How To Book A Counselling Appointment

I contemplated long and hard before writing this article…
“Is this topic condescending?”
“Is this too basic?”
“Too self-explanatory?”

Despite my doubts, I am proceeding anyway, and surprising myself along the way. This topic may be all of the above, and if you’re a counselling veteran, this article might not be that relevant to you.

So, at the risk of overthinking things, I’d like to talk about this topic, especially if any of you are wondering more about making a counselling booking. Ultimately, my belief is that making a first counselling appointment can be scary, and the more you know, the less scary it can be. And fear can also arise when you’re not new to the counselling game too.

Reaching Out to a Counsellor is Hard to Do

A few years ago, I found a new personal counsellor and I shocked myself a little when I realized how difficult it was to make that initial call. It was a humbling and helpful experience for me as a therapist, to again be in the position of client. It had been a few years since I had gone through this process, and actually a number of years after I wrote my original article on this topic.

I have long been interested in demystifying the counselling process and one of the first articles I ever wrote for my website was Finding a Therapist. But what I didn’t think about at the time was that once you have found a therapist, how do you take the next step and book your first appointment?

The answer seems obvious: make a phone call or send an email, right? And yes, you are correct, that will lead you in the right direction. But…there may be more to it than this.

Before I go any further, this article assumes that you have found the counsellor that you want to work with, or narrowed it down to a few. Please see these articles if you haven’t.

Contacting the Counsellor

Email

The most popular way of contacting a counsellor.

Pros

  • Can feel like a lower-barrier option than a phone call, especially if anxiety is high.
  • Can email any time, day or night.
  • Some folks express themselves better in writing.

Cons

  • The counsellor may want to talk to you first, so a phone call may come eventually (more on that later, including the fact that this is meant to help, not spook the client).
  • Email is not considered confidential unless the counsellor is using an encrypted email program.
  • Occasionally emails can be inadvertently sent to a therapist’s spam folder and the client will therefore receive no response from the unaware therapist.
  • Sometimes emails can get buried in the therapist’s inbox, particularly if the counsellor has received a particularly high volume of emails on one day.
  • Emails sometimes just don’t get delivered at all, or are days, months or weeks delayed. This is usually due to a server issue.

Contact Form

As seen on the contact page of some (but not all) therapists’ websites.

Pros

  • If the form is encrypted, it is a much more secure method for contacting a therapist than email. As such, you may choose to include more personal details about your situation. This works well for people who prefer to communicate through writing.

Cons

  • There is no email thread, including what you originally wrote to the therapist, which may be frustrating if you wish to go back and look for particular information.
  • If there is no automatic email confirmation, clients may wonder if their message got through.
  • If an email address is entered incorrectly in the contact field, the therapist will have no way to reach the potential client.
  • Some contact forms may not be encrypted, offering no more security than an email.

Online Booking Option

Some therapists’ websites provide the option of online booking for new clients, allowing you to book directly online.  Other therapists may have online booking, but as a feature open only to existing clients.

Pros

  • Bookings can be made 24/7, which is extremely convenient.
  • Can feel less intimidating than sending an email, completing a form or making a phone call.
  • Can feel like a satisfying first step, “getting the ball rolling.”
  • A practical option allowing you to see the counsellor’s schedule at a glance, so you can more easily choose a time that works for you.

Cons

  • Online booking may not be as instant as it seems. Potential clients may not realize that some therapists will contact you directly after your first booking to help ensure that their services are right for you, before confirming the appointment. Ultimately, this is to ensure you are receiving the right counselling and counsellor to meet your needs.
  • New clients may be frustrated that they can’t access the online feature, when only available to existing clients. Typically this is because the therapist’s counselling practice is full and they no not have space for new clients at the moment.

Phone

Still a common option for reaching a counsellor; before the Internet (yes I remember this!) this was the only way of reaching a counsellor.

Pros

  • Lends a personal vibe for those who are wanting to make a direct human connection.
  • Enhanced confidentiality over email.
  • May be able to talk to someone sooner (especially in group counselling practices that have a receptionist).
  • Includes a larger amount of counsellors to choose from as there are some counsellors who do not have a website or advertised email address.

Cons

  • Can take longer for the counsellor to retrieve and return voicemail messages (particularly with solo counsellors) + there is a limit on the amount of messages they can return in a day.
  • May feel too nerve-wracking or difficult if social anxiety is a factor.
  • Counsellor may not be able to call you back if your voicemail message did not record properly and is missing your contact details (particularly in areas with poor cell service).
  • Counsellor may not be able to return your call if you are calling from a US or international number, as this may not be covered in their phone plan.
  • Counsellor may not feel comfortable leaving a return message if there are concerns about your privacy (shared voicemails, voicemails with no name or greeting attached).
  • Counsellor will not be able to leave a return message for you if you have not  set up your voicemail, or if you have no voicemail.

SMS/Text

A growing option for contacting some counsellors.

Pros

  • Can be convenient and non-intimidating.
  • Lower-barrier for folks that rarely use the phone for talking or dislike emailing.

Cons

  • Some counsellors do not respond to text messages, believing it’s not professional or if they also use their work phone for personal SMS messages, do not want to mix the two
  • Text messages may not meet security and privacy standards for counselling.
  • The counsellor may still be using a landline or a wired business line and may not receive your message.

Social Media

Occasionally counsellors are contacted through their social media, if they are on social media.

Pros

  • May feel like the lowest-barrier approach of all for some folks, especially if they have been following the counsellor on social media and enjoy their content.

Cons

  • DMs are not secure and do not meet privacy and confidentiality standards for counselling.
  • Following a therapist on social media or commenting on posts can compromise your confidentiality; if you become a client, such actions can put you in a dual relationship situation.
  • Counsellors are not able to respond to mental health emergencies via social media. Social mediums are not emergency mental health platforms as they do not allow therapists to safely conduct risk assessments, intervene confidentially, or be able to identify the identity or location of the person who is contacting them. Many therapists are only licensed to practice in their own jurisdiction and have specific guidelines around the use of social media. For example, here are the standards for registered social workers in British Columbia.

Contacting a Counsellor: Tips For Success

  • Be kind with yourself if it’s taken you time to call a counsellor. This is a significant decision that shouldn’t be rushed. Counselling works much better when you are ready.
  • Ask to speak with the counsellor before booking your appointment. If this option isn’t offered to you—particularly if you are calling a counselling centre—ask!  An online profile is not the same as having a conversation with a counsellor. Trust your guts!
  • Make it straightforward for the counsellor to contact you back:

 Email Tips

  • Avoid using a shared email address as it will eliminate your confidentiality and increase the chances that the counsellor will not feel comfortable contacting you by this means.
  • Contact the counsellor again if you haven’t heard back. Occasionally emails don’t land in the counsellor’s inbox or are buried. Please try again and if you have concerns about the counsellor’s lack of response, talk to them and see how they respond.
  • Don’t include confidential information in your email, as this could be intercepted by third parties and cannot be guaranteed confidential.

Phone Tips

  • Ensure that your phone number is correct in any voicemail message you leave for the counsellor. It’s common for people not to know their phone numbers these days!
  • Repeat your phone number twice, in case it cuts out on the message or your speech gets muffled.
  • Let the counsellor know whether or not they can leave a message on your voicemail. Confidentiality is a pillar of counselling and ethical counsellors will not take risks with leaving specific information, or responses to your questions, if they are not sure that your voicemail is confidential. You may still receive a call back but if you haven’t clarified privacy, the counsellor may just leave their name and a number with no additional information.
  • Please don’t leave international callback numbers as the therapist may not have a phone plan which covers them being able to call you back. Consider another means of contact.

Contact Form Tips

  • Contact the counsellor again if you have not heard back. The most likely reason that a counsellor has not returned the message in your contact form is because your email address was entered incorrectly.
  • Infrequently, the counsellor’s contact form may be broken or they have forgotten to renew the security certificate. Contact the counsellor through another means.
  • If you think that the contact form is not secure, contact the counsellor through a different method.

SMS/Texting Tips

  • Contact the therapist through another means if you have not heard back. Some therapists don’t allow for texting as a method of contact (and will not respond through this means) or are still using a landline.

Social Media Tips

  • Recognize the risks to your confidentiality, and the counsellor’s limited ability to intervene, that are associated with social media. Use an alternative method of contacting the therapist.
  • Consider not following therapists you are interested in potentially working with. You can visit their profiles regularly without following them, if you are interested in their content. Signing up for their newsletter, if they have one, is also a means of hearing about what counsellors are thinking and writing about, particularly if they have a blog they contribute to regularly.

A General Point

If you think that a therapist has deliberately ghosted you, please consider that this may not be the case. Please try a second time before forming a conclusion. If the problem has been on the therapist’s end, see how they respond: are they contrite? Do they offer to speak with you? Do they take your feelings into consideration? Their response is a reflection of their personality and how you react to them, a potential preview of what therapy might be like with them.

To Be Continued…

Admittedly, I surprised myself when I realized how much I had to say about this topic. I’m planning a part two…please stay tuned for more next month!