Do you have clients who leave therapy before treatment was complete? It happens to all of us. Signals of poor client retention and client frustration with therapy can sound like: “I can talk to a friend and get the same kind of help you are giving me” or “I am too busy for this.” You might hear: “Therapy costs too much to continue with” or “I don’t see what good this is doing.”
Having a client leave therapy prematurely is difficult and can be upsetting to both the client and the therapist. You do your best to provide empathy, caring, and treatment; if a client ends treatment abruptly, without explanation or notice, it can feel like a bad breakup: You were dumped.
A Bad Breakup
A therapist can speculate endlessly to understand why a client left treatment, but it points to a larger problem affecting the therapy profession: Twenty to forty percent of those who need our services leave therapy before completion. This poor retention is almost always tied to a lack of client satisfaction.
Therapy, even therapy based on short- term methods, requires time and repeat visits to be successful. We need to engage our clients, session by session. It’s important that you, as the therapist, know how your clients feel and think about the services they are receiving from you as the process proceeds.
What Clients Think about Your Services
Let me ask you a few questions about your success in client retention:
- Do your clients feel that they get good value for the cost and considerable effort they put into therapy?
- Can your clients articulate the gains they have made as a result of treatment?
- Do they stay long enough to complete treatment?
These are important questions for you, as a therapist, to assess and measure. If you answered no to any of these, you are not alone. Most therapists need to improve their ability to retain clients to offer treatment gains.
This last question, if clients stay long enough to get a return on their investment of treatment, my definition of retention, is especially important to address.
I have been interested in resolving the problems of poor client satisfaction and low retention for a long time, and written and given workshops on this topic. I have a chapter on this topic in the 2nd Edition of Building Your Ideal Private Practice titled “Retaining Today’s Clients” that explains why those coming for therapy now are often even more difficult to engage than those clients who sought therapy in earlier times.
My new book, Therapy with a Coaching Edge: Partnership, Action and Possibility in Every Session (W.W. Norton, May-April 2018) offers a new model of psychotherapy that addresses the need to better retain clients head-on. To develop this model, I embedded a strategic model of retention and client satisfaction into the structure of each session.
I have found that it takes 3 steps in order to boost client satisfaction. It begins on the front end of therapy, with your first hello. The 3 steps are:
- Set realistic expectations
- Take the mystery out of what therapy is and what you are doing in each session
- Make value visible
Want to know how to do this? Please watch this space to learn more.