In Ten Ways to Find a Good Therapist I focused on how you can get promising referrals, an important step to locating a therapist who will work well with you. Once you have two or three names, then what?
Narrowing down your prospects is a lot like triage or 20 questions. You don’t want to spend a lot of time talking with someone about your problems only to find out they don’t have room for new patients. First contact is usually made by phone, but more and more frequently people are using email. Either way, making that first call or writing the first email to a prospect can add to your stress so here’s a script that I hope will help in your search:
Hello, my name is *** and I’m looking for a therapist. Your name was given to me by *** [or I found you on the Internet]…
1.Are you taking new patients? If the answer is NO you are done and you can say thank you and goodbye. If YES continue…
2. I am looking for someone to help me with… Briefly describe your most critical issue, the thing that is bothering you the most. Do you work with that? If YES continue to the next question.
3. Regarding your payment: Are you a participating provider on my insurance panel? Do you handle the claims? What types of payment do you take? Do not be afraid to be clear about your financial situation. They may have a sliding scale or payment options for you. If the answers to these questions are satisfactory, go on to the next question…
4. How soon could you see me? If they can see you within two weeks, that’s great. Some very good therapists, however, are booked weeks, even months ahead. This is especially true if their service is specialized, child or adolescent services, for example. If the therapist is still taking new patients, and so far you have a good feeling about them, go ahead and make an appointment. You can continue your search and if you find someone equally qualified who can see you sooner, take that appointment as well. Seeing more than two people face-to-face is a good idea, allowing you to have more certainty once you make a choice. Professionals are fine with this and understand you are doing your due diligence.
5. Is there anything else you need or anything I should know before our appointment? A catch-all question that could include directions to the office, receiving any paperwork to be filled out before the appointment, an exchange of essentials like contact information, cancellation policies, etc.
This conversation usually takes about fifteen minutes. Of course the therapist or office staff may have questions and procedures of their own.
In addition to gathering the obvious information, evaluate the experience of this first contact, as well. Whether you are talking to the therapist directly or to an intake/office person: Are they courteous, patient and reassuring or are they rude, irritable and dismissive? If you send the questions by email or have to leave a message, how quickly do you get a response? Expecting a response within forty-eight hours during regular business hours is reasonable. If they can’t see you for whatever reason do they offer help in your continuing search?
When your head and gut are telling you this contact could be a good therapist for you, make the appointment.
Because entering into therapy is a serious commitment, I offer the first session for no charge whether it be in the office, by phone or Skype. Many therapists do the same, although I can’t say that it is standard practice. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker if they don’t offer a gratis session.
If you found a good therapist, how did you find him/her? Would you add anything to this ‘first contact’ script? If you are a therapist, what suggestions do you have for people who are looking for good quality counseling?