Should you offer therapy clients a free first session_ - Jane Travis, Grow Your Counselling Business

Should you offer therapy clients a free first session?

This question is debated regularly in counselling discussions, the pros and cons of free initial sessions. 

The truth is, there simply isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer, it is literally your business and up to you how you choose to run it.  

However, there are a few considerations to take into account.  Here are some issues for you to reflect on as you make your choice

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Offering a free initial therapy session

Should you offer therapy clients a free first session_ - Jane Travis, Grow Your Counselling Business

Arguments for:

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    Clients have the opportunity to meet you to see if you're a good fit
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    You have the opportunity to meet the client and ensure you're working within competences and refer on if not 
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    Gives the client the chance to 'shop around' for the best fit counsellor 

Against:

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    You will be out of pocket if you have to rent a room and/or travel
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    It takes up a lot of time
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    Undervalues the work you do
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    In Transactionsal Analysis, it can put the counsellor in the role of 'rescuer' the client in the role of 'victim'
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    Working without being paid can cause resentment, which gets in the way of the counselling process 
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Offering a paid initial session

Arguments for:

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    You are using all your skills and knowledge and should be paid for it
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    It demonstrates your value
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    It makes the relationship balanced, 'adult/adult' 
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    Initial sessions can be very hard work
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    Any questions can be answered via a phone call or email 

Against:

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    A client might be attracted to someone elses free offer

Personally, I have done both.  I used to offer a free consultation when I first started out but with the benefit of hindsight, that was mainly due to my own lack of confidence around charging for counselling.

When I stopped offering a free initial session, I noticed no difference in the number of inquiries or people contracting with me, and others that have tried both report the same.

So is it a lack of confidence that puts you off charging for your time from the onset? Worth some reflection, or discussion at supervision. 

It's also worth considering that in many other health and wellbeing professions (acupuncture, chiropractor etc), the initial appointment has a higher price than a regular appointment because they usually allow more time for detailed history taking.

When starting out, offering a free initial session is more possible as you may have more time available, but once your practice builds, could you find the extra hours a week for unpaid client work?

And you simply may not be able to afford to offer free sessions. You need to earn a living too!

Other ideas

Some other ways people manage their initial appointments:

  • Free for 30 min, but to round up to an hour charge an extra £x
  • Charge half in order to cover expenses
  • Pay extra for initial consultation due to time and complexity

Conclusion

There really is no right or wrong answer, only what feels right for you.  But remember, nothing is written in stone and if what you currently offer no longer works for you, you can change it. 

Do you have any other ideas/considerations regarding a free initial session? Please leave a comment below and share it. 

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About the Author Jane

Jane lives in beautiful Lincoln with her 2 boys and rescue dog. When she's not talking about herself in the third person, she's usually found drinking wine and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.

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