I walked into her dining room and saw it.
Piles of stacked paper.
She’d printed out probably 20 different therapists’ websites.
Printed. Them. Out.
They were stapled together – the Home Page printout on top, then the About Page, the Contact Page, the different pages describing whatever services that therapist offered.
Never in my life had I considered going through and printing out a website page by page and stapling that digital site together in physical paper form.
For perhaps the first time in my entire life, I encountered the true meaning of the word “dumbfounded.”
My brain struggled to piece thoughts together. It took me at least a couple minutes to reverse engineer the whole process that led to 20+ therapists’ websites being printed out and stacked across the wooden dining room table.
But you want to know the most shocking thing of all?
The stacked printed-out websites only ranked as the second-craziest thing I witnessed that day.
The Ringing Phone
I sat down at the table, cleared off a clear space for my laptop, and got to work.
We were building a website for this therapist.
I was working with her one afternoon a week for a couple months slowly but surely compiling all the site elements – the design, the images, the writing.
On that particular day, I was working on the site design while she sat across the table from me laboring over her About page.
And then, it happened.
The phone rang.
It rang again. And again.
I peered over my laptop screen at the therapist I was working with – let’s call her Barbara.
Barbara didn’t look up from her older model laptop where she was grimacing while rereading whatever she’d just written.
The phone stopped ringing.
I kept staring at the phone.
“Are you going to call that number back?” I asked.
“What?” Barbara looked up from her immersion in the agony (and ecstasy) or writing her About page.
“Your phone just rang a few times and you didn’t answer. What if it was a new client calling?”
Since we were working on her website to help her grow her practice, I figured that she would be eager to catch every lead possible.
I was apparently mistaken.
“Oh, I’d never just call someone back if they don’t leave a voicemail.”
The Controversial Suggestion
I’d been a prospective client searching for a therapist a number of times previously.
If you’ve never tried to find a therapist, then I’ve got news for you: it isn’t a particularly enjoyable process.
One of the most maddening things about trying to find a therapist is that most therapists apparently think it’s a good idea to never call you back.
Try it if you don’t believe me.
Give 10 therapists a call.
Watch how at least 8 of them don’t answer when you call (and I get it – they’re probably in session or otherwise occupied).
When they don’t answer, try only leaving a voicemail with half of them.
With the other half, just hang up.
Wait 48 hours.
Count how many times you heard back from any of the therapists you called.
If you hear back from even ONE therapist, you’re ahead of the curve.
Most of the time, not even one therapist will get back to you within 48 hours.
Being a Prospective Therapy Client Is Basically No Fun
Since I have been a prospective therapy client so many times, I’m going to let you in on how the other side thinks.
Those callers who are trying to learn more about your work? They’re just normal average people going through an incredibly hard time seeking some help.
They aren’t at their most functional, usually.
They aren’t in the best state of mind.
They are trying to find a therapist with whom they can feel comfortable divulging intimate personal secrets.
Everything about looking for a therapist basically sucks.
Any conversation about whether or not to return missed calls to your practice phone number MUST begin with the understanding of where someone is coming from when they call into your practice looking for therapy.
10 Reasons Why a Prospective Therapy Client
Might Not Leave a Voicemail
There are all sorts of reasons why a caller might not want to leave a voicemail when they call into your practice.
Here are 10 just off the top of my head (based on my lived experience being one of those non-voicemail-leaving callers):
- They just generally hate leaving voicemails.
- They’re not particularly interested in leaving intimate details of their trials and tribulations on the voicemail of someone they’ve never met.
- They’re concerned about privacy and don’t want their recorded voice left on a bunch of therapists’ voicemail boxes.
- You’re the fifth therapist in a row they’ve called who hasn’t answered – and they just hung up the phone in frustration.
- They figure they’ll just call back later since all the other therapist they left voicemails with didn’t bother to call them back.
- They’re busy and racing on to the next thing on their list when they don’t get through to you.
- They take your non-answering personally and don’t feel like continuing to pursue you for therapy by even leaving the dang voicemail.
- They’re not great with technology and got mixed up while trying to leave the voicemail and accidentally hung up instead.
- They’re depressed, and you not answering is just one more sign that they’re cursed so they hung up in complete resignation.
- They’d really rather just speak to someone instead of speaking to a machine, thank you very much.
