elaborately choreographed by evolution.

The lips are of course also important in the act of eating other foods, and in speech. In linguistics, the lips are two of many places of articulation, or spots in the mouth and throat that aid in blockage of air moving out from the lungs. Bring your two lips together and you can form the sounds p, b, and m. To make the sounds f or v, bring your lower lip to your upper teeth. To make a w sound, move the back of your tongue towards the roof of your mouth while also moving your lips closer together.

“A study published in American Anthropologist shows that of the 168 cultures studied, only 46% partook in “lip-to-lip contact that may or may not be prolonged,” more commonly referred to as romantic kissing.”

Kissing isn’t universal, though it does pop up in some 90% of cultures. Darwin himself noted that there are cultures in which kissing is conspicuously absent. “We Europeans are so accustomed to kissing as a mark of affection that it might be thought to be innate in mankind,” he wrote in The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, “but this is not the case…[it is] unknown with the [Maori] New Zealanders, Tahitians, Papuans, Australians, Somals of Africa, and the Esquimaux [Eskimo].”

If kissing isn’t universal, it could still have its roots in biology, perhaps as a combination of inherited impulses and learned behaviour. For one thing, other species kiss as well. Chimpanzees do it in order to reconcile following a fight, and bonobos do it with some tongue as well.

Passing food or “kissing”? Either way, it spells “love” to an infant, child or adult. Kissing is symbolic “gifting” of food.

In a 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind the writer Chip Walter argued, citing British zoologist Desmond Morris, that kissing may have originated from the primate behavior of pre-chewing food and passing it to the kids. Chimpanzee mothers, for example, are known to chew food, and before swallowing, they press their lips to the lips of their youngsters to allow the food to pass into their mouths. Basic classical conditioning would suggest that by pairing lip stimulation with food, simply touching the lips would eventually trigger feelings of pleasure. Add to that the overabundance of nerve endings in the lips, and you have the recipe for ecstasy.

Lips are exquisitely sensitive (if sometimes slimy) bits of tissue. The part of the brain responsible for detecting touch is called the somatosensory cortex, and is found on the top of the brain in an area called the postcentral gyrus. Touch sensations from all over the body get sent there to be processed, with each part of the body getting its own little sub-division along the postcentral gyrus, and the size reflects the density of receptors rather than the amount of skin available to touch. For example, the part devoted to sensations from the chest and stomach is fairly small. Meanwhile, the parts that process sensations from the hands and lips are enormous. Just as the hands are a central conduit with which we experience the world, so too are the lips.

According to researcher Gordon Gallup, in cultures without kissing, “sex partners may blow in each other’s faces, lick, suck, or rub their partner’s face prior to intercourse.” But the so-called “Eskimo kiss” isn’t actually about rubbing noses, as early Arctic explorers thought, but about sniffing – exchanging scents. It’s possible that the act of kissing could have come along as an enjoyable means for sniffing out possible romantic partners.

Showing teeth and gums designates an ‘authentic smile’ in humans, but what does it mean in other primates? In neotenous females, showing that one does not possess lethal weapons (canine incisors) may be a signal: “I’m submissive and tame – no threat.” Males, the opposite message.

 Gallup studied kissing behavior in a group who should know a thing or two about it: American college students. He and his colleagues found that one of the chief means through which college-aged women determined whether a partner was a good kisser was based upon chemical cues, taste and smell. And according to his research, college women said they were far less likely to have sex with a man unless they’d kissed him first. Whether humans indeed have pheromones, and whether we can even detect them if we do, kissing facilitates the sharing of body odours, which can relay a wealth of information regarding things like basic hygiene. In another survey conducted by Gallup, he asked “Have you ever found yourself attracted to someone, only to discover after kissing them for the first time that you were no longer interested?” Of the men he surveyed, 59% said yes, while 66% of the women agreed.

Researchers in the Netherlands have found a way to measure how many germs are exchanged in a kiss. In a new study,  scientists looked at 21 couples and measured how many microbes were exchanged when they locked lips.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, kissing may allow us to judge the potential suitability of those we desire.

Reaction? GROSS. I never let my dogs lick my face.

SEE ALSO: Romantic kissing in world cultures (no claim made for scientific accuracy of articles below)

Swapping spit and testing chemistry: How kissing, germs help you pick your partner


Human Female Lip Enhancement: When women “fatten” and highlight their lips with color, which part of their anatomy are they promoting?

It could be in imitation of a baby’s “sucking” reflex, that is, in order to look like an innocent child (Neoteny – Pedophilia), or a blatant advertisement of sexual “readiness” – or both. (Or neither)

New Ideas / Last Common Ancestor Chimp, Homo sapiens

Becoming Human / Human Evolution, Ancestry

The last common ancestor of humans and chimps probably wasn’t much like either’t-much-either

By Erin Wayman, September 30, 2013

Picture it: an African forest 7 million years ago. An evolutionary split is under way. One species of ape is about to give rise to two distinct lineages; one leading to humans, the other to chimpanzees. What does this last common ancestor of humans and their closest living relatives look like?

For years, many researchers have just imagined a chimpanzee.

At first glance, that seems sensible. Even though chimpanzees are genetically closer to humans than they are to the other great apes, chimps appear to have much more in common with gorillas and orangutans than with humans. These apes all look so similar and primitive: shaggy beasts with long arms and hand-like feet for climbing and swinging through trees. Humans are the oddballs in this group. With naked bodies, nimble hands, a two-legged stance and, of course, supreme intellect, it seems logical that hominids have changed much more over the last 7 million years than chimps and their ancestors. This kind of thinking has led some scientists to view chimpanzees as a kind of baseline from which hominid anatomy and behavior evolved.

But over the last few decades, anthropologists have realized that this view of evolution is too simplistic and human-centric and insulting to chimpanzees. In reality, our closest living cousins are not frozen in time; the chimp lineage has undergone its own evolution over the last several million years.

One source of flawed thinking about the human-chimp ancestor may be the sparse fossil record of chimps and their predecessors. Scientists have little tangible evidence to track chimp evolution, so it’s easy to imagine that their lineage hasn’t changed much. But there are plenty of signs that these apes aren’t stuck in a time warp.

Some of those signs are written in DNA. In 2007, biologists reported that chimpanzees have more genes that appear to have been changed by natural selection than humans do (233 versus 154 out of nearly 14,000 shared genes).

