There are certain phrases we don’t want to hear in our lifetime: “We have to talk”; “I got your test results back”; and the grim, “You’re fired.” Donald Trump has made that phrase famous in our society. But what if you’re the one that has to say those dreaded words? And what if the person you’re letting go is not an employee, but a client?
Let’s face it, there are times we need or want to let a client go. What is the best way to get them out of your practice without hurting their feelings, having them go ballistic or bad-mouthing you all over town? Here are some options.
Honesty is the best policy
Sometimes you can simply say to a client, “I’m just not connecting with you” or “I may not be the best therapist for you and I think you’d get better treatment elsewhere.” Oftentimes they feel the same way and are looking for a way to cut you loose, too. This is by far the easiest situation, and no hurt feelings come of it.
In speaking with other therapists around the country, respect for the therapist’s time, effort and price structure seems to be the number-one reason clients are let go. Consistently showing up late, not paying for missed appointments and generally being disrespectful seem to top the list. Hali Chambers had this to say about her former clients who underpaid for extra time given, “It wasn’t just the money; it was the lack of respect for my work. I’ve volunteered time and worked on people for free, but I’ve always had a sense of appreciation from the client. These people weren’t worth it.”
One way to avoid this problem is to have a clear set of guidelines your clients are made aware of from the onset. Let them know you require 24 hours for a cancellation or they will get less than an hour if they show up late. Consistently abusing this policy is definitely grounds for expulsion, and if you have those rules in place, you can simply refer to that as the reason you are letting them go. This doesn’t mean everyone will get it. Katie Alfieri from Rochester, New York (www.kneadwellness.com) had a client repeatedly show up late without wanting to pay for the full time even after she explained her policies. She let the client go, thanked the client for trying her and referred the person elsewhere.
Let’s be really clear here. If a client makes a sexual advance toward you or is emotionally or physically abusive, you leave! Now! Don’t worry about sugarcoating it. Get out or tell the client to leave. Set clear boundaries from the onset and learn to say, “I don’t do that kind of massage; you need to leave my office.”
When honesty just won’t work
What if the reason you’re letting a client go is not something you can actually say to her? Maybe she is just plain weird. What if by letting her go, she will slander your name all around town?
A client that I had was just a big pain. Seriously, you know them. She was negative and sucked all the energy out of my life—and she loved me! I was the only therapist for her; she couldn’t get enough. She gave me no “good” reason to dump her. She was on time, she paid and she referred other people. I just couldn’t handle her drama anymore.
She wanted to see me once a week and I didn’t have the space available to offer that. I said to her, “I know you really need more frequent massage and at this point I just can’t provide that for you. I think it would benefit you to get more consistent care from another therapist.” She was the happiest woman in town. I made it about her care. If you have to get rid of a client and can turn it into a more positive experience for her, the better off you will be.
I can tell a lie
If you do decide you have to fib to get a person to never come back, it can come back to bite you. If you tell someone you’re too busy and then she sees your ad next week in the paper, she may feel bitter. If you say you’re not massaging men anymore and his best friends still see you, it’s not going to look good. My advice is to be as honest and truthful as you can. Ultimately you can’t control someone else’s reaction to a situation, but if you go about it in the most mature, evolved way possible, everyone will benefit from the situation.
What you shouldn’t do
Don’t just not call someone back. It’s immature and is horrible for your business. At some point, you have to face it—and when you do, face it like an adult.
Don’t treat someone poorly in hopes she will just not want to come back. Again, very bad for business. I spoke with a woman in North Carolina who was simply dismissed by a new therapist who finally left her with a message that said “I’m busy the whole summer, good luck.” Her feelings were obviously hurt. We have to find the balance between letting clients go and not being rude or completely dismissive.
Should you refer these clients to another therapist?
I would talk to other therapists first. I wouldn’t want clients being sent to me from another therapist that were cheap, late and disrespectful. If it comes down to a personality issue, we all have different levels of what is acceptable to us. But be very careful who you are sending where. There is no need to anger other therapists in your community.
When you absolutely should let clients go
- If you can’t help them. If you know the massage is doing nothing, at the very least, tell them, so they can decide if they still want to keep coming.
- If you are not really doing the modality they expect you are. Please don’t fake a massage technique. If you don’t do reiki or cranialsacral, don’t stand there with your hands on the person pretending. Get to know complementary practitioners in your area and send appropriate people to them.
- If you can’t stand them and it comes down to money. Look, we all need to make a living, but working on someone you can’t stand is going to drain you and her, and it’s not going to be a good experience for either of you. Let those clients go and find clients you like and can work on with integrity.
I hope you never find yourself in any of these situations but if you do, communicate concisely, professionally and with as much honesty as you can. And remember, we’ve all been there.
Kathy Gruver has been involved in natural health since 1990 and has a doctorate of Traditional Naturopathy. Gruver is a Medical Massage Therapist, Natural Health Consultant, Reiki Master and Birth Assistant. She is currently pursuing a masters and doctorate in Natural Health. Gruver owns Healing Circle Massage in Santa Barbara, California, which specializes in medical and therapeutic massage and was chosen as a “Best Practice” by MASSAGE Magazine. For more information, visit www.healingcirclemassage.com.