There’s No Good Reason Not to Return
Your Missed (Voicemail-less) Calls
Having had this conversation with countless therapists, I know what you’re thinking.
“But what about the ethics of calling people back?”
First off, the ethics of this are valid. It’s good to think them through.
There are cases where the person calling is in an abusive relationship and needs to cover their tracks when they seek help.
However, in 99% of cases, you’re actually doing more harm by not returning the missed call.
Most people have their own cell phones. You’re not calling a landline the whole family relies upon.
So, how do you honor those edge cases where someone may be calling out of a situation where it would be bad news for anyone else to know they tried to reach out to a therapist?
And how, generally, do you maintain strict confidentiality but still call folks back so you can help all the prospective clients who aren’t inclined to leave a voicemail at your practice number?
You keep it simple.
You call them back.
If someone answers, you say something like: “Hi there – I’m Jane and I think I may have missed a call from this number earlier.”
If the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know what you’re talking about, then you say something like, “Oops, sorry about that. I must have been confused. Have a nice day.” And then you hang up and move on with your day.
If you get their voicemail, you can leave a simple voicemail like: “Hi there, I’m Jane and I think I may have missed a phone call from this number earlier. Feel free to call me back.”
You give zero indication that you’re a therapist.
You don’t give your full name.
But you do call the person back to see if you can speak with them.
95%+ of the Time, People Will Be
Extremely Grateful You Called Them Back
What’ll you experience by following this simple practice?
By far the vast majority of the time, people will be grateful and surprised that you called them back.
Since most therapists aren’t in the practice of calling anyone back, and since most would-be therapy clients are by definition going through difficulties, the fact that you care enough to call them back will likely bowl them over.
By following this simple habit of calling all missed calls at your practice number back, you will pick up extra clients.
You will also make a good impression on many people even if they don’t become a client.
But What About Spam Callers?
Yes, some of those calls you miss are coming from spam calling centers.
And by calling those numbers back, too, you may have to extricate yourself from some unwanted solicitation conversations.
But let’s keep the focus on what really matters here.
The minor annoyance of getting off the phone quickly when you call back a missed call and it turns out to be a marketing center…that’s small potatoes compared to the profound benefits that will come if you reach even one person who’s going through hell and really needs a qualified therapist to talk to.
It’s far too common for therapists to look at things upside down and rationalize that confusion via professional ethics or “this is how we’ve always done it” rationalizations.
The appropriate way to view this stuff is to think very clearly about what someone who’s looking for therapy is going through.
In the vast majority of cases, they are going through intense challenges and pain.
They desperately need some help.
They are not at their most capable and functional.
They are, in fact, barely holding it together.
Being a professional means you’re able to recognize this and treat these prospective clients accordingly.
They call, they don’t leave a message, and so you carry the burden of calling them back.
Because you can.
Because that’s your job.
Back to Barbara’s Dining Room
So there I was, staring aghast at Barbara’s unanswered phone.
I explained all of the above to her.
She voiced the same objections I mentioned, also.
The ethical concerns. The abusive relationship what-if’s.
I insisted she call the number back. Immediately.
She relented – but only after several minutes of back and forth about the ins and outs of why calling these missed calls back is so important.
So, finally, Barbara picked up her phone.
She went to her missed calls.
She placed her finger on the red most recently missed call.
I could hear the other phone ringing as Barbara waited with baited breath.
“Hello, I just missed a call from this number.” Barbara’s voice was a little nervous, but then the other person responded with gratitude and surprise.
“Of course, I’m happy to speak with you if now’s a good time,” Barbara responded to the voice on the other end of the line.
She walked out of the dining room and into her kitchen, closing the door behind her.
I went back to work on Barbara’s website.
10 minutes later, Barbara returned to the wooden table, the stacks of printed-out websites, and me.
“We scheduled a first session,” Barbara said while smiling.
I smiled, too.
Someone who was looking for help was about to get that help – but only because Barbara did the courageous, ethical thing and picked up the phone to call back a prospective client.
How to Grow Your Therapy Practice Faster Than Ever Before
If you’ve read this far, then you can tell we know what we’re doing when it comes to helping therapists grow their practices.
To learn more about how we can help you, book a call with one of our practice growth specialists today.