Behaviorally speaking, chimps are also unlikely to be carbon copies of their last common ancestor with humans, a fact demonstrated by Czech researchers in August. The team used a family tree of apes and monkeys and 65 characteristics related to development, ecology and mating and social behavior to reconstruct ancestors for various branches in the tree. The findings suggest that both humans and chimpanzees evolved a plethora of unique traits since separating from their common ancestor, Pavel Duda and Jan Zrzavy of the Czech Republic’s University of South Bohemia conclude in the Journal of Human Evolution. (Gorillas, by comparison, may be quite primitive, having kept many attributes of the common ancestor of great apes and humans that lived roughly 15 million years ago.)

With their analysis, Duda and Zrzavy paint a picture of the lifestyle of the human-chimp ancestor. They speculate that the ape lived in groups where one male bred with several females and he provided some care and protection to his progeny. In contrast, modern chimps are more promiscuous, living in large communities where many males mate with many females and vice versa. Humans are considered monogamous, although our mating behavior does vary around the world.

Other evidence hints that the body plan of chimpanzees has also changed dramatically since the human-chimp split, according to anthropologists who unearthed and analyzed what they claim is the closest thing anybody has ever seen to a fossil of a human-chimp ancestor. Discovered in Ethiopia, the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus is the earliest hominid for which scientists have found a nearly complete skeleton. In 2009, researchers unveiled an assessment of the species bones. Based on what they saw, they gave the human-chimp ancestor a complete makeover.

Before then, many scientists thought hominids descended from a tree-swinging ape that walked on its knuckles when it visited the forest floor, just like modern chimps and gorillas. But aspects of A. ramidus hands, feet, spine, hips and limbs indicate that the species must have instead originated from an ape that was quite monkeylike. Rather than hanging from tree limbs, the ancestors of hominids (and therefore chimps) probably walked on all fours on the tops of tree branches, C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio and colleagues proposed.

That assessment implies that chimpanzees and gorillas independently evolved their tree-swinging ways. Lovejoy’s team suggests this kind of arboreal behavior arose in both apes because they increasingly relied on fruits and leaves in the treetops while human ancestors depended more on terrestrial foods. Eventually, as forests thinned out in Africa, knuckle-walking emerged in both gorilla and chimp lineages as a way for the tree-climbers to travel between patches of forest. (IE: knuckle-walking is not a “step” toward bipedalism)

Not all anthropologists agree with this analysis of A. ramidus, or even that the species was a hominid. But the study does highlight that chimpanzees aren’t living fossils. That doesn’t mean that studying chimps won’t shed light on our evolutionary history; it just means that researchers shouldn’t think of the apes (chimps) as direct portals to the past.


SEE ALSO: Before ‘Lucy’ there was ‘Ardi’: Early hominid Ardipithecus Ramidus makes its debut

Speaker: Owen Lovejoy 

Brain / Jasanoff “Not supernatural”

How biology breaks the ‘cerebral mystique’

The Biological Mind (book) explores how the brain, body and environment make us who we are. 

Review by Ashley Yeager, March 12, 2018

At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society. (Congratulations!) 

In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, now a neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain — its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural — as the “cerebral mystique.” Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff’s goal is to show that the brain doesn’t work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. “Self” doesn’t just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.

To make his case, Jasanoff offers an extensive yet entertaining review of the schools of thought and representations of the brain in the media that led to the rise of the cerebral mystique, especially during the last few decades. He then tears down those ideas using contrary examples from recent research, along with engaging anecdotes. For instance, his clear, lively writing reveals how our emotions, such as the fight-or-flight response and the suite of thoughts and actions associated with stress, provide strong evidence for a brain-body connection. Exercise’s effect on the brain also supports this notion. Even creativity isn’t sacred, often stemming from repeated interactions with those around us.

Jasanoff is critical of how the cerebral mystique reduces problems of human behavior, such as drug addiction or eating disorders, to problems of the brain. Such problems are no longer viewed as “moral failings” but as a result of “broken brains.” This shifting view, its advocates argue, reduces the stigma associated with psychiatric disorders. But it also leads to other problems, Jasanoff notes: Society views broken brains as harder to fix than moral flaws, making life even more challenging for individuals already struggling with mental illness. People could benefit from a more comprehensive view of the brain, one that includes how biology, environment and culture shape behavior. (Add to the supernatural brain mystique, social fantasies of “normal” behavior and pathology in neurotypical psychological dogma!)

When mental processes are seen as transcending the body, society perceives people as “more independent and self-motivated than they truly are,” and that minimizes “the connections that bind us to each other and to the environment around us,” Jasanoff writes. As a result, he argues, we’re living in an age of self-absorption and self-centeredness, driven in part by our fascination with the brain. (The cult of popular psychology is indeed, a religion.)

In reality, the brain isn’t a miraculous machine, but instead a prism refracting countless internal and external influences. A few more specifics on how this prism works — details of what is going on at the cellular or molecular level, for instance — might have helped support Jasanoff’s arguments.

But he does leave readers with a thought-provoking idea: “You are not only your brain.” Grapple with that, he contends, and we could move toward communities that are much more socially minded and accepting of our interconnectedness. (Two mutually exclusive and meaningless – undefined – notions in neurotypical word magic.)

Buy The Biological Mind from Science News is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Please see our FAQ for more details.

How many “MINDS” can one brain have? And exactly what is, THE MIND????

Try my definition: Mind is the sum of an organism’s reactions to the environment.  

Did our ape ancestors really fall out of the trees? / Updated

New paper added at bottom, below large illustration. 

The usual story of human evolution goes like this:


There were apes living in the forest just like chimpanzees do today, but something happened to make the trees go away, and the apes were forced to stay on the ground and eat grass instead of nuts and fruits. Why this only affected that particular ape, and not the other creatures in the forest, is ignored. Anyway – at times there were trees nearby, and the apes ran back, climbed the trees and like yoyos ran back and forth between habitats until they could walk on two legs.

What happened next is usually glossed over, but the apes end up walking around as savannah-living, walking, running, obligate bipeds who scavenge or hunt meat, having switched from eating grass, like a cow, to digesting meat, like a lion.

The problem is that most of this story is based on equating “us” (modern Homo sapiens) with the chimpanzee, which is not our ancestor. Our ape ancestors diverged from chimpanzee ancestors 5-7 m.y.a. – that’s what a split is. Their ancestors evolved into the chimpanzees we see today – living in tropical forests. Our common ancestor before the split was not a modern chimpanzee or a modern human. This mistake of confusing species that exist today with archaic forms is so egregious, that it makes talking about evolution nearly impossible.

Another example: Bipedalism dates back at least 3-4 million years ago, and that date is possibly conservative. Homo sapiens did not “become bipedal” – our ape ancestors evolved a bipedal habit. Homo sapiens is an obligate biped!

It is entirely possible that our ape ancestors were ground dwellers, not tree dwellers.

It makes far more sense to begin with a ground dwelling ape than to conjure a bipedal animal directly from a tree-swinging one – the structural changes are daunting, which doesn’t account for all the brain changes necessary to  reorganize how the body orients itself in space; balances gravitational force, coordinates muscles, reorients vision, etc. But here we are, stuck with a torturous scenario (and in a New York minute!) that must turn a shared chimpanzee blue print into a human blueprint.

It should be obvious that modern humans, archaic humans and our bipedal ape ancestors departed on distinct evolutionary path compared to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, and yet the chimpanzee is a favorite model for the evolution of modern Humans.
Reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba ape skeleton 2 m.y.a. compared to those of a modern human (left) and a modern chimpanzee (right).

Reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba ape skeleton 2 m.y.a. compared to a modern human (left) and a modern chimpanzee (right).






Neither chimpanzee nor human, Ardipithecus reveals the surprising ancestry of both

Tim D. White, C. Owen Lovejoy, Berhane Asfaw, Joshua P. Carlson and Gen Suwa

Abstract / Australopithecus fossils were regularly interpreted during the late 20th century in a framework that used living African apes, especially chimpanzees, as proxies for the immediate ancestors of the human clade. Such projection is now largely nullified by the discovery of Ardipithecus. In the context of accumulating evidence from genetics, developmental biology, anatomy, ecology, biogeography, and geology, Ardipithecus alters perspectives on how our earliest hominid ancestors—and our closest living relatives—evolved.

Charles Darwin famously suggested that Africa was humanity’s most probable birth continent, but warned that without fossils, it was “…useless to speculate on this subject” (2). Nevertheless, Darwin and his less cautious contemporaries and intellectual descendants used humans and modern apes to triangulate ancestral anatomy and behaviors, which promulgated the erroneous metaphor of a hominid “missing link.” Even today, despite thousands of available fossils, this deeply embedded metaphor reinforces the misconceptions that extant apes—particularly chimpanzees—can be viewed as “living missing links,” or that that modern African apes combined can be used to represent the past “as time machines” (3).

The notion that modern great apes are little changed from the last common ancestors we shared with them promoted the assumption that hominid fossils anatomically intermediate between living apes and ourselves would eventually be found. Now, however, long sought and recently discovered African fossils provide escape from such persistent but inaccurate projection. These paleontological discoveries do not yet include the common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees (the CLCA). However, they substantially reveal the early evolution of the hominid clade (the term “hominid” denoting all species on the human side of the human/chimpanzee phylogenetic split). These fossils have begun to rectify the mistaken notion that contemporary apes, in particular common chimpanzees, can serve as adequate representations of the ancestral past.

Much, much more!


Fees Therapists Charge / Business Model / It’s just like selling Tacos

Welcome fellow clinicians and small business owners! My name is Mari and I love providing coaching support. The Counselor’s Coach Blog is a place to find free practical tips and solid tools for building and growing your practice – along with some authentic, keepin’ it real, no bullshit thoughts on business life. Please introduce yourself below, and take a moment to share about your journey as an entrepreneur, and…enjoy!

Therapist Fees: One Size Does Not Fit All

Important Note: Before you begin reading, it is important to share that this may stir up all kinds of feelings and thoughts, and some of those feelings and thoughts will likely be challenging. Though we therapists cannot have a public discussion of specific fees here in the United States as it violates antitrust laws, I do think it is an important topic to discuss without specifically sharing one’s exact fees.

Expanding the Dialog: One size does not fit all

While the subject of clinical fees and valuing one’s worth is not a new concept, I thought it would be helpful to blog on this topic because I find that it is typically not discussed from a comprehensive business point of view. I read and observe clinicians and coaches writing and sharing some pretty strong opinions on this subject, some of which do not take into consideration variables like client demographics, generational trauma with respect to money, personal preference, clinical experience, and societal influence.

Many business owners (especially women) have been taught not to discuss money and have been shamed into silence from an early age. Additionally, beyond the anti trust laws, there has been a veil of discouragement on having open and supportive conversations about money in the clinical community. Conversations that take into consideration many points of view.

Please Don’t Shoot the Messenger

As an aside, I have also felt subtle pressure from a handful of colleagues, even those that I respect and adore, to keep my thoughts on my business philosophy to myself because it differs somewhat from the current popular group think. I have experienced a reverse sort of shaming that sometimes feels to me like, “Mari, your thoughts on this topic of fees feels different than my thoughts. Your business model is now stirring up emotional stuff for me that I don’t like. I’d like you to please just hush up because what I am reading is activating challenging emotions.” I try hard not to personalize the push back, or in some cases the sudden with drawl or silence, but it does get a bit perplexing and draining at times. If we as therapists are all about people having a voice, does that apply only if the person sharing their voice agrees with your point of view?

Comment: Hmmm, some rather touchy therapists out there? Not so “grown up” themselves, needing all this apologetic “blah, blah, blah” because their “feelings” might get hurt? OUCH! 

I sincerely understand and accept that some colleagues will not pick up what I am putting down. My way is not the end all be all. It is my (key word my) fee structure model and heart centered way of doing business for over 30 years. I honor and value that you are working hard in your corner of the world. And, I appreciate that you will have your own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on money management, business practices, and fee setting.

Are Therapists a bunch of Crybabies? 

If you have read my other blogs or worked with me as a coach, you know I am a generous and kind straight shooter, so here is the real deal-io: If you choose to move forward in reading this blog, I hope that you will not personalize anything that I am sharing. But, if you do, please understand that I will not take responsibility on how my sharing about my business philosophy regarding fees impacts your delicate sensitivities. We have all gone through healing work around financial fears and inadequacies, no one is exempt. However, like it or not, I am going to weigh in on this topic respectfully, compassionately, and without assumption or apology. 

Up to this point, the blog post is nothing but an apology!

My sincerest hope is that by offering a different perspective, and inviting other clinicians to share their own perspectives, we can begin to change the discourse on how we “should” be discussing money, fees, and so forth in the clinical community.  If you feel triggered in reading through this, I hope you will hold this gentle reminder close to your heart, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

If anyone is still reading along, let’s move forward and take a closer look…

Charging One’s Worth: What the heck does that really mean?

