The Dark Side of Online Booking
It frankly feels a little heretical writing this article, because introducing online booking several years ago has made such a massive difference in reducing my administrative burden, allowing significantly more brain cells to be directed towards counselling. I am truly grateful for it and I have zero plans to get rid of it. With 24/7 access, advance notice of counsellor availability/schedule, and access to last-minute cancellations, my clients seem to really like it too. The world has evolved significantly since I opened Willow Tree’s doors in 2009: people have understandably come to expect this feature in a counselling service. Talking about online booking’s merits is a different article, but hopefully these benefits are pretty self-explanatory.
So, why write an article about the dark side of online booking? Perhaps I’m indulging myself here because I have a history of writing anti-promotional counselling articles because— I’ll admit it—sometimes I just hate the counselling orthodoxy. There. I’ve said it. The practice of counselling, and the things that support the practice, should not be immune from reflection. Online booking is one of those things.
Problems? It’s Complicated
What could possibly be wrong with online booking? Admittedly, not a lot. But there’s a subtler underbelly to it that may encourage certain often-untalked-about actions. Ouch, that sounds sinister, which would be overkill. And, in the way that my mind works, I can also see benefits in all the drawbacks. Sheesh. Let me see if I can combine both.
Avoiding Conversations About The Therapy Experience
At times we may come to the conclusion that counselling isn’t working for us. There could be a number of reasons for that: it’s not a good therapeutic fit, we like the counsellor but not the strategy, we dislike both or we feel like we’re not making the gains we expected. And sometimes we just don’t feel comfortable bringing these concerns up with the counsellor, or we feel it’s easier just to move on, particularly if we’ve decided that no conversation will make a difference. So, we cancel our appointments in online booking. Avoid awkward conversations.
Alternatively and sometimes, these kind of conversations, especially if had early in the course of counselling, can make a difference in not only enriching the counselling relationship, but changing the course of your counselling journey. Further, counsellors, being people too, often wonder what happened and whether there was anything that they could have done to better meet their clients’ needs, if in fact the client was unhappy, because sometimes clients are just busy and it’s not about the counsellor.
Unanticipated Lapses in Therapy
As alluded to above, life happens, sometimes inadvertently disrupting a client’s ability to continue with therapy. When life demands become too much, a natural instinct is to cancel counselling appointments online. It’s so easy to do that we may even forget about booking in again, or we’re so busy that booking in again—even if easy—feels too overwhelming. Our therapy goals are now on hold. As a counsellor, I don’t sweat any of this and trust that clients will book again when life circumstances support them in doing so.
Sometimes it takes some planning about how often to come in. While clients may do this on their own in online booking, this may unintentionally inhibit collaboration around the pacing of therapy and any counsellor recommendations around that. Clients most certainly have the right to decide this for themselves—I’d argue that counsellors should typically defer to clients on this—and at the same time, a discussion that matches client’s goals to therapy frequency can be helpful for planning purposes.
Clients, in reflecting on their goals, may have a solid intuitive sense about how much counselling they need. When clients suspect, however, that their goals are different than what the therapist thinks would be helpful, sometimes it just feels easier not to have this conversation, and instead, cancel in online booking. If clients have a trusting relationship with their therapist, I recommend brining up this issue, which can help reframe the goals of therapy and infuse it with a changed meaning around pacing. Therapists, it’s particularly important to listen to what clients have to say!
Booking ahead. It’s a win-win situation, right? Usually, yes! When clients book ahead, they help ensure that they can be seen by their therapist on a regular basis. It’s a great relief for most clients. It also helps counsellors too: they get a sense about when they can welcome new clients into their practice.
How could there be a problem with this? Sometimes difficulties can arise when bookings are made in advance because life circumstances arise that aren’t possible to predict, or because it’s hard to anticipate schedules when a therapist is booked so far in advance and the appointment is a long ways off, or when folks guesstimate their availability just “in case” they need the support then. Complicating things even further, iffy appointment bookings can act as a placeholder in a counsellor’s schedule, blocking other clients from booking, and that even if cancelled with just over 24 hours notice, are often unlikely to be filled.
The suggestions around this are tricky but sometimes come down to being mindful about scheduling choices, cancelling with as much notice as possible, and being realistic—when known—about your situation. Sometimes making bookings reflect positive intention, more than reality.
Counsellor Admin Errors
Like it or not, counsellors make clerical errors because we’re not professional administrators, or don’t have assistants. A mis-click in setting my availability parameters, or choosing the incorrect session type that I’m available for, can create inefficiencies, particularly if clients have to reschedule. While this doesn’t happen often, it is an issue from time to time and requires diligent mindfulness on my part.
Online booking, to be helpful for clients, demands that therapists create their schedule in advance. I like to work 2-3 months at a time, in respect of the fact that people are busy and planning is essential with the multitudinous demands in our lives. Counsellors, like clients, have things come up, and although I only cancel if it’s really important to do so, unanticipated things can arise, changing availability. In most cases, clients can be given ample notice of schedule changes, but if this represents a serious inconvenience for the client, it’s important for client and therapist to have a conversation to see what the therapist could offer instead to ensure the client’s needs are met.
Online booking, which is often an easy process, can unintentionally up the ante for client-counsellor communication, if clients are seeking to get the most out of their therapy. If this encourages you to have a direct conversation with your counsellor about your goals or schedule, or alternatively, brings up frustrations about counsellors’ booking errors or availability, these conversations can typically enrich the therapist-client relationship in the end.
Interested in getting my articles delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up to my newsletter, The Listening Ear.