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6 Reasons You Don't Have Enough Clients

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Getting and keeping clients is a common struggle for private practitioners. Here are 6 potential barriers to a full practice and what to do about them.

1) You're not keeping the clients you have

It takes a lot less time, money, and energy to keep a client engaged in meaningful therapy than to find a new client. Keeping clients engaged in the therapeutic process requires additional skills. New skills might include setting expectations during the initial session that therapy is an on-going process. Recommend  that new clients schedule ahead 3-6 weeks (depending on your assessment of their need during the first session) instead of scheduling one week at a time.

Another strategy that will boost client retention is reaching out to clients who've dropped out of treatment without proper termination. I encourage my team of therapists to do this regularly by writing a hand-written card with their business card enclosed to clients who have not returned to therapy. The cards say something like, "You've been on my mind. I want you to know that I am here if you need me. If you'd like to take a break from therapy for a while that's fine. I'd like to offer you a free 25 min "wrap up" session where we can say goodbye." Many clients are very touched by this gesture and it is just the encouragement they need to continue coming to therapy. Even if clients don't continue in therapy, you've modeled how to say a healthy "goodbye".

2) You're not offering anything valuable to potential referral sources

I love that I'm approached regularly by a therapists trying to network and ask for referrals. You know the ones who I will refer to? I will refer to the therapists who approach our relationship as a mutually beneficial relationship. I am more likely to refer to therapists who, in addition to asking for referrals, offer their time, expertise, or referrals to me and my practice.

Several years ago I had a therapist contact me asking if I would refer couples to her for therapy. While she did offer to take me to lunch (which I didn't have time to do) she wasn't offering herself as a resource to me in any way. Additionally, I was annoyed because had this therapist had done her homework and looked at my website she would have seen that I work with couples and that I have several colleagues at my clinic who also work with couples. The key to developing strong referral relationships is to create mutually beneficial relationship, offering yourself as a resource to the other person.

3) Your online presence is weak

Have you Googled yourself lately? Have you searched for key terms in your geographic location to see where your website ranks? Potential clients are searching for therapists online and will generally click on websites listed on the first page or two of Google searches. If your information is easily found make sure the information found about you and your practice is accurate. Here are some resources to help you strengthen your online presence and make it easier for new clients to find you.

Does Google love your therapy practice? 5 elements of an effective practice website 4 reasons to start creating online content

4) You're not as good as you think you are

Most therapists think they are more effective than they actually are.  Therapists, like any other professionals have varying level or skill and success, but it seems that on the whole we are an overly-confident group.

A 2003 survey asked 143 counselors to grade their job performance on a scale from A to F... Of the counselors, 66 percent rated themselves as A or better. None saw himself or herself as below average (Sapyta, Riemer, Bickman, 2005, p. 147).

How do you find out if your clinical skills are above average, mediocre, or below average therapist? Start collecting outcome data from your sessions. A few years ago I tracked every session using the ORS and SRS rating scales for an entire year through MyOutcomes.com. This allowed me to establish a baseline, track each client's progress, and see where your scores fall compared to therapists around the world. I was relieved to know that according to these ratings scales I was indeed an "above average"  therapist, but I was not as good as I thought I was.

5) Your attachment style is sabotaging you

A therapist's own attachment style and relationship history impact their ability to keep clients engaged in meaningful therapy and maintain consistent referral sources. While I only have anecdotal evidence, my experience training therapists in a private practice setting suggests that therapists with a secure attachment style or slightly anxious attachment do better in private practice setting than therapists who lean toward the avoidant end of the attachment continuum. Additionally, if therapists have done their own work in therapy and have a handle on their own issues, they tend to be more successful than therapists who haven't resolved their own emotional wounds. If you're having a difficult time getting or keeping clients, may I suggest calling your own therapist and working on your own attachment issues?

6) You appear desperate

Therapists who are new to private practice may feel particularly overwhelmed by the details of running a business, and the difficulty of establishing a consistent clientele. Feelings of desperation are also felt by seasoned therapists whose client numbers ebb during seasonal changes, economic conditions, or other reasons.  Potential clients and referral sources can "sniff out" desperation, and whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they will be less likely to trust you and your services. Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you're coming off as overly desperate.

