One of the best known persuasion techniques in the world of marketing is what is known as “foot in the door”. The basis of this way of interacting with potential customers is simple: you are offered a very good deal at the beginning, one in which you clearly come out on top, in order to gain their trust and make them invest a minimum of time and effort in testing our product and service.

Then, once this potential first barrier is broken down, you are offered the standard service, the one you really wanted to be presented with from the beginning.

As a means of persuasion, this technique is useful, but there are always exceptions. Every sector is different, and there are many other variables that affect the way customers and consumers perceive us. In the case of psychology, for example, there are several compelling reasons to be against the first free consultations for patients who are starting out .

4 reasons not to offer a free first therapy session

Here’s a little review of why it’s best to avoid offering a free first session of psychotherapy. Not all of them have to do with the more publicized and persuasive side of marketing; some are related to the very nature of the service being offered.

1. Generates little commitment in patients

If we really want the first therapy to be really part of the service that will help the patient, and not just an appendage of an advertising device, we must do everything possible to make the person attending the consultation committed. Unlike other types of services, in which the client can adopt a passive role, in psychotherapy the professional does not cease to be a facilitator of change , and requires involvement and effort on the part of the patients.

Therefore, it is negative that the only active action taken by the patient is to value the service we are offering him in a context of purchase decision. This context is based on the idea that there are conflicting interests that may or may not fit, while a much higher level of delivery would be desirable.

2. Generates added resistances

This point derives from the previous one, and has to do with the fact that the client does not limit himself to constantly assessing what is happening in the first consultation as if it were specifically a context in which to decide whether or not to buy; furthermore, it is necessary to take into account what the patient thinks the therapist thinks . And in a situation like this, it is very likely that he or she will believe that the psychologist is more concerned with selling than with actually attending to him or her.

This is an added barrier that does not have to be dealt with as much if the first session has to be paid for, and possibly in many cases it totally cancels out the advantage that giving the free trial would have given to the initial reluctance of potential clients.

3. Gives a wrong idea of the effectiveness of the sessions

The first free therapy session goes against the logic that seeks to strengthen the therapeutic bond between patient and therapist. Not only does it put the focus on the fact that the patient must be constantly assessing in real time (during the session) whether to go ahead or decide that it does not compensate him/her, but also promotes the idea that this session should be seen as a unit, and not as the first part of a process of change .

If we put emphasis on this second way of seeing the services of psychologists, we would have a vision closer to reality of what therapy is: a service in which the added value appears not in the sessions seen as something individual, but in the transitions that go from one to another. Moreover, the first day is not usually enough for patients to change for the better and in a sustained way; it is a preparation for what is to come.

4. The cost of opportunity

As free as it is, it’s clear that the first session of psychotherapy always costs something. Specifically, it costs time. This is something that many professionals don’t think about, assuming that no matter how much work they have they will get to everything, but in practice, this makes them lose the opportunity both to be getting clients who are really interested in the service , and to offer a very professional service without having to deal with the wear and tear caused by overwork.

What to do?

It’s true that we don’t have to totally reject the idea behind the customer acquisition technique based on giving first sessions for free. You can spend some extra time communicating with those who have not committed to paying, but it is advisable to do so in a context that is defined as something different from the therapy itself .

Therefore, we can offer small initial consultations, or short meetings in which we expose doubts and clarify key aspects of what is being offered, although more important than the time invested in them is the fact of not “selling” this as a fundamental part of the service that is actually offered. This is a way to get around the drawbacks we have seen and to get to the heart of the matter: having all the necessary information, does that person think that he or she will benefit from starting psychological therapy with us?