Whether or not to offer a free therapy consultation is one of the tougher decisions therapists face. You want to make sure clients are a good fit for your approach to therapy before you commit to working with them, but your time is valuable. With these opposing considerations, it can be tough to figure out if a free initial consultation is the right move for your practice.
Before we discuss the pros and cons of initial consultations, it’s important to note that a free consultation is not the same as a free session. Your free consultations should be shorter than a session (15-30 minutes), and should follow a different format. Your focus in the consultation is more on what brings the client to therapy, whether they are the right fit for your practice, and what logistics/rules of your practice they should know about before moving into therapy with you.
At MyWellbeing, we are big believers in offering a free initial consultation to prospective therapy clients. In fact, we ask our therapists to offer free consultations. We have seen several advantages to free consultations, but here are a few of the most important:
A free consultation offers you the chance to get to know your potential clients and decide whether your specialty and approach to therapy is the right fit for the client’s needs together. You want to make sure that you can support all your clients, and that a client is presenting with concerns that you can help them address.
By offering a free consultation to identify whether you are the right fit, you can avoid any ethical quandries about charging a client for a session in which you choose not to proceed based on fit. You’ll also experience less pressure to move forward with someone who isn’t the right fit.
One of the biggest concerns we hear from therapists about offering a free consultation is that prospective clients may only be looking for free support.
However, this does not align with what we’ve seen in practice. A few months ago, we partnered with another company to give away a free therapy session to our audience. Surprisingly, it was one of our less successful giveaways. People told us that they knew that a single free therapy session wouldn’t fix all their problems, and so they were looking for longer term care.
Similarly, the vast majority of the people coming to you for therapy are expecting to be in therapy for longer than a 15-30 minute phone consultation. We find that 89% of people move forward with a therapist after free consultations.
Why are people likely to move forward after a free consultation? A free consultation lowers the barrier to starting therapy. Many people are apprehensive about the unknown when starting therapy, even when they have been to sessions before. Our culture has built a “risk-free” mindset around free offerings that helps people feel a bit more comfortable having an initial conversation with a therapist.
Offering a free consultation also helps you build trust with the client. It shows them that you want to give them a chance to make sure you’re the right person to help them before they move forward.
That said, hearing about the macro impacts of free consultations isn’t helpful if you are offering free consultations without converting clients. If your free consultations aren’t working for your practice, it is really helpful to test different approaches to figure out whether another consultation style would work better before choosing not to use free consultations. Here are a few of our top tips:
With so little time in a free consultation, the pressure to convince therapy seekers to move forward with you can be high, particularly if you are just beginning to build your caseload. You may feel pushed to spend a lot of time talking about your practice and the benefits of therapy.
Instead, we really encourage you to slow down, ask thoughtful questions, and listen first, just as you would in the room. The best way to help a client feel comfortable working with you in an initial conversation is to show them that you hear them and you understand them.
Ask them thoughtful follow-up questions about the concerns that are bringing them to therapy. Validate the feelings they’re describing. Help them feel safe opening up to you. You are not going to be able to help the prospective client solve their problem in 15-30 minutes, but you can show that you “get” what they’re going through, which helps increase their confidence that you can support them.
It is also helpful to ask about the client’s previous experiences in therapy, if they have been to therapy before. Learning a bit more about times they didn’t feel heard or supported can help you evaluate their fit for your practice and learn what resonates with them.
If free consultations make you feel a bit uncomfortable or “salesy,” we hear you. When you’re feeling awkward in a free consultation, it can be helpful to remember that prospective clients are likely more nervous than you are. It may be their first time speaking with a therapist. Even if it is not, therapy is one of the established professions that people know the least about because of the privacy of the room. You can read more about what prospective clients could be experiencing in our article on free consultations for therapy seekers.
With so much unknown, it can be really impactful to help your prospective client feel at ease and provide some structure for your call. We’ll cover both points below.
First and foremost in the free consultation, your prospective client wants to know if you can help them with their challenges or growth areas. Listen to how they describe what brings them to therapy, and then focus your description of your expertise in that area.
You may know that CBT can work wonders for anxiety. However, your client may be more reassured by hearing first that you specialize in anxiety and have a lot of experience with their specific issue areas before discussing techniques.
It is important to reduce and explain any clinical/technical language you use. You are an expert, with at least a master’s degree in your field, and terms and training that are commonplace for you, like “nurtured heart,” “dialectical behavior therapy,” and “Gestalt” may be completely unfamiliar to your audience. It is important to use simple language so your client can easily understand you; if they aren’t familiar with the terms you’re using, it may cause them to pull away.
We have a full article on how to structure your therapy consultation, but we will also include a few notes here.
We recommend starting your free therapy consultations with a welcoming statement to help the client feel less nervous.
Next, it’s helpful to offer a framework for your consultation. You can propose a structure, or ask the client what route they want the consultation to take. Our community manager, Kayla, recommends phrases like: “I understand you may have some questions. Would you like to jump right in, or do you prefer I share a little more about myself and the work I do first?”
Toward the end, it is importante to share a few logistics of your practice to make sure you and the prospective client are on the same page about fee, scheduling, cancelation, and other key policies. It can be helpful to have a few sentences prepared for this section so you ensure you cover all the necessary logistical details for each client and that you can cover them in a few minutes.
You can also add your practice policies to your website to reduce questions around logistics ahead of time and avoid cases where you find out that a policy is a “deal-breaker” for the client in their free consultation.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the consultation is a two-way street. Are you the right fit for the client? Are they the right fit for you and your practice?
If not, it is always best to refer out. If you are not sure where to send a client, we are happy to help; we match clients with the right therapist for free.
Offering a free consultation can help you build trust with prospective clients and make sure that they are the right fit for your practice before moving forward.
Match with the *right* clients for your practice while growing your professional community.