How to discern real clients from fake clients

quoteThe last post I wrote was about when “prospective clients” contact you just because they’ve decided that they want to be nasty to a therapist today.  This got me thinking about other people that contact you, seemingly because they want to set up a therapy appointment, but actually they have no intention of doing that.  This is a problem that I’m going to assume only affects therapists in private practice.  You folks that work at the agencies and other institutions have “gate keepers” (i.e. support staff) and so probably don’t have to deal with this too often.  But for those of us in private practice, this is a big problem.  Recently I was thinking about all of the work tasks I do that I don’t get paid for, and realized one of the biggest time-wasters was dealing with fake clients.

“Fake clients” are people who contact you under the guise of being a “prospective client”, but actually they have no intention of becoming a client.  That’s why I call them “fake” clients.  For any therapist in private practice, fake clients are a major time drain and keep us from doing what we love: seeing and helping real clients. The ability to spot a fake client right away can help you to waste less time and be more productive with your real clients.  So, with that goal in mind, I’ve written this post outlining the different types of fake clients you will at some point experience in private practice.  If I’m missing anything, please feel free to let me know!

  1. Tire-kickers:  These are easy to spot because they ask a million questions, several emails will be exchanged back and forth, but ultimately you will never see this person in your office.  I’ve noticed that my real clients will just send an email asking when my next available appointment is and ask maybe one question.  This is because all the information they might need to know is found easily on my website.  When someone asks a bunch of questions that I know are one my website, sometimes listed in several places, that’s when I know the person is probably just going to waste my time.  Like I said, I’m able to spot these people because everything’s on my website.  If you don’t have a website or don’t have much info on it, you should probably fix that asap so as to avoid tire-kickers yourself.
  2. The entitled:  These are people who expect to get their therapy for free or almost free.  I remember in the beginning of my private practice I encountered a lot of these people.  Even though they had insurance, they didn’t want to use it and they of course didn’t want to pay my fee.  They insisted on getting free therapy.  I took a few on because I had a lot of openings in my appointment book and figured if I did a good job they might refer some people to me.  Well, I never got any referrals from them and they were the most demanding and difficult clients I ever had.  I never made that mistake again.  But even if you don’t give away your services for free, you will still get clients that refuse to pay their copay, deductible, any cancellation fees you have, etc.  If they pay out of pocket, they expect your services to be heavily discounted, at least 75% off.  And if you do decide to accommodate them, they are at least twice as demanding and time-consuming as your full-paying clients.  I’ve found that a good way to avoid these clients is to post on your website what your fees are and say that your fees are non-negotiable or “firm”.  I know a lot of therapists don’t want to advertise what they charge, but it really is the best way to avoid this problem.  I also only do “sliding scales” for clients already on my case load that I know are actually struggling.
  3. Attention-seekers:  These are people that email you their life story, seem very much in need of therapy, but have no intention of ever coming in for an appointment.  They are just lonely, want to have a “pen pal” with a therapist, and that’s it.  They might also call you, talk to you on the phone for as long as you will let them about how depressed they are, etc, but believe me, they have no intention of making an appointment no matter how desperate or in need of a therapist they seem.  Once again, I’ve noticed that my real clients are very short and to the point when they call.
  4. Samplers:  For more information on samplers, read my other blog post “why I stopped offering free initial consultations”  . Samplers are very similar to the entitled.  It wont matter how much information you have on your website, they want more of your time for free “to make sure you are the right therapist for them”.  This will usually manifest itself as wanting to have a free initial consultation “in order to get to know you”.  What you’ll discover is that the person tries to cram two years worth of therapy into that one session and then you never hear from the person again.  Another way they reveal themselves is by wanting very detailed information, such as wanting you to describe or email them the treatment plan you would use on them if they were your client.  Although they seem serious over the phone, they will never be your client.
  5. The not-nice: Refer to my last post for more information on this topic.  The not-nice are a sort of like attention-seekers in that they are lonely and seeking attention, but they go about it in a very rude and nasty way.  They are angry and want to lash out at a therapist, so they pretend to a prospective therapist in order to get a foot in the door.  Most of my real clients are very nice, grateful, or at least respectful or me and my role as a therapist.  The not-nice are not.
  6. Postponers:  I should give a disclaimer that this one really depends on the therapist and how they do business.  When prospective clients contact me, I’m able to give them an appointment either that same week or the following week tops, but I know that it’s not unusual for therapists to book their client’s first appointment a month out or even more.  For therapists that regularly book clients’ first appointment a month or so in advance,this one is going to be tricky.  That being said… I’ve found that real clients typically want to have their first appointment as soon as possible.  They’ve been thinking of doing therapy for a while and are now ready to take the plunge.  Postponers are people who want to book their first appointment 4 weeks, 6 weeks, or even 8 weeks out.  During those 4 weeks they will call and email back and forth almost endlessly.  Then, a day or even hour before their appointment, they’ll send you an email saying they’ve cancelled.  Postponers are probably the biggest time-wasters out there and it’s because of them that I have a policy that I won’t schedule an appointment more than two weeks out.  I tell them to contact me again a week before they want to start therapy.

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My name is Marina Williams and I am a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Jamaica Plain, MA. This website is my professional website devoted to my activities as a therapist. If you are interested in finding out more about my private practice, please visit my other website


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