For the client who is scheduling an appointment, the process of therapy begins with a phone call. The client begins to learn about the therapy process from how the first call was handled. Furthermore the new client is forming impressions of the organization that is surrounding the therapy. Clients make judgments based on things such as:
- How rapid and appropriate is the response I receive?
- Is the person answering the phone warm and helpful?
- How comfortable is the conversation about getting things set up?
- Does the conversation increase my desire to come for the first appointment?
On my own
When it was just me, I needed to take those calls, collect that information, and then do the scheduling. In some ways that was easier. In other ways it was harder. The easy part was that the client and I were both working on laying the foundation before we even met for the first time. The down side was that the client had to wait on me to return a call for any schedule changes. This often meant quite a lag time and some phone tag, irritating both of us. (Read about my my self-sabotaging in the post “Getting myself under control: Solving my self-imposed roller coaster.”) And I have to admit, I failed to be timely as often as I succeeded.
Eventually I hired someone to answer my phones, take down the information, and page me with the info. Today many therapists use their cell phones as their business phone or services like Google Voice or others that do similar services for free or for a fee.
The way we do it now
We now have full-time staff answering our calls. We have experimented with many systems for handling the first phone calls. The best we found is to train all our support staff to handle first calls. We train them to get the information we need and leave the client with good feelings about the conversation.
For example, support staff are trained to collect the basic information we need:
- A brief idea of why the client is coming, to match with therapists’ specialties
- Any gender preference for assigning a therapist
- Finding the hours that the client is available to come
- Insurance information, to figure out fees
Assigning a therapist
The support staff then use all that information to make some recommendations for the client to consider. They often direct them to our website to read about possible therapists. Once a match is made, the appointment is scheduled by the support staff.
The whole process of assigning a case and getting the first appointment scheduled may involve several phone calls. The complexities of insurance and schedules make it difficult, but if we do the job well then the likelihood of the client(s) actually attending that first session increases.
The first session
Attendance at that first appointment is so very important, because we know that if a client comes once, they will on average come for ten (10) sessions. Succeeding here, then, sets up greater success for the practice down the road.
Of course there are other aspects of the intake process:
- client intake forms,
- privacy and confidentiality forms,
- consent to teat forms,
- releases signed,
- photocopying insurance cards, etc.
In our experience, first phone call set the tone. Everything else becomes tolerable if the phone call goes well.