Finally – here you are! Your first new client is scheduled to walk into the door within the next few minutes. You, as a new counselor, are excited, nervous, and waiting with anticipation. You are looking forward to meeting your new client and hearing all about their needs for counseling; that is good! However, are you aware of the five (5) things you need to know and do in this first initial appointment? Here are five important considerations that may not have been covered in graduate school:
Be sure to introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of who you are and what you do. Keep in mind that you are building a relationship with your client. Given this, you need to think about what you feel comfortable disclosing and sharing about your own experience as a counselor, your counseling approach, and the type of counseling environment you strive to create for your clients.
Has the client signed your professional disclosure statement? If not, be sure to have the client sign it in front of you and make a copy of the page with the client’s signature for your records. This is your contract with the client, so you want to have a copy to which you can refer should there ever be a need to discuss cancellation or no show fees, confidentiality procedures, etc. This also establishes the professional side of the counseling partnership, which is important for clients to know and understand.
Most counselors chose this profession to help people, but keep in mind your private practice is a business, so you need to treat it as such and maintain the professional boundaries with clients so that you can keep your practice running efficiently, ethically and effectively.
Be sure to share with your new client the limits of confidentiality so that they clearly understand the responsibility you have for their care and well-being.
Even though this information is in your professional disclosure statement, it is important for the client to hear what the parameters are for confidentiality. (I have often found that the client does not thoroughly read my professional disclosure statement!) When there is a threat of safety to self or others, abuse of a child or elder and/or counseling records are subpoenaed, the client needs to know that these are the areas where confidentiality is not kept and what you, as the counselor, will need to do in these situations.
Identify at least one to two goals the client has for counseling. Often counselors are focused on the reason the client sought counseling. Finding out more about what precipitated the client’s desire to start counseling is very important. However, as the counselor, you want to establish the fact that counseling has a direction and is goal-oriented, so establishing at least a general idea of what the client wants or needs to accomplish in their therapy with you will set the tone and the focus for the next session, as well as the course of the counseling process.
Collect the fee for the session – preferably before the client gets started with the session. It can be uncomfortable to have a client share intimate information, cry, become upset and still be emotional at the end of the session – and you need to ask for payment. Explain that you want to get the business transactions out of the way so that you can focus on the client and the counseling work that needs to take place between both of you.
The first session with a client is both exciting and anxiety-provoking; keep in mind this is normal! However, you are the professional and you set the tone, so practice what you want to share with your clients BEFORE they come in the door.
Envision how you want to proceed through the session in terms of going over your professional disclosure statement, discussing the limits of confidentiality, setting the goals for counseling and collecting the fee from the client. The better prepared you are, the better the session will go. Most of all, remember why you chose to be a counselor, and look forward to the journey you will have with this new client as you provide them with the guidance, support and counseling they are seeking.
Dr. Rhonda Sutton is a licensed counselor and a licensed counseling supervisor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the owner of InnerSights Counseling and Consultation, Inc. where she guides both clients and counselors-in-training in the professional and personal development. Her mission is to assist others in finding their own unique ways of leading productive and fulfilling lives, and she specializes in couples counseling, trauma, crisis and life transitions. Dr. Sutton is also president of STEP Notes, Inc., an e-tool that provides counselors a secure and systematic way to take progress notes.