Quite often, the first step to making an appointment for therapy is through a phone call. In the mental health biz, this call to begin therapy is referred to as the “intake call”. Over time, I have realized the significance of this interaction. It is an essential first impression of how the therapeutic experience will unfold. Because of the importance, I place on this experience for a prospective client, tremendous care and intention goes into hiring the right personnel to engage the callers. These individuals are not therapists, but rather advocates for the mental health practice whose goals include minimizing barriers to treatment, creating a positive first impression and providing hope that therapy is a sound choice for igniting change.
By personally taking these phone calls for the first 10 plus years of my group practice, I learned a lot about what is desired and required to make this part of a successful mental health service delivery.
Here’s what to expect:
1. The caller is experiencing vulnerability by sharing sensitive information with a total stranger. It is not an easy phone call to make. I have felt the shame and embarrassment in voices. I have heard how long the caller contemplated reaching for months before actually doing so. Additionally, I have listened as the caller apologized for the tears and cracking voice while describing the difficulties in his or her life.
A client should be greeted with a warm and hospitable tone, sending the message, “you make a good choice by making this call”. We honor this vulnerability by thanking he or she for calling. We simply listen compassionately at this point.
2. Answering the prospective client’s questions is critical. Therapy does not start on the phone, but the therapeutic experience certainly does. The therapeutic experience is a key part of a positive outcome. As part of this, a client begins the process of trust building. The prospective client asks a question and is provided clear, transparent and honest answers.
At the most basic level of trust building, if a voice message is left by a client, they are respected with a return call within a reasonable amount of time. Once contact is made, questions about insurance, fees, type of therapy and office location are addressed.
3. The intake specialist will ask “what brings you to therapy?” or “what are you going to work on in therapy?” The goal of these questions is to understand a general idea of what needs to be addressed. This information is often used to select a therapist who is the appropriate match. For instance, if depression symptoms are heightened by marital problems, a marriage and family therapist may be selected as the best choice for a therapist. The intake specialist knows the credentials and specializations of each provider.
When all information is presented to the client and gathered from the client, the scheduling process unfolds. A date and time are determined.
4. The intake specialist gives the client the address and directions of how to find the clinic. Any additional details are also shared, demystifying the first appointment. The intention at this point in the phone call is to ease the client and send the message that they have made a good decision to start the therapy process. As many details are provided as possible to almost paint a picture of what the client can expect. Limiting surprises and managing expectations helps the process of a first session go much better.
In fact, often our intake specialist directs the client to visit the practice’s website where he or she will get a visual of the therapist, the exterior of the clinic and the actual therapy rooms. All of these details are intended to soothe the anxiety of the client, helping to prepare them for a meaningful first therapy session.
A competent intake specialist understands that anxiety is running high for callers. It may be one of the most difficult phone calls the potential client has ever made. Understanding the magnitude of this call is a big part of training for our intake personnel at my group practice. Our intake specialists are encouraged to be sensitive, calm and respectful.
During the orientation of our intake specialists, we discuss the most vital part of a successful therapy outcome, which happens to be the relationship between the therapist and client. The intake specialist serves as a match-maker, initiating a positive healing relationship between client and therapist before the two people even meet for the first time.
Investing time, extending a compassionate ear and communicating gently with prospective callers is a critical part of the intake process at any mental health clinic. The client’s first impression is significant and lays the foundation for their entire experience in therapy. In the mental health world we refer to it as client care, but at its’ core, we are really talking about old-fashioned customer service. It matters (a lot).
Are you ready to take the plunge and connect with our intake specialists? Give us a call to get started.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.