How to Create a Happy Ending for Your Sessions

Remember the last vacation you had, the one way back when? Think about it a minute.

Now, are you remembering the entire vacation or an experience within the vacation, like checking out of the hotel, the trip to the airport, taking the flight, dealing with the baggage service? Hold that experience in your mind.

Psychologists have determined that what we remember last counts the most.

If the hotel staff was snotty to your spouse on checkout, if the concierge was cranky, and if the valet was inattentive when you picked up your car, you’ll probably say you didn’t have a great vacation, even if you had the time of your life on the rest of the days before your departure.

You'd could've been dancing in the spa, chilling in the hot tub or swooning over wine with your loved one… but it's the last memory that counts most.

Now, we all love happy endings. Positive things that wrap up our experience, like pleasant hotel staff calling you by name and inviting you back next year with a smile, are the icing on a vacation’s cake.

That means a pleasing end note to a client’s massage therapy session is the critical moment you need to cultivate, because it adds to their overall therapy experience, gets remembered… and because it counts the most.

How is this relevant to you? It's easy: It can be tough to ask for payment before a massage therapy session begins - the client hasn’t benefited from your service yet. And you don't want the last experience the person has to be a financial transaction.

So don’t play the endgame with money.

The simple act of the financial transaction at the end of a session can leave a bad taste in a client’s mouth. It could taint their memory. Why not just avoid it altogether? I’m not saying don’t ask for payment, but ask for it differently.

Offer clients a prepay option where they pay for X number of sessions upfront and receive a % off the next block of sessions. Or give them a gift certificate – that's always a great bet – you know the client sporting a gift certificate won’t try to haggle on prices.

I know a massage therapist who works exclusively through prepaid sessions. She uses reusable cards, much like a Starbucks card. She bundles and markets her services in such a way that going to her is like having a membership, and clients get a percentage off when they prepay a certain amount.

Her clients prepay for any their package of choice, and then they come in as needed to take advantage of her services. At the beginning of the client’s last prepaid session, the therapist asks if she can “reload” their card for them.

This kind of approach makes it easy to create 'gifts' for clients, keeps a decent level of business and cash-flow moving through your practice, and is convenient for the client, enhancing their experience. They don't even have to bring their purse or wallet to a session.

By offering upfront payment options, you’ll be able to focus on the client’s entire experience from start to finish, leaving them with nothing but great memories of their session with you when they walk out the door. 

What about you - have you tried prepaid sessions? If so, how has it been received?



Excellent ideas presented here. Suggestions for the client who doesn't want to - or isn't able to - prepay before coming in to the session?

leigh's picture

For the client who can't pay upfront - no worries - just pay after as they usually would.

As a client one of my biggest pet peeves is feeling rushed -- it sucks to be squeezed unceremoniously out the door while the therapist rushes back to prep for the next session and greet the next person in line. That's when people start to feel like products.

Actually, timing is a common therapist/client issue -- clients never leave on time there's always one more thing to say or do. But this a booking issue -- on the part of the therapist. Add more time between sessions so that you can give your undivided attention during the payment and goodbye chit-chat.

So I would say as a therapist that the best you can do is to make your client service into an art form -- like a Japanese tea ceremony. That way you respect your craft and your client.

Excellent strategy - especially with new clients - more time between bookings - great idea.

I think these suggestions are great but I don't think they're appropriate in every kind of practice. I'm thinking specifically of psychotherapy, in which the method, timing and dynamics of payment can be a clinical issue -- just as important as the rest of the session. So while I can see, say, "bulk discounts" or gift cards in massage therapy, I wouldn't offer things like that as a psychotherapist.

I had a psychotherapist who asked for payment at the beginning of each session so that her patients could still be in that liminal space when they departed. It got the business-y stuff out of the way at the outset, allowed time for discussion of the money dynamic (if any was necessary) and let me leave every session floating on that therapy high. I thought it was great.

Kathy, I agree with you. I also pay my psychotherapist first; in fact, I usually have the check written (and she has the receipt already printed) before I even get there. You are right; getting "business" of the the way first makes sense. One other thing my therapist does, that really works for me, is to offer "mini" sessions - either by phone or email, on an as-needed basis, at a rate of $X/15 min. of her time. That's great for when an important, but brief and less complex issue, arises between scheduled sessions. It has helped me tremendously in my personal growth work. It might be something psychotherapists could do in lieu of the the "pre-paid discount packages" that work better for massage therapists and body workers. However, I must say too, that I know of another client/therapist relationship where the client DOES prepay for two or three full office sessions, and then calls to schedule them, as needed. So, really, I think it depends on the individual client and therapist, and the relationship they have established.

leigh's picture

You're so right Kathy! -- not all methods work for psychotherapy sessions. Maybe you and I can do some brainstorming for psychotherapist marketing -- I have a few articles in the pipeline and would love to collaborate on those with you.

