The free consultation is a powerful tool to get new psychotherapy clients. If you aren’t already using this, it’s time to put it in your practice. If you’re already using it, read on to see if you’re getting the most value out of this.
Many psychotherapists don’t like to think of themselves as marketers. However, if you’re in private practice, the question isn’t whether or not to market, it’s how effective are you at marketing?
Marketing is about the impression clients have of you and your capabilities for helping them. This impression is formed whenever you speak with existing or potential clients. You owe it to yourself to make the best impression and instill confidence in your abilities.
Getting New Psychotherapy Clients
How do most clients first interact with you? If you are like most therapists, it starts with a telephone conversation. This gives the client a chance to tell you a bit about themselves and learn about you and your style.
During this initial conversation, potential clients are likely a bit hesitant and uncertain of the process. They may be intimidated about talking to a counselor or psychotherapist. They may be embarrassed or nervous talking about their problem.
It’s your job to smoothly and confidently walk them through this process so that they feel comfortable speaking with you and ultimately comfortable hiring you.
Here are several key points about the initial consultation:
- This is NOT therapy. You aren’t trying to fix anyone’s problems. This is just a chance for you and the client to get to know one another.
- Set a specific time limit. Fifteen minutes seems to be ideal. Less means the client feels rushed in conversation. More means they think about it as a mini-therapy session.
- Schedule the consultation. Setting a specific time with the client is important because it places a value (and limit) on your time. After all, you’re not just sitting around waiting for clients to call, are you? (Okay, even if you are, you want to give the impression of a busy schedule.)
- Use the telephone. If you invite the potential client into your office, you will NOT keep this to fifteen minutes. It will drag on much longer than you intended and the purpose will be lost.
The New Client Consultation Process
So, you’ve scheduled the consultation, now what? I recommend that you have a clear idea of exactly how this will go. Think of this almost as a script. Remember, the client is counting on you to guide them through this process so it’s important that you know the direction you’re heading.
- Ask the client to tell you a little bit about why they’re pursuing therapy.
- Be empathic and understanding. Your purpose here is to build rapport, just as you would in an initial therapy session.
- Share stories of other clients you’ve worked with whose situations are similar. This lets them know that you not only understand what they’re going through, but it also reassures them that you do have expertise in this particular area. (If you don’t have expertise in this area, talk about the most closely related client success stories you can.)
- Transition from here to a brief explanation of how you work. This should be just a few sentences about your treatment approach, session length, assessment process, length of treatment, and anything unique about working with you.
- State your fee per session. (It’s important that this get discussed and the client may be hesitant to ask.)
- Tell the client that the best way to get started is by scheduling an assessment session. This allows both of you to make sure there is a fit, and from here you can collaborate on the rest of the treatment.
- Offer the client two possible appointment times.
After you’ve been in practice for a little while, you’ll start to get referrals from clients and other treatment stakeholders (such as doctors, attorneys, and school counselors) with whom you’ve developed relationships.
Typically, these referrals will contact you by phone as well. Referrals are generally your best source of new clients because they are already “pre-sold” on your abilities as a therapist. Additionally, they probably already know what your rates are, particularly if they are referred by another client of yours.
You’ll need to use your best judgement when you first speak with a referral as to whether they should just schedule an appointment or if they would like to also schedule an initial consultation.
Effective initial consultations are a valuable marketing method for getting psychotherapy clients, particularly for therapists just starting a private practice or those building a private practice.