A tired old chestnut that is being tossed around is this strongly held notion that therapists must charge between $200-$300 per session or they are devaluing their work and the therapy community. The other rant I hear is that we should never, ever use sliding scales or accept insurance and, if we do, somehow we are not honoring our worth. What is not being discussed is how this big message sometimes pushes out other voices, and by doing so, is creating trauma and shame for some in our community.


The backlash pouring into my coaching sessions, my email, and face book messages are from therapists who are now sharing feelings of shame, envy and upset stating, “What does having a fee over $200 a session and not accepting insurance have anything to do with my worth and value as therapist or business owner?” Part of the coaching work I am doing these days is to have healing conversations about this topic. Conversations that support inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness. Conversations that look into what fears that therapist may have that is blocking abundance. And conversations to balance the idea that some therapists who have a higher fee must have it all figured out, while others who don’t are just failing miserably.

For example, without going into my specific clinical fees (in order to honor the US law), it is no secret to my clients or colleagues that I have always had a fee for service practice and have never worked with insurance panels. I have increased my fee judiciously only 3 times over the last decade for my individual sessions as my experience grows and evolves. My fee is now the highest in my area, as well as being at the high end of the average therapy fee nationally. I have had other colleagues tell me that given my level of expertise and experience, I “should” raise my therapy fee well over the $200 range, especially since I work with clients from the entertainment and sports industries.

My response to this unsolicited advise: “Thank you, I appreciate your feedback and confidence in my expertise. However, I will not be charging that amount for my clinical clients, no matter how wealthy my client is. I am happy with my current fee. It respects my business model and supports my clients. Perhaps I will raise it in the future, or perhaps not.”

And, I have had my own coaching clients share that, “Your fee is way too low Mari. I get more out my coaching with you than I have in spending twice that with other coaches.” My response? See above. (More than a bit NT narcissistic?)

And no, this does not impact my value or worth one iota. And, yes, I have done the work on my relationship with money and worth as a female business owner. My position is not to side with either camp based on my model. My position is to offer another perspective.


Sliding Scale? It’s Whats for Dinner

It is also no secret that I provide a sliding scale for clinical clients who really need this. I don’t mind offering a modest slide at all, not even a little bit, it has served me and my therapy clients well over the years, and is still within a very respectable fee structure. I refer out about 15-20 clients a month who cannot afford my fee even with the slide to clinicians I trust and respect. This is an ethical support to the client in need, as well as a nice support to my colleagues who are wonderful clinicians, but are still growing their clinical skills and practices. As colleagues will tell you, I have populated more than a practice or two (or ten) in my clinical career.


Over the years I’ve heard it all when it comes to the rhetoric and outrage with providing a sliding scale. And, yep, a few years ago as a new therapist, I espoused this same message with the other vocal zealots. I adamantly expressed my own outrage over the sliding scale. Fist in the air, NO more sliding scale was my loud mantra!And then, one day, I realized what a dumb ass I was being. When I slowed down for a minute and took into consideration my past business ownership experience, this was my a-ha moment and my evolution in turning the corner with respect to the infamous sliding scale…My first career was over 30 years ago as a 21 year old hair stylist and make up artist where I offered coupons to clients in order to build my client base. Eventually I founded a very profitable business in this industry. During those early first years in business ownership, I kept my fees comparable, more than the less experienced stylists, but in line with my expertise as I grew my skills (i.e. I raised my fees as my expertise grew).

I guess therapists ought to make at least as much as a hairstylist!!!

I sold that business a few years later, with a long client list, and for a very nice tidy sum while some of my more flashy and high priced colleagues (“I don’t get out of bed for less than $300 a cut) slowly saw their businesses dwindle, or were always on the hustle for the highest paying clients.Over those years, more than a few of their clients ended coming my way because they could receive the same beautiful beauty service, like hair and make up for their wedding day at $350 vs. hair and make up at $800. We also did a homeless hair day 2x a year where we offered cuts and shampoos (there are some hilarious, gag worthy, and heart warming and heartbreaking stories as you can well imagine). And, though media attention was not the motivating reason in providing this to the homeless, to my surprise, and as word got out, the media tuned in and also supported my business.This was the model that just worked for me as a hair stylist and business owner. I kind of made it up as I went along in my early 20s, and learned just as much from my mistakes (and there were many) as I did from the successes. My second business in my 30s was as an interior designer and founder of Eden Designs and Interiors. And once again, I offered discounts and created client packages as part of my business model. I refined this business model by using what I had learned in my first business. I had a long wait list, and my fees were much higher than some designers (again, in line with my evolving design skills), yet lower than less skilled designers in Brentwood or Beverly Hills because that client demographic was different than my client demographic when I first began in that industry.Over the years, as my reputation grew, those clients from Beverly Hills reached out to me.  While I did not raise my rates based on their zip codes, I also did not offer discounts for those design clients because they could afford my full design rate. Instead, I built in a travel fee that I openly shared with the client (I am one hour east of Beverly Hills and with Los Angeles traffic, that can add up to 2 hours in each direction).You know what that is called in my world? Ethical business practices.No sliding scale as a therapist? What freaking cool aid did I drink? Once I stopped bleating and braying along with the rest of the herd, and got very still, I realized that not offering a sliding scale simply did not make sense to me as a business woman (again, key words here: make sense to me). So, like the proverbial black sheep, I walked down a different path of my own making. I re-thought the concept of valuing my time and fees as a therapist, what that meant to me, examined any fears, and then added a sliding scale to my private practice business fee structure.No matter what direction our business compass points us in, I believe we can stand together and agree that we are NOT the only industry that offers discounts (and by the way, that tired old saggy jeans argument needs to be taken to the Goodwill already). We can get all sensitive and pouty when someone provides another point of view, we can personalize, and Facebook message our colleagues who also feel butt hurt and upset, or we can keep our chin up and keep on truckin’ like professionals. I find that when I am feeling all itchy and upset in my spirit, then that is a message for me to sit with. Growing pains, like ’em or lump ’em…we all will have them when creating and refining a business model.

YIKES! Who knew that therapists are raging drama queens under that “creepy soothing exterior”? 

Why is it so hard in our community of healers to simply give an atta’ girl or atta’ boy for another therapist’s good work, even if it differs from the work we are doing? Why does reading another point of view trigger such feelings of shame, anger, or competitiveness? Not one therapist, coach or organization has it all perfectly figured out. How about we all learn from each other instead of punishing or withdrawing from one another.

