In Defense of a Consistent Cancellation Policy

Appointment cancelation

I’m the first to admit that before I started working as a counselor, I wasn’t very considerate to service providers regarding missing appointments. I felt like I could cancel when convenient, and the providers made so much money anyway, that it wasn’t an issue. I also figured many providers are just so busy that they will just pick up a new appointment right away. When working as an intern, I was forgiving about almost any reason for a client canceling or even not showing up without any communication. I later moved to give each client one free miss, because life happens. What I found was that misses rarely occur when a client is in the middle of therapy, but are usually the first or last appointment. And to be clear, a miss is considered not attending without at least 24 hours’ notice. Clients sometimes sign up and then get cold feet (which is fine if you give notice that you changed your mind). Clients sometimes decide they have met their goals and just forget to cancel the last appointment or decide to cancel is unnecessary. Professional couples may especially appreciate the value of their and others’ time. Some may cancel because they are not sure it is right for them.

In counseling (at least in private practice), full-time is considered seeing 20 clients a week. Time to write notes, plan sessions, conduct billing, run a practice, marketing, continuous learning, and taking time for what can be an emotionally demanding profession make 20 clients a week a full-time job+. Counseling is the lowest paying master’s degree+ profession, and counselors must also take care of their financial needs and families. Even an initial appointment requires setting up clients in a computer system, reviewing their intake notes, and coming up with a plan. Sometimes, new appointments require adjusting schedules or a special trip to the office that requires missing a kid’s activity. A late cancellation or no-show generally prevents someone else from being able to fill that slot. Most appointments require at least some degree of advance preparation that is wasted time if the client doesn’t show.

Telehealth options now make it easier for clients to make an appointment if they can’t make it to the office on time. Some situations are unavoidable, but please call if you can’t make it as a courtesy. I used to make exceptions for some circumstances, but then there is the issue of what is a valid exception and what is not. Those who are contagious with a sudden illness get a pass. Those who reschedule and attend another appointment will get half off of that second appointment.

We believe counselors should be held to the same general terms. As such, if we ask you to cancel or reschedule without giving at least 24 hours’ notice, your next appointment will be half-off. Everyone’s time is valued. We are not aware of another healthcare provider that offers this courtesy.

The cancellation policy is, of course, part of the disclosure that all clients must sign after having read the document. Check out the page on fees for more general fee information. The ability to reschedule and attend is a new benefit that may not have been in the paperwork you signed, but it will still be honored.