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When You Can’t Say ‘Yes’: Navigating Email Enquiries with Empathy

Question - do you follow a system when you receive an email enquiry from someone that you cant work with for some reason? Maybe you're at capacity, or their issue is outside your competence, or something else.

To be honest, I think probably most people don't. But you could be missing a trick, because by having a system, it can reduce stress, save time and serve that client better.

So today, I’m going to explore what to do when you can't say yes to enquiries so you can make the process easier for you, and more professional and helpful for the client. 


Last week, I had a little rant about directory entries and how often, they just don't help potential clients to make the best choice of therapist. If you didn’t listen, hop on over to episode 154, 'Counsellor or Clone? Breaking Through the Monotony of Online Directories'

Today is similar - well, not a rant as such, more of a reminder about something.

A Personal Story: The Impact of Unanswered Emails

I was talking to one of my members recently, and we talked about how important it is to make the clients journey into therapy as simple as possible. 

(Which I do have a free resource for you if you'd like help with this - just click the image.)

Your Clients Journey into Therapy

And they said that a loved one of theirs was really struggling, to the point of having some suicidal thoughts. So they looked for a therapist and emailed a few for more details. 

But here's the thing - not all therapists replied. 

And of course, I’m sure we are all aware of the impact that can have for a person feeling vulnerable and fragile. 

Now I’m almost positive that no therapist would deliberately just ignore an enquiry. But sometimes, emails do get lost, and we're unaware. 

So just as a reminder, today we’re going to take a look at how to manage email enquiries, because this could be something you can review and improve. 

Email Management Tips for Therapists

So, how do we ensure we don't miss out on such critical communications? Here's a breakdown:

  • Regular Checks: Ensure you're checking your emails at least twice daily.
  • Don't Forget Spam: Sometimes, genuine emails land in the spam folder. It's annoying and frustrating, but it happens. So always check in your spam folder. You'll be kicking yourself if a genuine enquiry ended up there and you lost it.   
  • Use Out-of-Office Replies: If you're not frequently checking your emails because it's not possible for you due to work or other commitments, have an automated response in place. Tell the potential client when they can expect a reply.

Crafting a Thoughtful Response

If you receive an enquiry and for whatever reason you you won't be taking them on - whether you are at capacity, or they are outside your competency, or its just not something you like working with, take the time to acknowledge their enquiry.

Then tell them you aren't available, and then give them some ideas for where to get help, or refer them to someone you know and trust. 

So it could go something like this;

Dear [Name],

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately, I am not taking on new clients at this time.

However, as you are struggling with [XXX], I highly recommend you contact [XXX] who specialises in [this subject/ has lots of experience working with XXX] and might be a great fit for your needs.

Additionally, [organisation/name/charity] offers a helpline that could provide immediate support and guidance during this time.

I truly hope you find the right therapist for you, and I wish you a bright future.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

Read it out loud, and change it to sound like you. 

Now that might seem like a lot of work, once written, you can keep a copy of what you want to say. Then, when you receive an enquiry that you won't be taking on, you can just copy/paste it over and tweak to fit the client.

So when you get an enquiry, you'll be able to respond well, even if you don't have much time.

But think of it from the point of view of the person thats looking for a therapist. the person receiving such a thoughtful response will appreciate it. They might even go on to recommend you to a friend. 

So, inspiration without action is merely entertainment, so this weeks action step is to review your process.  By examining the process in advance, you will get a system in place and it will make it so easy to cary out.

Action Steps: Make it a Habit

Inspiration without action is simply entertainment. This week, take a moment to review your email processes and see where you might improve the system. With a set system, handling email enquiries will become second nature.

I do hope you have found this useful and can see that by just making a small change to your process, it will help both you and the potential client. 

And if you need more help check out The Grow Your Private Practice book, where you'll find help with setting a firm foundation, managing your mindset and practical help to take you forward. Just click the box below

Grow Your Private Practice book, for counsellors and psychotherapists

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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 with her feet up and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.