It’s a BOGO World After All

From time-to-time I observe therapists adamantly stating that, “No other industry offers a sliding scale or discounts so why should therapists?” I used to march to that message as well, but these days I respectfully disagree. Think about Taco Tuesdays, or Early Bird Specials, or BOGO, or any number of ways consumers save. What about groupon for accountants or attorneys, or discounted airfare, vacations, early sign ups for retreats or conferences, or spa discounts, or yoga, or medical procedures, and coupons, and you-name it- ons.

You betcha! In the Good “ol usa, a bucks a buck!!!

While I fully get that therapy is more sacred and important than Taco Tuesdays (well for some that is), my point is that we are a nation accustomed to bargaining and looking for a sale. I understand that what we offer is more valuable than buy two shoes for the price of one (as a shoe lover, I might have to re-think that). My point here is that our client may not understand the value of investing in clinical support, especially if they are new to therapy, on a budget, have their own money shame, etc. Like us, some of our client’s will have been socialized to think about how to save money. We need to know what our client’s mindset is. And part of that knowing includes considering ethnicity, poverty, institutionalized living and so on. We as therapists must do the education within our communities on the value of what we provide. Yet, even after all of our hard work, beating the drum on the value of therapy, providing a service of excellence, this may still not change deeply ingrained beliefs that our clients (yes, even our “ideal” clients) hold.

A CON ARTIST ALWAYS KNOWS Her MARK’S vulnerabilities; WHO BETTER THAN A THERAPIST TO KNOW how to manipulate her “sucker Clients”? 

You say Insurance, I say hell no!

Now, on to the much debated topic of insurance, for those who have heard it is not smart or cool or wise or whatever to work with insurance clients, let me state here clearly that there is not a single thing wrong with being on insurance panels. Though I have never worked with managed care (made that choice from day one given my specialization and other reasons that would fall into a whole other blog), I support colleagues who feel good with this business model. For me, a small slide and a comparable fee that takes into consideration my expertise, years of experience, my diverse client demographic, and so forth simply made sense for me.

This combo has worked like a dream for my business model for many years. Let’s stop here to take a deep breath. In for seven out, for seven. Ahhhhhh. If this information that I am sharing is stirring up some feelings in you regarding your business model, a model that does not include a sliding scale or insurance, then I stand in support of what feels best for you. I celebrate how you choose to structure your fees. I don’t use insurance because it doesn’t feel good for my model. I use a sliding scale because it does. Chin up buttercup, I am not writing this to anyone person in particular. I am writing this to the community as a whole. Bottom line: If we want a consistently full practice, in addition to being clinicians of excellence, we might need to be creative and a bit more flexible (and always ethical) about how we manage our fees. And that may include offering a small sliding scale at times. Or it may include accepting insurance. Or not.

Keepin’ it 100: What’s your Model Mari?

Who knew that your therapist could be a financial dominatrix?

For transparency and full ownership: I have a modest slide for my clinical clients, and I also have a slide fee for group therapy as well. If a client works with me and pays my full fee for weekly individual therapy they will be paying several hundred a month. If they are in my group therapy, then they will be paying an additional several hundred per month. Some of my clients can easily afford this without a second thought. However, some of my clients struggle to make this work. As a support for my clients who see me for individual and group, and work hard to budget in that money each month, I extend a lower fee in group by $25, and a lower fee for individual by $25. (How magnanimous!)

If this is still a challenge, then I offer to see them every other week. (OMG!) For clients who have received the slide for weekly sessions, and are ready to reduce meeting to every other week (e.g. they no longer need weekly), I ask that they pay full fee. And for clients who do occasional check ins, even if they were on the slide, I ask for full fee. I also keep one pro bono spot open in my groups (I close at 7 members, 6 are paid) for women and men in need of support who cannot afford therapy at all. Each year in January I increase fees for those clients who have been on the slide for the year prior to make room to support other clients who made need this support, and/or are doing much better financially. If a client is going to be working with me, healing issues around money is important and many of my clients begin to experience more financial freedom as they move through their healing work. If they are still in dire straights, well guess what my esteemed colleague, they get to keep their lower fee. And I don’t think that de-values my worth as a therapists by one red cent.

I’m sorry: I’ve reached my, “For the Love of god, please shut up” puke-level disgust limit. Read on, if you can. 

Fees and Fears and Frustrations…Oh My!

Could I demand a higher fee at this stage of my career? Sure I could. Is the reason I don’t because of fear or low self worth? Nope, not by a long shot. I’ve done my work in healing those old money demons.That said, it is a great question and one that I help clients examine in my coaching work. In fact, let’s move a bit deeper into this topic of fees and fears and frustrations to see what is really going on with some therapists. We will start with the ever popular topic, “Charging a Full/Higher Fee.”Every therapist needs to figure out their average client fee on a regular basis. If you have a fee for $185, do you actually get that for every single client? If so, hurray! If not, then that is not your accurate fee. Thus, this is not an honest portrayal of your fee structure. An ethical assessment includes your average client fee.For example, each quarter I meet with my CPA. We go over my PNL statements, set some quarterly goals, look at any potential red flags, and take a look at what I am grossing for an average hourly fee compared to the number of clients I see.For those of you who glaze over with numbers, this is a very, very easy formula, so stay with me. If we are true boss babes and bros we do not shy away from this kind of information.How this works:Add up your clients fees for one week like this (I’m using these numbers as a hypothetical example as a way of demonstrating this simple tool without pissing the law makers off):We will name our therapist Ima McCounselor. Ima sees 10 clients a week at $185 a session, with a sliding scale to $150, like this:Client 1: $185
Client 2: $185
Client 3: $185
Client 4: $150
Client 5: $165
Client 6: $150
Client 7: $150
Client 8: $160
Client 9: $160
Client 10: $185Ima’s total weekly therapy client fees = $1,675$1,675 divided by 10 week clients = $ 167.50Thus, Ima’s actual average hourly fee is not $185, it is $167.50. So Ima is unintentionally being dishonest when she proclaims from the rooftops that she is making $185. Ima needs to do her math.For those clinicians who share that they charge $225/per clinical session, fantastic! If they can do this without insurance, even better. If you are using insurance, then you must take into consideration the time involved outside of session to work with insurance billing and calculate that into your average. If you do not, then again, this is not an accurate portrayal of your fee. If a therapist can keep their practice consistently filled to their liking (as a “full” practice means different things to different therapists) at $225 or higher a session, without using managed care or a sliding scale, without having a niche, and has the expertise, reputation, public recognition, and experience to back up the fee, wonderful!(Side Note: Yes, we all know that the client relationship trumps the letters behind one’s name or the years under one’s belt. But please read on for a more nuanced look at other factors that influence a client…)However, what I have found is when you pull back the curtain and do the numbers to find your average fee, most therapists find that they are making at least $30-$40 less than their stated highest fee and, at the end of the day, are actually fairly in line with other clinicians in their area. Not all, but many. So, Ima is not the only one who is not actually making their claimed “high fee.”Another popular notion is to work with less clients for a higher fee. This is not a new idea. This is an idea that has been around for-ev-er. It’s called working smarter not harder. While some therapists are financially able to do this because of a second income in the home, many are not. So, working with 4 clients a week at $225 (or about $650 net per week) may be the sweet spot for some, it is not the sweet spot for all. I need and want more than $2,500 a month of net income. Just because a colleague shares they are making a certain high fee, doesn’t mean that they are meeting their income goals.

