As a new private practice therapist, you’re well on your way to success. Your research is complete and you have determined your ideal client. You have done the work to target the right client and built communication channels for them to find and contact you. Now the phone is starting to ring and your email inbox is filling up with inquiries. How do you best capture contact and client information in a way that suits your business and clinical needs AND feels comfortable and safe for your clients? Initial sessions as part of the intake process are a more traditional method while wait lists, a trend spurred in part by COVID, are rapidly becoming a more common part of the intake process.
Initial sessions and determining fit
Scheduling potential clients for an initial session gives you and the client an opportunity to determine if the relationship is a good fit and is a regular part of intake counseling. Offering a free, brief intake session can encourage a client to reach out to you and removes some of the financial concerns and risks clients may feel with regard to seeing a private practice therapist.
While most intake session requests come in through word of mouth or online forms or Contact Us links and emails on websites, practice management tools offer other avenues like public schedulers. With these schedulers, you can embed an interactive calendar on your site that syncs to your calendar so visitors can directly schedule an intake session with you based on your availability.
Intake sessions give you the opportunity during the intake process to begin the therapeutic relationship and develop a connection with your client. The intake counseling session can create a safe space for your client to share the reasons for learning more about therapy. The intake counseling session is also an opportunity for you to assess if this client is a good fit for your practice.
When clients reach out to you, they likely feel pain and feel vulnerability. If they’ve never had counseling before, they might not even know what to say when they reach out to you as a private practice therapist. Your goal with this initial session is to guide them safely and comfortably through your intake process. You want the client to recognize that you are someone to trust who can help with the pain. You want to provide hope.
What to say in the intake session
During the intake session, discover why this person reached out to you for help. Use your assessment skills to determine:
- Can you help this client? Do you have the training, experience, and skills to appropriately address the issue(s)?
- Do you want to work with this client? Resentment may build if you’re working with a client that isn’t a good fit and this may make you a less effective private practice therapist.
- If you cannot help this client or do not want to help this client, then offer referrals to another provider.
Use the intake session as a time to explain your intake processes and begin orientation to your therapeutic style and approach:
- Do you offer in office or telehealth sessions? Do you provide specialized services such as EMDR, play therapy, or meditation?
- What is your treatment approach (ex: CBT, Alderian, etc.)?
- What is the length of sessions and frequency of sessions?
The next component in determining if this client is a good fit for your practice is discussing fees. Knowing whether a client can pay is important.
It’s helpful to explain:
- Are you a private pay?
- Do you take insurance, and if so which insurance?
- If you are private pay, do you offer a sliding scale?
During the intake session, you may also want to explain to the client what information you’ll need (ie., email address) and what to expect in terms of paperwork before scheduling that first session. Managing expectations around data and privacy is another way to build trust with the client.
Taking time to explain this during the intake process can increase the likelihood of the client completing the paperwork without you having to ask for it again. It can also prevent delays of the first session due to lack of compliance with paperwork.
What to say and do before the first counseling intake session
Once the intake process is complete and you’ve decided to move forward with an initial counseling session, it’s time to onboard the client and collect the information needed to build your chart and initiate services. Because you have taken the time to build rapport during an intake session, your client should feel more comfortable sharing important information with you.
And from the perspective of a private practice therapist, knowing upfront how you'll handle client data will save you a lot of time and set your business up for success.
Consider these questions as part of your intake process:
- What type of data do you want to collect from clients as part of intake counseling? Is it email, phone number, credit card, etc. (e.g., having a valid form of payment on file, for example, makes it accessible for any copayment charges, no-show fees, or other fees that may accrue. Explain this in your policy and emphasize in paperwork how the payment information is stored.)
- How do you want to collect intake counseling data? (Does the client enter information on a paper form and will the information be manually entered? Do you prefer a digital option?)
- Where will you store client data once you have it? (Do you prefer file cabinets or is a client portal more important to you? Is your method of storage HIPAA compliant?)
- How will you manage intake counseling data? (Do you need to review data regularly? Will data need to be retained for a certain amount of time or purged periodically?)
- Who will manage it? Most first-time private practice therapists manage their own data but a few outsource.
Knowing your intake processes upfront and how you can easily collect, organize and maintain all your client information in a safe and HIPAA-compliant manner will save you a ton of time later as your practice grows.
Another tip before that first session is to ensure that you have the correct contact information for the client. You want to have the appropriate email address and telephone number to forward your intake packet, and set up your appointment reminder system.
Do I need a waitlist for intake counseling?
A new trend has arisen since the onset of COVID in which more and more people are reaching out for counseling services and private practice therapists. It created a situation in which many private practice therapists have a full caseload and no room on their calendars to schedule new clients. For this reason, it may be helpful to develop a waitlist for intake counseling. This waitlist gives clients some hope of getting help and gives you a ready-made referral bank to use when you have an opening.
Most practice management systems have an outlet available to create your waitlist. If you have a newsletter, blog, or other email list, you can add the clients on your waitlist to this service to keep them engaged and connected to you. You can also encourage them to follow any social media platforms that you utilize. Waitlists typically need to be visited weekly to stay current as part of intake counseling. Establish intake processes for how and when you’ll assess your wait list.
Safely capturing your client information and communicating how it will be used is a critical part of intake counseling and the therapeutic relationship. It allows for the opportunity to begin building rapport, developing the trust needed in therapy, and helps with client retention.
Proper intake counseling is essential to establishing yourself as a credible private practice therapist. HIPAA-compliant EHRs like TheraPlatform can save therapists time as well as make sure they follow federal mandates. They also have a risk-free, 30-day trial. No credit card required. Cancel anytime.
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