  • Have you become  too accommodating when it comes to scheduling clients?
  • Do you feel overly discouraged if a new referral chooses not to schedule with you?
  • When talking about your practice do you talk fast and feel anxious inside?
  • Do you follow up with potential referral sources more than once a month?

I suggest  that you "act as if" and "talk as if" you have a moderately busy practice. Lead with the aspects of your practice and your expertise that you are confident in and you'll find more success getting and keeping clients.

References:

Sapyta, Jeffrey, Manuel Riemer, and Leonard Bickman. “Feedback to Clinicians: Theory, Research, and Practice.” Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session 61, no. 2 (2005):145–53.

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Are You Comfortable Asking Clients For Money?

Wallet - MoneyDuring my graduate school practicum placements I never had to think about the financial aspect of seeing clients. Billing specialists took care of collections. That was their job. After graduation I worked in a private practice setting where I was required to ask clients directly for...money. It was awkward at first to have clients share their pain with me, open their hearts, and be so vulnerable, and then ask them to pay me.

Adding to my money anxiety was the fact that I was charging the same rate as my clinical supervisor and I didn't believe my services were worth it. My supervisor helped me gain confidence by explaining that clients aren't just paying for my time and skill, but they're also paying for her years of expertise. I hadn't thought about it from that perspective before.

My supervisor also helped me to view myself as a professional. Even though I wasn't licensed to practice independently I did had a graduate degree and two years of practicum, and I was licensed to practice under supervision. I had valuable experience, knowledge, skills and tools to help my clients.

Almost 10 years ago I started a solo private practice. Suddenly, I was the therapist, the receptionist, the webmaster, the marketer, and the billing specialist/collections department. I realized that I had to get even more comfortable bringing up money with clients if I was going to build a successful practice. Through the years I've become extremely comfortable addressing the financial aspect of clinical practice with clients. Here are a few things I've learned to help you get more comfortable with money in your private practice.

1) Value your expertise

Keep in mind the time, money, energy, and passion you've invested in your education and training. The more confident you feel in yourself, the easier it will be to accept client's payments and comfortably bring up money issues.

2) Think of money as energy exchange

Money can be such a loaded topic, fraught with baggage from your own upbringing. It may help to reframe money in a more emotionally neutral way, as energy. You are offering your gift of investing energy in the therapeutic experience in order to help your client, and they are offering you their energy resource called "money."

3) Ask for payment at the beginning of the session

I've found that it works best for me to bring up money related issues at the beginning of sessions before delving into deeper therapeutic issues. It's awkward to ask for money after a client shared deep pain during their session.

4) Set firm payment policies and stick to them

Clients will take your lead with money issues. Setting consistent policies regarding payment from the onset of therapy teaches your client what you expect in the therapeutic relationship. If you're anxious about asking for money, your client will feel uncomfortable too. If you're confident, they'll likely respond positively. My clinic policy is that if you are one session behind in payment your therapy is on hold until your account is up to date. Also, we charge full fee for no shows and late cancellations, even on initial sessions, unless there is an emergency.

5) Money is a clinical issue

If you have clients who resist paying you, who "forget" their checkbook, who cancel at the last minute and don't want to pay you, treat the resistance as a clinical issue. Consider how the client's money patterns are part of the larger issues brings them into therapy and address it openly in your session.

6) Write a "money script" and practice it

I've recommended to several therapists I've supervised or consulted with who feel anxiety bringing up money with clients to write down a brief script and role play. Here's an example of the phrases I use in my practice.

At the beginning of the session, before walking into my office I ask, "How would you like to pay for your session today?"

When potential clients ask, "Do you work with my insurance company?" I respond, "While we don't bill insurance directly, I'm happy to provide you with a receipt to submit for reimbursement from your insurance company. You may want to check with them and ask if you have out-of-network mental health benefits."

Do you have money anxiety? What blocks do you have when it comes to asking clients for payment? How have your overcome them? Feel free to post your thoughts and comments below.

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