Fly on the Wall: A Coaching Call

So, how does one stand firmly in valuing worth while using wise assessment in setting a solid fee with fee increases? I thought it would be best to answer this question by taking you into a hypothetical (though not all that unusual) coaching call. Again, this is a hypothetical conversation role playing what usually transpires around managing expectations, valuing one’s clinical skills, honoring clients, while setting fair fees.In this example below, I am the one asking the questions with a new coaching client that we will call, Hope. Hope is my “avatar” client, she is someone who very realistically would reach out to me. So, let’s see what is happening with Hope:Mari: “Hi Hope! I am so glad we are meeting today. I reviewed your 360 form, and see that your top goal is to figure out the ebbs and flows of why your practice is not staying as full as you would like. Let’s start there today and roll up our sleeves.I see that you are 2 years into private practice, congratulations! And that you are a solo practitioner, 36 years old, married, one child, no employees, and that you charge $225 per individual session, and that you do not work with insurance. Is that correct? Yes? OK good, thanks.Also, please tell me what the average therapy fee is in your area, and the average percentage of clinicians in your area working with insurance, and what is the median household income in your area/for your client?”Hope: “Thanks Mari! Yes, that’s correct. Hmmm about $150 is the average fee in my area. And I’d say about 50% of the therapists work on insurance panels. BUT don’t even go there with me, I WILL NOT do that. I have no idea what the average income is around here, is that important?”M: “OK sounds good, no worries Hope, I’m not here to try and force you to do anything you are not comfortable with, but I will ask you to lean into some challenging parts of your business during our coaching call today, so hang with me and breathe. I just googled and it looks like your area is upper middle class income, and that your client, if they live in your city, will be making about $75,000 annually, so that is good for us to know.Also, your fee is $225, which is $75 more per session than the other clinicians in your area. Will you please share with me what informed your business decision to charge this fee?”H: “I offer EMDR and I believe in charging my worth, I need to value my time. NO bargaining or sliding scales! I think a client in my area can afford to pay that. I was told to decide on how much I want to make each year and then to raise my fee so that I could make that number.”M: “Yes, charging one’s worth is so important, I truly agree! So, let’s do the math here, if a client is seeing you weekly, they would be paying $900/month. If they are making $75K a year, they are taking home about $4,000 a month, so that is about 25% of their income that they would be spending on therapy with you.Are you the only EMDR therapist is your area?H: “Wow….25% is a lot when you put it like that, but I guess numbers don’t lie, right. No, I’m not the only EMDR therapist, in fact, there are several of us who provide EMDR in my area.”M: “OK, good to know this Hope! And are you the most experienced EMDR therapist in your area, or do you provide a higher quality of EMDR or therapy, do other’s provide EMDR though insurance?”

H: “I’m not sure, I think there are a couple who have been doing this for a few years, in fact one of them has a consulting group for EMDR therapists in the area, I really respect her work a lot! Yes, some use insurance, but that won’t be me.”

M: “I love that you have a colleague in the area that you trust and respect! Let’s hold good boundaries around the laws on fee setting, if you had to give an educated guess, do you know what her fee is?”

H: “$175 is what she has listed on her website, and she offers a small sliding scale, but I don’t want to do offer a sliding scale. It is old school thinking and cheapens our industry.”

M: “OK got it, and is she brand new to this work too?”

H: “No, I think she’s been doing this work for about 8 or 10 years. And she is ONLY fee for service like me.”

M: “Thanks, OK that is helpful to know. So then we can see that you are charging $50 more than her and she has been doing this work 9 years longer and is considered an expert in the area, is that right?”

H: “Yes, people really respect her – she is very good. I learn a lot from her too!”

M: “Wonderful! OK, let’s keep moving along here and figure out these gaps in your client schedule and income. Are there other therapists or organizations that hire you as a consultant and expert in this modality or method?”

H: “No, but one day!”

M: “Yes, definitely one day for sure! OK, hmmmm…are you hired to speak as an expert on the topic of EMDR anywhere?”

H: “No, not yet, but I would like to get paid to do this! How can I start lining up paid gigs like you do Mari for $5,000 a gig?”

M: “Let’s hold a good space for you getting paid for your EMDR expertise one day soon! For now we will book mark on that topic and let’s stay focused on filling these gaps as this is your stated goal for today.” OK, you have a book that you have written? The reason I am asking all of these questions is because I am gently assessing so that we can team up and figure out what sets you as a higher fee therapist in your area and add that to your marketing information.”

H: “Well, I believe I am just as good as most, and probably better than others. But no, I’m not hired as a consultant, nor do I speak as an expert, and I want to write a book…but haven’t found the time. Can we talk about a book today?”

M: “I think it would be a great idea to get that book started one day! But for our purposes today, let’s stay focused on your stated goal. I know this can be a challenging topic and it makes sense that you might want to discuss other more fun topics. But, part of my work is to support what you wanted to get done today. I hear that you have already set your mind to $225 per session. So, is the higher fee because of your years of working with clients, or other businesses you have owned, or some other work I am not aware of, and this is why you have the highest fee?”

