The Importance of Initial Client Screening in Private Practice

Our series, Managing Your Private Practice, examines how to successfully run your private practice as a behavioral health clinician. Essential to any therapy practice is a clear process for screening new clients.

As clinicians, we know what happens in January…every January. We get inundated with new clients. Coming off the stress of the holidays, possible family drama, anxiety over the coming year, post-holiday blues. There is so much need this time of year.

Having worked with hundreds of private practice clinicians over the course of our agency’s 13-year history, we’re reminded (particularly at this time of year) of the importance of screening. With all the requests and referrals you’re likely receiving, it’s more important than ever to slow down and screen. Do you have a tried-and-true screening process? Do you know who your ideal client is? Have you identified your particular therapeutic skills so you can ensure your skills match the clients’ needs? Are you clear up front about your schedule, rates, and what insurances you do (and do not) accept?

As clinicians, one of the things we all dread is getting into a relationship with a client whose needs do not align with our therapeutic skill set or modality of treatment. And because most practitioners do this work because they are called to help, it can be challenging NOT to accept a new client. Client screening is is about creating the right match between therapist and client so that the client receives the highest quality of care. It’s also about ensuring ongoing satisfaction in your work.

Screening Strategies for Initial Client Call

Here are a few screening strategies we’ve seen our affiliated clinicians employ that have set them up for successful new client relationships.

Be True to Yourself, Your Values, and Your Brand

We suggest screening clients in a way that feels authentic to you. You should have the freedom to develop a process that makes you feel comfortable and confident. You may want to do short, structured calls or longer, more free-form calls. You may want to send a follow-up email after the call to reiterate what was said. Regardless of how you screen or what your process is, the process should be followed consistently so that both you and the client get the information needed to ensure a productive, lasting relationship and also to ensure the process and level of care are the same for all, regardless of age, disability, religion, cultural background and sexual identity.

Know Your Niche

We could write an entire blog about finding your niche (and we plan to!), but for the purposes of screening, it’s important to identify what your particular therapeutic style and specialties are. What presenting concerns are you most interested in? What are you really good at?

As you know, not every therapist is the right fit for every client, and not every client’s needs align with a therapist’s expertise. Client screening allows you to evaluate your own competencies and determine if you have the necessary skills and experience to address a potential client’s specific concerns. Treatment plan interventions denoting your specific therapeutic modalities ensures more effective and focused treatment, enhancing the overall quality of care.

Consider creating a checklist of items you need to ask to identify if you might be able to help a potential client. Are there certain presenting issues you stick to within your niche? 

By knowing your niche, you will also be able to determine at the time of screening if the client’s level of distress and presenting concern are appropriate for the type and level of care you provide.

Know Your “Target Market”

Who is your ideal client? Based on your specialties or niche, what types of clients do you most enjoy treating and working with? In our experience, we see practitioners gaining much more satisfaction from their work when they are working with a population that they have identified as people they wish to serve.

Can you identify certain criteria surrounding the clients you want to treat? Do you only work with adults? Families? Adolescents? Do you only work with clients who have MaineCare or private insurance?

It’s helpful to have a list ready of other therapists in your area so you can easily refer out if you are unable to serve the client within your specialty or scope of practice.

Don’t Forget the Logistics

It’s important to inform clients of your rate at your earliest convenience. Before you schedule an appointment, ask the client if they have any questions about schedules, insurance, or fees. If a client has a pressing question about logistics at the beginning of the call, consider answering it right away so you don’t waste their time. There’s always a chance that your fee is too high for their budget, you don’t accept their insurance, or your schedules don’t align.

Be sure to have a plan for sorting out logistics in the initial call regardless of whether the potential client inquires about them. Here are some key logistics to go over:

  • Scheduling
  • Fees/Insurance
  • Location accessibility
  • Initial paperwork requirements

We encourage you to think about your screening process not as a means to exclude clients, rather as a means to create the best conditions for a successful therapeutic relationship. In private practice, you take on so many roles – from clinician to business owner. We find it’s helpful for our affiliated clinicians to think about the client screening process as a strategic tool for managing various aspects of your private practice including the mitigation of your own burnout! By carefully evaluating potential clients, you can build strong therapeutic relationships, reduce risks, and ultimately enhance your client’s overall well-being. In doing so, you provide the highest standard of care while fostering a fulfilling and sustainable private practice.<

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