Decades of research suggest that a good patient-therapist relationship is essential to helping patients connect with, remain in and get the most from therapy (Psychotherapy, Vol. 55, No. 4, 2018). So, it can make sense to offer patients a free 20- to 30-minute phone consultation before an initial intake session to make sure you mesh well together and that you are well versed in any treatment they are looking for.
“Going through an initial intake takes so much emotional energy on the client’s part, and requires people to arrange their schedule to come in or participate virtually, and spend the co-pay,” says Connecticut private practitioner Carrissa Phillippe Phipps, PhD, who works mostly with college students dealing with anxiety and depression, as well as adults experiencing major life transitions such as a divorce or major career change.
She offers all potential clients a 30-minute free phone consultation. “Then, it could turn out to all be for nothing if we aren’t a good fit for each other or I don’t provide the treatment he or she is looking for.”
Further, for some clients, the decision to get psychological help is not made lightly, notes Pennsylvania private practitioner Pauline Wallin, PhD.
“By the time a person makes their initial appointment, they have probably been thinking about it for months or years,” she says. A free brief consultation can help reduce the uncertainty of what to expect, such that the prospective client is more apt to enter treatment sooner rather than later.
But not all practitioners are on board with the idea. Some say the practice devalues psychologists’ services and caution that patients may just want quick advice or may not be as committed to the work of therapy if they talk to you for free the first time.
“It diminishes the value of your therapy,” says Florida private practitioner Michael Spellman, PhD. “The message that the first one is free is great, if you’re an ice cream parlor, but it doesn’t communicate to people all the years of training you have as a practitioner.”
Some psychologists also question how useful a free consultation really is since they do not enable a psychologist to delve into the details behind why a client is looking for a therapist. Still others worry that a free consultation may establish a client-psychologist relationship.
“Once that relationship is established there are state and federal regulations that need to be met, including the need to ensure appropriate transfer of care, if the psychologist determines they are not able to meet the needs of the client,” says Anne Huben-Kearney, RN, assistant vice president of risk management for AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World (the risk management provider of the American Professional Agency Inc., APA’s professional insurance carrier).
To help you decide what will work best for your practice, consider this advice: