I have had several questions about how to make the payment piece of counseling easier. Before I explain what I do, I want to discuss a few concepts.
First, this is more a boundaries issue than a counseling issue. It does feel awkward to ask someone for money right after they poured out their heart. Imagine you were out with a friend and you poured out your heart to them. Then your friend says, “Since I just listened to all that and gave you advice, I think you should buy me a glass of wine.” That would make you feel terrible.
Early in my career I often felt like the friend asking for the glass of wine. The difference is, you are a professional, not a friend out for a glass of wine.
Remember, you are establishing boundaries that set you up as the therapeutic professional, not a friend.
Second, clients have initiated service knowing that you are a professional. They expect to pay. They called you for your services!
Here are some steps that seem to really help. I now rarely have to track down a bill, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to wait very long to get paid:
Tip One | The intro
When the client is setting up the appointment over the phone (after we have talked about what types of services they are looking for) I recommend that they review my website, as well as the billing section: http://www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com/new/sessions-rates/. I also ask, “Do you have any questions about how we do not accept insurance?” This helps us to discuss the billing from the front end.
Tip Two | The end of the first session
At the conclusion of the intake, I walk the client through the billing form: this is where I put your name, the code, the session date, services, cost, balance, and your next session date/time. “At the end of each session I’ll give you this if you want it for your HAS, FSA, or to submit to your insurance.”
Tip Three | Always end the same
I always end the session the same:
- Grab the receipts to start filling it out
- Start filling it out
- Ask, “What check number are you using?”
- Schedule next appointment
By doing this, clients know the wrap up is starting, it’s like the transition music has started.
Of course, you must always have your client’s interests in mind. There are times you have to go over because it is what the client needs. There are other times that you may go over because you’re not sure how to wrap up the session. Figuring out your own strengths is really important.
Tip Four | Follow-up
I have had some folks that forget their checkbook or money. If it is early in counseling sessions, I will let them know that they need to drop it off prior to the next session. If they are established, usually I can have them pay at the next session. If someone is 2 sessions behind, we won’t schedule another appointment.
By setting the “prior” rule, I don’t end up spending time on billing/stalking/getting upset with my clients.
I hope these tips help you to improve your relationship with clients, by helping them know what to expect
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a therapist, counselor, psychologist, and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com in Traverse City, MI. He helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples…and just about everyone else. He is a frequent speaker in the Traverse City area, Michigan, and nationally. He helps counselors in private practice through his blog www.PracticeofthePractice.com and through individual consulting.