H: “Well, like I shared, I’ve been doing this work for about 2 years. I feel like I do a great job, my clients tell me I do, and I deserve to charge a fee I am worth. But no, this is my first business and this is my first therapy role. BUT I have a lot of life experience. ”

M: “I agree 100%. Charging one’s worth is so important. And having life experiences to draw on as a clinician is truly so valuable. And listen, there are plenty of therapists out there who have been doing this work for 20 years and are burned out or just not really all that skilled. But help me better understand as a fairly new therapist with less than 5 years of experience, how did you decide to set your fee at $225? The reason I ask is, as an example, I really like my OB GYN, I really love that she is an expert and has many years of experience, and has a holistic point of view, and I am happy she has a vagina and understands first hand about women’s health because she is a woman, but….I don’t care too much beyond that in terms of her life experience, only as it relates directly to my specific care. Make sense?”

H: “Yes, makes a lot of sense actually. Well, how I came up with my fee. Um. Hmmm..I’m not sure, LOL! I guess because I worked with a coach, then joined a coaching group, listened to a couple of podcast interviews, and I read a blog that said I should be charging that amount! And a bunch of therapists on Facebook all say that we should be charging a lot more money. And when I broached the topic of moving my fee down a bit, they all lectured me on why I should never do that. And most of them are new too!”

M: “OK, makes total sense, we don’t know what we don’t know when we are new in business. I agree that historically therapists have undervalued themselves. The great news is that this has changed quite a bit in the last few years. You contacted me because you are having a hard time attracting and keeping clients. On the other hand, you share with me that clients don’t stay in your practice even though you receive great feedback for the work that you do. This is really good news in a very real sense because no matter how skilled a person is with marketing or fee setting, if they are not skilled as a clinician and cannot connect with the client, then clients won’t stay. Clearly that is not the concern here with you. So, let me ask you this, what is the first thing that clients say when you share your fee?”

H: “That they can’t afford it. But I am determined to charge my worth. No sliding scales!”

M: “Yes, I absolutely agree it is so important to value self. You know Hope, I think it may be helpful to share my perspective on fees and worth: since that is a topic you are coming back to again and again today. I believe that the support that we therapists give is priceless because we help people to step away from suicide, we help people recovery from addiction, and we help people heal relationships, to reduce anxiety and depression, to create lives they are proud of, to reach dreams and goals, and so much more. Providing skilled therapy to help hurting people grow and heal is priceless work as far as I’m concerned. But, in the real world people have budgets, and services have prices, and not many people can give a quarter of their monthly earnings to a therapist, some can, but not every one. And, I would imagine that might even be hard for you to give 1/4 of your income to your therapist. So, here is the thing…why do you think your clients don’t book a first session or stay on for more sessions with you?

H: “No, I could never afford to pay my therapist a quarter of my income. Well….I think clients don’t book or stay because they can’t afford my fee. BUT, I really am going to stand my ground on this. I DESERVE to value my service, no discounts, no other industry offers discounts but us. Like you said, the work is priceless [long pause]. But, yeah, I can see what you mean…I guess.

M: “I am with you 100% on this. However, it is good to remember that pricing services is about a business model and system. We cannot do that without taking into consideration a number of factors including the larger social system. What I mean by this is that we live in a culture where people are socialized to price shop and compare. Many people base their choice on where to spend their discretionary income on word of mouth, or if the product they are buying comes with great feedback (think about our Amazon review culture we live in), or the service they are investing in (be it a hair stylist, a mechanic, an attorney, a doctor, or a personal trainer) comes with either A) Great references or B) A high level of experience and expertise. And some people just want to get the cheapest. And some people don’t have it in their budget. Make sense?”

H: Silence.

M: “You still there Hope?”

H: “Yeah.”

M: “You OK?”

H: “Yeah. I’m just feeling a little shaken up and angry, but it is not fair of me to “kill the messenger” when what you are saying makes so much sense. I guess I am pissed off at myself because deep inside I was never comfortable with my $250 fee. I sort of felt peer pressured into it. I felt all pumped up at the coaching event, but then when I got home, and I followed their advise, it was just crickets. No clients were calling. And even though I already have 5 clients and all of them are willing to pay full fee, I sense that two of them are a little resentful, and one has started canceling session after I raised my fees.

M: “Thank you for the trust in sharing that with me Hope. That must feel pretty scary and frustrating. Did you talk to your coaching group? They can’t read your mind after all, you need to let them know this.

H: “Mari, I did! But one of the coaches publicly shut me down and shared that they built a full practice in the middle of the recession a few years ago, and if they can do it so can I. No excuses were allowed. I felt a lot of shame. Plus I spent a boat load of money to learn the marketing system they were selling, so I felt like I had to do what they were saying. They told me I needed to build a bigger list, or blog more, or attend a conference, or start giving out freebies, or put together all kinds of different income funnels that were incredibly exhausting and time consuming. So, I guess I feel some shame that even though I have jumped through all of their hoops, it’s not happening for me.”

M: “I know it can feel a discouraging, but here is the thing Hope, let’s look shame in the eye and ask it to pack its bags. You are the person paying your bills. Not me, not the other coaches, not your Facebook buddies. You. And when we really pull back the curtain, there are some coaches and other colleagues who do many other things to make money beyond a private practice when they are first getting started.

When someone says, “I built a practice in the middle of the recession in the middle of nowhere walking through 10 foot snow banks and so can you!” I’d be curious to know if they were also working another job, or taking on side projects like writing, or website building, or supervision, or agency work, etc. And, I’d also want to know what a “thriving practice” meant to them. How many clients did they consistently have on average? How long were they in practice? What was their actual average therapy fee, not just what they were advertising on their website, and what was their net annual income strictly from their clinical fees? Do they share those things with you Hope?”

H: “No. Sigh. I have no idea what the answers are to any of that. But, now that I think about it, I do believe that the coach was working at an agency part time, and had a part time business doing copy editing or website design, or teaching, or something when he first started his practice. And I think his fee was like $100 or $125 when he first started. I never really thought of it that way. I just figured I had to set my fee pretty high in order to value my worth. But you know what Mari, when I tell my colleagues in my area what my fee is, I can see them sort of looking confused because I am so much higher than they are, but can’t really back up my reason for being that much higher. Other than what I keep repeating which is, “I totally deserve to charge my worth!” I wonder if this is why they don’t refer to me?”

M: “Well, I think that is really courageous and I appreciate your transparency. I think it is perfectly wonderful to command a higher fee if that works well for one’s practice, aligns with one’s experience, and supports one’s business model. That said, I don’t know that any fee, no matter how high, will ever really be a statement about my worth as professional. And yes, we should get to make a great living doing this complex and challenging work. And we should only work with the clients that we want to work with.

