How Client Retention Creates Productive Therapists by Shannon Heers

by contributing author Shannon Heers of Firelight Supervision

The goal of most practice owners is to optimize their practice: to see maximum returns with the minimum amount of effort and financial outlay. 

Client retention may not sound like the most exciting topic to talk about, but it’s a key part of optimizing your practice. This alone is a great reason to focus on client retention, but it can also help improve your practice’s overall productivity. In this blog, we will discuss some key benefits of client retention, as well as some simple tips to retain more of your ideal clients.

1 - Client Retention Saves Money

If you’re a private practice therapist, you wear many hats. In addition to providing counseling and therapy services to your clients, you also may be a business owner. And as a business owner, you don’t want to spend more money than you need to. You want to save money wherever you can, because let’s face it, every dollar counts.

So how can retaining your clients help save you money? Well, think about how much it costs you to acquire a new client. And if you don’t know, take a look at your numbers and your data, and guesstimate. Because getting new clients costs either time or money - and probably both.

If you’re spending your time acquiring new clients, it can look like this: time spent networking and marketing, or time spent negotiating insurance contracts and checking benefits. Perhaps you spend time creating fancy flyers or social media posts, or scrolling through local therapist groups looking for referrals. Even time spent with potential referral sources in the community. 

All of this can add up to a lot of time! And this is time you could’ve been spending seeing paying clients, so even though you may think of your time as ‘free’, it’s really costing your business money.

If you’re also spending money to acquire new clients, that is also a drain on your business. Maybe you spend money to post your profile on online directories, or money to print out business cards to hand out in the community. You can spend money on any number of marketing strategies including paid ads, investing in SEO for your website, or hiring a consultant to help you get more clients. 

It’s important to spend some time and money to acquire new clients, but the amount you spend can be optimized if you have fewer new clients to get regularly. By keeping the clients you have on your caseload - of course doing this appropriately and ethically - you can directly save yourself the cost of acquiring a new client to replace one that has left. 

2 - Client Retention Encourages Deeper Healing

What?! Is this true? This may be subjective, but I do believe that deeper healing with our clients occurs the longer that they engage in clinically-appropriate therapy. Sure, you can provide some symptom relief within a few counseling sessions. But I believe that deeper healing comes within relationships, in particular from the therapeutic relationship between yourself as the therapist and your client.

The longer you provide excellent therapy to your clients, the more chance they have to experience a positive, healing relationship, with the goal then being to replicate this in other relationships in their lives. Deeper healing can thus be experienced by your client.

I also absolutely believe in skills-based approaches like CBT, DBT, SFBT, etc. Teaching your clients some of these skills, and using these modalities in-session can be incredibly beneficial for your clients. 

All of these modalities are considered shorter-term treatments. This is great for some practices - especially those that are insurance-based - to be able to treat many clients in a shorter amount of time. But these types of practices don’t necessarily need to focus on client retention, because they don’t lack new clients coming through the doors.

In your practice, you want to keep the clients you have longer so that you can improve the treatment outcomes for your clients. Providing great therapy is really meaningful for therapists, and is really the main reason why we do what we do. 

3 - Client Retention Gives You Quality Feedback

Productive therapists are also smart therapists. You gather data, assess that data, and then make changes based on what the data tells you. So, what does your client retention data tell you? There is both explicit and implicit feedback that you can get from your client retention data.

I’m assuming that you’re keeping data in your practice, and if you aren’t, now is a good time to start. Tracking the number of inquiries you get, the number of intakes and the number of clients who complete therapy are great categories to start with. But pure numbers can only take you so far, now you need to interpret these numbers.

For example, if your data tells you that, as a private pay therapist, your average client duration of therapy is around 18 months, then you can assume a few things:

  • Your therapy is transformative or provides solutions
  • Your clients are willing to pay out of pocket to continue to see you
  • You have good therapeutic skills
  • You are good at creating a strong therapeutic relationship

At its most basic, all of this together can be taken as feedback that you are a good therapist! And doesn’t knowing that feel good?

Another example could be that you notice many of your clients dropping out at or around the 6-session mark. If this is a trend, and you want to retain your clients for longer than that, it will help to get some type of feedback from the clients who are dropping out. Why are they all dropping out around the same time, when their treatment goals aren’t fully met? What feedback can you take from this data and how can you improve your therapy skills regarding client retention?

Ok, this was a lot of information about why you, as a productive therapist, should focus on client retention. Are you convinced yet? Client retention is vital for optimizing your business and your client experience. 

Asking for feedback from your existing clients, as well as tracking inquiries, intakes, and retention rates are both great ways to start improving your client retention. The time and effort you put in to attracting your ideal clients and then retaining them for longer will reap dividends not just for you and your business, but for your clients, who will benefit from an improved clinical experience.

Author Bio:

Shannon Heers, LPC, LMCH, CAS, ACS is the Founder of Firelight Supervision, an online clinical supervision and consultation service that offers relationship-based clinical supervision to private practice therapists. Shannon is also the owner of a private-pay group practice in Colorado, Catalyss Counseling, and continues to strive to be a Productive Therapist.

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