Hello there, and welcome back to the Mountain Practice Journeys podcast!

I’m your host, Cindy Norton.

Here in Episode 22 share some of my thoughts on how to have an effective phone consultation.

Let’s get started.

Podcasts are growing in popularity and there are already so many great private practice podcasts out there. If you join the Trailblazer community via my seasonal newsletter you will receive a free A-Z download that includes a list of my favorite private practice podcasts.

I hope that the Mountain Practice Journeys podcast will earn its spot in your regular podcast listens.


See below for the episode show notes links and transcript…

Episode 22 Show Notes Links

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Episode 22 Transcript

Hello there, and welcome back to Season 3 of the Mountain Practice Journeys podcast! I’m your host, Cindy Norton. Here in Episode 22 I’m going to share some of my thoughts on how to have an effective phone consultation.

Let’s get started.

Have you been wanting to start your private practice, but you can’t seem to take that first step? Maybe you’re afraid of failure or lack confidence, or maybe the idea of running your own practice is overwhelming. I’m Cindy Norton, owner of Mountain Practice Journeys and I help therapists and counselors to love the business side of private practice. I’ll share with you practical skills and advice along with a healthy dose of inspiration so that you can be on your way to the practice of your dreams. Put on your hiking boots, and let’s get going.

If you haven’t yet listened to Episode 21, I urge you to do that. In that episode I help you to decide if it would be helpful to offer phone consultations in your private practice.

Now let’s get on to today’s episode.

There are a couple of questions that I personally use to guide my phone consultations with potential clients – And, please note, that these are questions that I am asking myself, not the client. The first question is “Can I honestly and effectively help this client with their concerns?” and the second is “Am I the best fit to help this client with their concerns?” I think these questions form a great overarching guide for the purpose of the consultation.

I firmly believe that you shouldn’t only work with a client just because you CAN. You should work with a client because of the following reasons: you want to work with the client, you have the education and training to effectively work with the client, you are the best fit for the client, and you firmly believe that you can provide the client with what they need.

Personally, one thing that I add to this list for myself is that I am unable to identify someone who would be better able to help the client than me. In my private practice I have a phone consultation with every potential couple to assess their needs. And I refer out a lot because there may be some small statement from a potential client that makes me think of one of my wonderful colleagues and how they could be an even better fit for this client.

This may sound strange, but I actually encourage potential clients to check out other therapists on our phone consultations. I want potential clients to shop around and get a feel for several therapists before they make a decision. After two or three conversations with different people, you can usually tell when you feel a connection with someone. I want potential clients to feel both empowered and confident in their choice of a therapist.

Now let’s get into some important elements that can be included in your phone consultation.

The first area you may want to look at is your scope of practice. Are you competent and capable of helping the client with their presenting concern? And this is where it is important to really assess and clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses as a therapist.

There may be a few areas that you either aren’t that great at working with or prefer not to work with. Don’t feel bad for identifying these areas. We all have them. And by identifying them both the therapist and the client will be better off as a result. For every presenting concern that you don’t work with, there are a number of therapists who do.

Once you have identified the areas that you love working with, as well as the areas that you don’t love, find ways of assessing these areas in your conversation with your potential clients. Usually by talking with the potential client about their goals for therapy, what is bringing them to therapy, symptoms, and past therapy experiences, you will be able to identify these areas.

Another important topic to include in your initial phone consultation is around availability, scheduling, and vacations. Please tune into next week’s episode where I’ll be chatting with my friend and colleague Patrick about making time for vacation in private practice.

If you only work certain days of the week, or have very specific hours, the phone consultation is a great place to inform potential clients of your availability. If the client needs weekday sessions after 5:00pm and you don’t work past 4:00pm, it’s just not going to work out.

Therapists should never feel guilty for taking vacations or time away from the office, yet many do. Planning vacations and down-time into your schedule is a necessary form of self-care. It keeps us healthy and drives away burnout.

For example, imagine that you’re someone who likes to take the month of July off to enjoy the Summer with your kid. By being proactive and discussing this with new clients on a phone consultation there is no worry when Summer rolls around because all of your clients are aware and have consented to this before you even began your work together.

I know some therapists who take a week off each month. During your phone consultation with clients you would need to inform them that there will be times when their appointments are two weeks apart. If they are adamant about being seen weekly, it’s just not going to work out – and that’s okay.

By having the discussion around availability and vacations you will be able to see if scheduling will work for both you and the client long-term.

Your cancellation policy is also a very important topic of discussion for the phone consultation. You want to ensure that you are fully transparent about your fees surrounding late cancellations and no-shows, and that the potential client fully understands their responsibilities when it comes to these fees – especially if they are an insurance-based client. They will need to understand that insurance does not cover any of these fees and that they will be responsible for the late cancellation fee out of their own pocket.

Your fee is another important topic for the phone consultation, and I’m going to jump on my soapbox for a moment about this topic before we move on.

Many of our potential clients have to muster up a lot of courage before making the call.

I firmly believe that the potential client should know your rate for services BEFORE the call. In my opinion it is not okay to have a client open up to you, be vulnerable, establish a genuine connection, only to then be told a fee that they cannot afford. You have wasted both their time and yours.

And it sickens me to see when potential clients start to see a therapist that they cannot afford because they were talked into it during the phone consultation. They then have to leave therapy after a few sessions because they cannot afford it. It’s likely the therapist was acting more like a salesperson and influenced the client by saying something like, “You can’t put a price on your mental health and well-being.”

You should NEVER EVER influence a client to see you in this way. I also strongly believe that your rates should be prominently displayed everywhere, and I’ll address this topic in Episode 26.

I’m now stepping down from my soapbox.

Now let’s talk about the structure of the phone consultations. There are a few ways to go about this. You may want to follow a script, you may wing it, or anything in between. The most important thing is that you know why you are having the phone consultation and ensuring you have that information by the end of the call.

What has been most helpful for me is to create a list of things I want to ensure have been addressed by the end of the phone consultation.

My list includes the following:

-Is the client a good fit? This means that I have assessed to ensure the couple is not seeking support for infidelity recovery, that they are committed to their relationship, and that they do not have unusually high conflict.

-Is the client open to my approach? This means that the couple agrees to complete an online relationship assessment, and is willing to work on their relationship outside of session.

-Can the client realistically afford my rate? This means that the clients are aware of the session fee and they have a rough estimate of how long they may be in treatment. I want to ensure that there is no financial hardship for them to attend therapy.

-Will my availability work with the clients schedules and do they understand that there will be times throughout the year when I may be unavailable for a few weeks at a time when I may be traveling or taking time off? The clients that I work with are not in crisis and are typically only wanting to learn a few helpful relationship skills, so this has never been a concern in my practice.

Your list will be different than mine. The items included are usually determined by the clients you serve. Some therapists may be asking more questions related to past mental health treatment, medications, hospitalizations, and family history. You know what is going to be most helpful to assess for in your practice.

You may also be a little nervous about the consultation and that’s okay. I have a couple of prompts during my phone consultation and they typically uncover all the information that I need to know.

-The first is: “Hello, it’s wonderful to chat with you today. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your relationship and what you’re looking for support with.”

-The second is: “Do you have any questions about me or the way that I work?”

With these two prompts I generally get everything that I need. We talk about their relationship, goals, presenting concerns, my fee and policies, scheduling, the structure of sessions, my training and approach, and much more.

You will likely be able to identify a couple of prompts that will work for your practice.

During each episode I’ll be giving you one small take away, action step, or mindset shift. I call these acorns. Listen to episode 0 to get the scoop on what the acorns are all about.

The acorn from this episode is to be yourself on the phone consultation.

I know that many therapists get extremely anxious about phone consultations, especially when you are first starting to offer them.

I promise, they do get much easier the more you do them.

Now I don’t think twice about them and I actually get excited to chat with a new couple to find out more about them and see how I can best help.

But until you get to the place of looking forward to your phone consults, I have a few tips. I’m going to share how you can psych yourself up for the phone consultation, even when you’re nervous.

The first tip is to breathe. I know, it sounds so simple. But take 5 really deep breaths before you make the call. It will do wonders.

Remind yourself that this person is seeking you out because they already think that you can help them – and you can. You have spent years in grad school for this. You have taken training in your respective field. You have seen clients before. You know what to do.

If all else fails and you panic and draw a blank, fall back on your basic skills as a therapist such as active listening, empathy, and positive regard.

As I outlined in episode 0, I’ll be alternating between a fun fact and ‘what I’m digging’ segment with each new episode.

The fun fact for this episode is that I’m not a huge fan of Summer. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain parts about it that I enjoy. I love paddle boarding and other activities that are centered around water. I also love sitting by a fire pit with friends on a cool evening.

But I absolutely despise being hot, and for me that is anything above 75 degrees – so I’m mostly a hermit in the Summer and take refuge in the air conditioning. I prefer Fall and Winter, but I wouldn’t trade Summer for anything. I feel very fortunate to live in an area that experiences all four seasons, and there are things about each one that I am thankful for.

I hope that you’ve had a chance to listen to my seasonal break bonus episodes. So far I’ve only done Spring and Summer, and you can expect the Autumn bonus episode at the end of this season. They are short and sweet, coming in under 4 minutes, and I hope they give you a little dose of seasonal inspiration for your private practice and your life.

Thank you so much for joining me today on your private practice journey.

For episode 23 I’m be chatting with Patrick Casale about how to make time for vacation in your private practice.

In the meantime, join me over on instagram @mountainpracticejourneys

There’s no way you can know how much it means to me that you choose to join me here as I share all things related to private practice. Please subscribe so you don’t miss a step. For more information about this episode, please visit the show notes page at mountainpracticejourneys.com/podcast I truly appreciate you Trailblazers. Your mountain is within reach. Journey on.

I Want You To Be Successful In Business & In Life!

Starting, growing, and maintaining a business is a big deal. It's super-exciting and super-scary all at the same time. I created Mountain Practice Journeys to support you through the difficult and muddy terrain, and to celebrate with you when you have reached each summit of the many mountains you will conquer on your journey.

Happy Climbing, Cindy

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