I would imagine that some of your colleagues either feel your fee is too high given your experience, and/or are not therapists who refer often, and/or are ashamed because perhaps they have a very low fee, or are insecure, or who knows why. Let’s not get too wrapped up in worrying what other people are doing. Best not to compare. Are you open to my suggestions on how we might find that sweet spot between valuing your worth and keeping your practice filled with the number of clients you would like to see each week?”

H: ‘Yes, yes, yes please! That is why I reached out to you.”

M: “Great! So, this is going to require you to dig deep, and look through another lens, and think about worth and value a bit differently. Are you up for that?”

H: “I am so freaking up for that I need a new word for up for that!”

M: “I love your energy shift Hope! You have learned some great tools from your previous coaching so your investment in not wasted. There are some things we will dive into in our next coaching session to tighten up and refine your voice and website, your niche, and especially your blog. There are ways we can start branding you as an expert in your community while you grow your experience. There are ways we can build the relationships with other clinicians. And none of this is fancy, or a bright shiny new anything. And it won’t require a bunch of coaching sessions or big money investment.

But, for the sake of staying focused on today’s goals, and in order to get this train back on track, first thing we need to do is create a fee that is in line with what you bring to the table and so you have clients and income. What you bring to your clients is a lot! And is valuable! But…maybe not at $250/hour just yet – as your practice is showing you currently. Especially when we consider your current demographic and the other factors we discussed today. When you get very still in your heart, what is the fee that really works for you?”

H: “Hmmmmm….well….$165 has always felt like my number but I was told that was too low.”

M: “Why this number? Let’s really assess why this fee feels right for you. I want you to know in your business bones why this is your ideal fee for now.”

H: “Because it is just above the standard in my area which also keeps it marketable and fair for clients, and still honors my certification as an EMDR therapist. And it is just below the more skilled and experienced EMDR therapists in my area.”

M: “I like that Hope, that feels like a good solid fair fee and great insight. A fee that you are setting by using good business skills in assessing why this is the right fee for you. And a fee that respects your additional certification.

Now, what would need to happen for you to feel more comfy moving this up to say, $185 at a future date, maybe a year or two from now.”

H: “I’d want to get a couple’s counseling certification, and I’d want to get some consulting/coaching on how to facilitate therapy groups and workshops, and then start offering those and getting skilled in that area. And I guess, well, even though a part of me hates to admit this, it would be wise to have 2-3 more years under my belt to grow my experience so that I have more credibility with clients and colleagues in charging a much higher rate.”

M: “OK, I love that! Such clarity here. Now, what would need to be in place, let’s say 3-5 years from now to go from your current new fee of $165, to your future fee of $250?”

H: “I’d want to start speaking and teaching as an expert. Getting paid for consultations, be respected in my area and within my niche. And speaking of a niche, I thought it was working with women in transition, but after reading your blog on niching down your niche, I see that that is way too vague. And, I’d like to be paid for speaking, and write a book that would support my clients and possibility create materials like you have done on your therapist tool box store, and training that would support other colleagues.”

M: “You know what I call that?”

H: “What?!!”

M: “A very wise on ramp and ethical foundation to create a thriving practice with multiple income streams that will bring you abundance for many, many years ahead.”

Fast forward 10 months later…email from Hope to Mari:

“Hi Mari,

I wanted to take a moment to first of all wish you a happy holiday season. And to let you know that after meeting with you for 4 coaching sessions earlier this year, I refined my practice and fee structure based on our work. I am happy to report that I have had a full practice of 17 clients. While my fee is $165, I also added a small sliding scale and my average client fee is $155.

I also implemented our work and what you taught me about leveraged income and group therapy, and I now have a women’s weekly trauma group. I charge $85 a week per client, and I already have a wait list for next module! I even started a small mentors group that meets weekly via SKYPE and I charge $10 a person to facilitate this and we have 8 people. I went from less than 1,000 a week to over $3,200 a week in the last 8 months! I am taking home $9,030! This has given me such a boost of confidence. I stopped racing around for the easy shiny carrot (using a Mari-ism) and I started speaking at local businesses for free to increase my visibility in my community.

And guess what? I just got booked to speak at a woman’s group for guess how much? $1,500!!!! I am so so so happy, and so so so grateful. I work 4 days a week, and see on average 4 clients a day. It really is a dream come true. Thank you Mari! I know you are going to say it is my hard work that made it happen, and I agree, but I am grateful for our time together and all of the practical tools and good information that I learned from you and I wanted to share my progress! Once I stopped being so mad at you for telling me the truth, and I got out of my own way, and trusted my own business compass, I made it work!”


Final Thoughts

So, there you have it my fellow healers and colleagues, “Live” from the Counselor’s Coach. I realize this may not be the popular current group think that is resurfacing of late on fees and valuing worth. And I fully respect that you may have a very different way of approaching fees and business building, and that is 100% OK! Different strokes for different folks.

In closing, this is what I know from 30+ years of business ownership:

1. You can’t build a reputation over night;
2. Clients do their research, they compare fees, and they compare expertise and experience;
3. Not every therapist or every coach can be an expert right out of the gate;
4. You grow a business over 3 years – not 3 months;
5. The word “thriving” means different things to different people;
6. Not everyone tells the truth about their fees;
7. People/Coaches sometimes have an agenda on the whole “charge what you are worth” that has nothing to do with your success, and everything to do with their own agenda (i.e. if they charge a really high fee for coaching for example, then why would they not lead loud and proud with this message for you to charge a high fee too?);
8. Anyone, not just me, or you, or the man on the moon, can build a successful business with the following: Experience, and sometimes education and certifications, guidance, integrity, professionalism, flexibility, hard ass work, focus, dedication, gratitude, kindness, balance, reputation and trust (and for me prayer);
9. You can start making money over a short period of time as long as you have a business model that is realistic and consistent;
10. Always, always, listen to your heart and guts and not the roar of the crowd. Or the convincing of a coach, or a blog (even this blog). Trust and honor your own internal compass.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well in the comment section below (please keep in mind our anti trust laws on sharing your fees).  How did you assess and decide on your fee, and why did you choose that specific number? Gentle hint: Responding with, “I decided to charge my worth because my colleagues and coaches said so, and clients just paid what I told them to pay” is not a skilled or insightful answer.

Yes, I went there. And remember lovely reader, please don’t kill the messenger.

Kindly and in support,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S