I'll have more to say on this soon -- esp. {tangent alert} when it comes to reviews and testimonials. Honest, detailed reviews of therapists are seriously lacking -- and a hugely important factor for people seeking therapy.

From the "buyers" end very few people want to say to their friends and family, um... hey I need some mental help, do you have someone you like? And insurance referral systems just tell you who accepts their insurance -- IF they cover mental health at all. Therapist websites just tell you how awesome they are and professional associations they belong to :) How can anyone make a preventative health decision under these conditions?

On the psychotherapist side it's equally stymied -- they aren't permitted to ask for testimonials nor are they allowed to respond to any reviews that might pop up on yelp.

That's what we're planning for here at whereapy -- a "consumer" centric directory -- filled with info/features clients actually want.

I could go on... but I'll save it for later.

So yes...let's talk Kathy:)

leigh's picture

Denise - you're so on top of your game today -- great points all around!

In the Cleveland area, whenever one goes to see a doctor of any kind, at the moment of signing in, we are asked to pay for 'today's visit', and that's all there is to it. It's the secretary or receptionist asking us to pay in advance, of course, so no ill-will towards the professional who is going to attend to us, and we can sail out with nothing but a fond farewell. Sometimes the pros share a secretary to optimize their time and profits, and I guess that is the way to go, so that no business/money issues ever have to cross their lips, and their service won't be tainted by such details.
I'm used to it now, so it doesn't bother me anymore.

Dr. Drea:
In an ideal world, this would be the situation for everyone. However, for part-time or individual practitioners (doctors, therapists, bodyworkers, etc.) it is not always possible to employ a receptionist/secretary to be the "buffer" - especially if one offers unconventional hours in order to accommodate patient'/clients' varied schedules. In which case, I still think it's best for the practitioner to "pad" the hour with a few extra minutes to deal with money/business at the beginning of a session/visit and if possible, allow extra time at the end, too - so the next patient/client won't feel rushed or uncomfortable conducting their own financial transactions in front of the previous patient/client.

I agree, Denise... this certainly isn't a perfect world, at all!
I remember when my daughter took ballet lessons twice a week, with performances every 4 months, the whole 9 yards. The teacher Miss Lisa, didn't want to be bothered with a secretary or receptionist, except on Saturdays, when I assume she did the bookkeeping duties.
Well, what Miss Lisa told us Mothers to do, was pay at the end of each month, for the 8 lessons, and LEAVE THE CHECK IN THE TOP DRAWER of this small chest of drawers in the waiting room. We were allowed to stay there or go shopping for the duration, but all of us dutifully put our checks (no cash) into that top drawer. Every night, Miss Lisa withdrew the checks and put them in the receptionist's desk up front. The checks were for $80 most of the time, unless the child also took acro, in which case the check was for $160, no small amount per month for just one child. But you know Moms.....
So maybe what I'm trying to say, is that Therapists could maybe just have a nice-size printed sign saying 'Please leave your payment in the top drawer, before or after treatment', and it could be placed inside the office so as not to get pilfered by just anyone coming in for information. The part-time bookkeeper or Therapist could mention this just once to the Client, and it would be a done deal, s/he would know it was expected to remit on the day of treatment.
It's been working for Miss Lisa for more than a quarter century, and no theft of checks so far. And we're in a working class neighborhood.

Just a thought to streamline this awkward part of business.

I like that idea, and certainly will pass it on to my therapist (all kinds) friends who are sole practitioners. And I sincerely hope in continues to work for Miss Lisa for another quarter-century or more. Fostering trust is another way to increase the effectiveness of therapy, too.

Yes, Denise, correct again... fostering trust, both < > ways, the Client knowing s/he can trust their health and well-being to the Therapist, and the the Therapist knowing s/he can trust their Client to pay the current fee for services.

The 8x11" sign can state something along the lines of 'Pay before or after Treatment', and then the message about 'Please leave your check in the top drawer before leaving' - or 'on same day of treatment' - whatever.

And the end table or small chest of drawers should be on the way to the treatment room(s) so that both coming and going, it's in the view of the Client. Once they have been shown the location, with an opening of the top drawer to show that day's checks, and verbally given the choice of when to put their check in, such as "feel free to drop your check in before or after treatment", gives the client the feeling of CHOICE, which is also important. Some anal people like to be real organized and pay right away, before treatment, so they can sail out right away to their next appointment; others, (like myself), may write the check out while in the waiting room, but prefer to drop it into the drawer upon leaving, feeling more like its an expression of 'thank you for what you've done for me today'.
So, in conclusion, having the sign, the location, the evidence (like showing other checks are there too), and the choice of when to put them in, this to me is an appropriate way of dealing with that whole awkward financial thing.
There's no invoicing expenses, no asking for payment, no talk about money at all. Like Heaven will be - the total Golden Rule in action! Where no one takes advantage of you, and you're free to do the work you love, which becomes play, because you enjoy it so much.
Well, that's just how I think it should be! Fred Rogers could certainly tell us!
Be well everyone, enjoy the weekend.