Jeff Guenther on Aug 08, 2021
We’ve discussed previously the importance of authenticity in your therapy practice and in writing your online profile. One facet of running your own therapy practice and owning your own business that deserves this discussion is the Client Experience. You probably love working with your clients (I know I do!) and they probably think the world of you, but all of that goodwill is only set in place once you’ve established your relationship together. Little time and attention is paid to onboarding, consultation and first-impression client outreach. I think the industry can do better; actually I think we need to do better, especially if we want to reduce friction and the stigma associated with mental health. I’ve received hundreds of emails since launching TherapyDen from prospective clients who’ve told me they’ve emailed multiple therapists only to get zero responses back. This is unacceptable.
First, we need to acknowledge what a huge mental leap it is for someone new to therapy to decide to seek help. They must internally accept that they want outside help and then be vulnerable enough to actually reach out and ask for it. While we’re grabbing coffee and running our businesses, potential clients may be writing a very challenging email message to ask for help. We need to respect this openness and vulnerability from the very beginning, and in our practices that should mean following a few simple rules.
If a client reaches out to you via email or phone call, you must respond. Period. You have to respond. You don’t have to offer services if they aren’t a fit or you are fully booked, but you shouldn’t leave them holding onto hope. They have enough going on in their lives, and getting ghosted - in dating, in job applications, anywhere - is no mental picnic. Therapy seekers hate finding a new therapist because of the time it takes to find them and also how hard it is to get a response. Do the right thing and send a reply. It’s not uncommon for someone to research their mental health issues for over a year before reaching out to a therapist. For that year-long journey to end with no response at all is crushing and could cause someone to never reach out again.
This is the one that gets most people. For optimum results and the best client experience, reply within 24 hours. Yes, even if it’s on the weekend. No one wants to wait 72 hours or a week before hearing back on something this important. If you need more time to get organized, you can still let them know you got their message, and then provide a target date where you will (and you will) follow-up with next steps. At this point I’d even accept an auto response from your email provider just so they know their message was received. I know that all of us therapists are super busy. Maybe busier than we’ve ever been. But sending a quick email letting a prospective client know you’ve received their message can take less than two minutes. You have the time to respond. Make sure you do it in a timely manner.
Don’t just reach out with a cold calendar invite. Be warm and inviting; remember that they may be intimidated by the process and need a bit of hand-holding at first. Acknowledge their needs and help make them feel seen and heard from your very first, timely, interaction. Remember, people who send you a message have been on an emotional journey, possibly their whole lives, before reaching out to a counselor. Oftentimes they are scared, anxious and ambivalent. Therapists, including me, sometimes forget how difficult it can be to send an email to a mental health provider. Receiving their message with compassion and sympathy can go a long way. Noting that they are brave for taking this first step might sound a little cheesy but can be very validating. Clearly outlining the next steps is anxiety-reducing for the new client. Educating them about shopping around and chatting with other counselors may not be something they’re aware they can do. Just be sure to make the onboarding process a smooth one, and keep in mind that you could be the first interaction they’ve ever had with a counselor.
Okay, so this one might be a little controversial. But if you don’t already offer a free consultation, why not? Not only is it a good way to break the ice together, but it’s incredibly attractive to prospective clients, and lowers the barrier to entry. Don’t get me wrong, I think therapists should be paid for their time. But I’m siding with clients on this one. It’s a big ask for us to require payment from a new client before they even know if they want therapy or want you as their therapist. Not to mention, it’s a great way for you to screen out clients that would be a better match for another therapist. At the very least, I recommend scheduling a free 15-minute call or video chat so both you and the client can feel confident moving forward.
While this is a business to you, a potential client is just looking for solutions and help. If they have a rotten experience just trying to get into therapy, they may not stick around for long and may never try again once they’ve given up. This is a good time to reflect on your practice and the systems you have in place for onboarding new clients. Do they follow the rules above?
TherapyDen believes in inclusivity and representation at every level. We want everyone to be able to find the care that they need with a therapist that is a good fit and we want every therapist to find the clients they are perfectly suited to treat. TherapyDen was created in order to provide a truly modern alternative to outdated therapist directories we’ve been using for years. The best way to make sure TherapyDen remains inclusive is to allow all therapists to sign up for free. If you’re a therapist that hasn’t signed up for a profile yet, click here to get started.
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Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.