5 Secrets That Turn an Intake Session into an Ongoing Client
So, you have a private practice, you’ve taken marketing tips from wonderful online resources (like Brighter Vision), you have clients… now, how do you keep them?!
We all learn about retention in graduate school and our first jobs (maybe in hospitals or clinics). If your clinical history is anything like mine, you’ve heard over and over again about “meeting your numbers” and how to “increase your retention rate”. So, when we go into private practice, we think we already know the skills, right?
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Turns out, retention in private practice is COMPLETELY different than retention in a hospital or clinical setting. With so many amazing resources out there for marketing private practices (since that’s something we don’t learn in school), I wanted to add resources on retention specifically for private practice.
Prior to my developing training on this, I thought that I had no business sense whatsoever. I started my private practice full time (like quit my job, no backup plan kind of thing) with $1,000 in my bank account. Any accountant I have ever met with has told me that I am crazy. But guess what, it worked! Within 3 months, I had 20 clients per week, was making a profit, and most importantly helping serve others!
I have spent years trying to figure out how I did this. For a long time, I attributed it to dumb luck. Thankfully, I have supportive people in my life who have pointed out that this was more than dumb luck. I realize that it has not been my marketing skills – I use Brighter Vision to do things like that – but my secret has been my client retention skills.
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I want to share with you my 5 secrets that help to turn an intake session into an ongoing client.
Remember names. It may sound so simple, but it means so much. When someone comes into my office and the first words out of their mouth are: “My boyfriend John is driving me crazy” and then they go into a detailed version of why John is driving them crazy, my response is usually something along the lines of “Tell me more about John”…this feels SO much more personal than “Tell me more about your boyfriend”. I purposely add people’s names whenever possible, because it makes the client feel like I know them, relate to them, and am not giving them some cookie-cutter response! My notes from the first sessions often say little about diagnostic criteria but will always say names of loved ones and family members that I can brush up on if I need to before the next session.
Follow up with the client about something in their lives. This is one of my favorite parts of private practice. I text my clients. For those who don’t, feel free to use a phone call or email. When someone is talking in their first session about a presentation they have at work in a few days or about their birthday, anniversary, etc. send them a message! If there is nothing coming up (which there usually is), find something smaller. They have to stop by their mom’s house and they don’t get along with their mom or they have a relaxing weekend coming up and they haven’t had a slow weekend in a long time. Literally anything, shoot them a text or email saying “Hope you got to enjoy your long deserved relaxing weekend” “Can’t wait to hear about that work presentation” “Hope your mom didn’t talk your ear off for too long, looking forward to talking about it”. Following up and adding something in there about seeing them again, means so much. I know it would mean a lot to me if someone did that for me.
Be confident and literally tell the client about your confidence. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of clients who have never been in therapy and feel that they’re “crazy” or “weird”. Often in the first sessions, I hear things like “I don’t know if you’ve dealt with this before” or “This feels so strange and confusing” or “I must just be crazy”. Obviously, we want to validate the client in their feelings, but when they’re feeling insecure and confused by their own feelings, what they need, is us to feel secure about them. I often find myself saying things like “I know this must be so confusing, frustrating, overwhelming, etc. but I am really excited to start working together because I know a lot about anxiety and although you may feel alone, I promise you that you are not alone, I see this type of anxiety all the time and I know I can help you.” Setting yourself up as an expert helps clients to feel comfortable and build trust. (Disclaimer: If the client is not a good fit for you or you don’t know much about what they’re presenting with, please refer them to someone who does and find clients that fit your expertise! I have done this many times and my schedule is still full of clients who are a better fit.)
Ending the session on a positive note WITH homework. It is important that both you and the client feel that it’s a good fit. So, if you’re feeling like it could be a good fit and that you can help the client by the end of the first session, I would say something like “Your comfort level is the most important right now, how do you feel about working together?” or “I’m really excited about getting to know you and helping you with (insert whatever they talked about, remember using names!) how do you feel about it?”. I also ALWAYS give homework at the end of the first session. Often, clients are just telling their history first session so aside from getting to know them not much “work” gets done, so I always say something like “Think about what you want to work on first, what’s most important to you and what would be helpful to dive into right away” or “Think about (insert whatever they were talking about) and we can talk about that in more depth next session now that we have gotten all the intake questions out of the way.” This helps the client not only feel a connection but feel like they want to come back to tell you how they did with the homework.
Last, but probably most important: be yourself. Now, this tip probably seems so simple yet so complicated. I have a full 6-week training course all about this topic. But for now, I want to tell you that I have been working with a client for over 2 years who told me recently “Ya know, I don’t really know much about you, but I feel like I know you really well.” This was probably the best compliment I have ever received. Without self-disclosing inappropriately or much at all, this client still feels like she really knows me, she feels confident that the way I act, speak, my mannerisms, etc. are the same around her as they are around my closest friends and family members. To me, that is a really great connection.
If you do all 5 secrets in the first session, I guarantee that you will have a returning client and hopefully the beginning of a wonderful therapist-client relationship. If you have questions about any of these secrets or want to learn more secrets to client retention in private practice, feel free to e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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