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Getting Clients To Come Back Until the Therapy Is Done

Calvin D. Banyan, MA, BCH, FNGH, CI

Next to getting the client to walk through the door for the first session, the next most important step is getting the client to come back so that you can complete the work that you started with them. This article is about how to keep your clients coming back so that you can have a sufficient number of sessions, to do great hypnotherapy (and get lots of referrals).

I opened the Banyan Hypnosis Center for Training & Services, Inc. in June 1996, right after I completed my National Guild of Hypnotists Certification training in March of that year. We started off with 2,000 sq. ft. and three years ago expanded it to 4,000 sq. ft. to accommodate our growth (including a classroom and practice areas for students going through our Minnesota State Licensed School of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy). As a new business, the center needed to build up a clientele and begin receiving referrals from clients to further promote the business. Doing excellent hypnotherapy that gets results for your clients, leads to receiving referrals and is the most cost-effective way to develop and grow your business. But if your clients do not come back to complete their course of hypnotherapy, your success will definitely be negatively affected.

First, let me give you some background information on our center. The office is located in a strip mall that has a sheltered hallway, with shops on one side of the hallway and glass windows on the other, which faces the parking lot. The set up has worked well for us. From the first day, people just walked in and ask if we can help them stop smoking, lose weight and just about everything else. To date, I personally have seen over 1,200 clients and the other hypnotherapists whom we employ at our center have seen an additional 4,000 clients. This count does not include any group sessions that we have conducted. So we have seen over 5,200 clients to date. Furthermore, because we use a systematic multi-session approach (5-PATH®) to doing hypnotherapy, we average four to six sessions per client, we have conducted more than 20,000 individual one-on-one sessions. Not bad for starting with zero clients and one newly trained and certified hypnotherapist.

Of course, the first and most important thing that a therapist can do to ensure that clients return and complete their therapy is providing a good hypnosis service. Approaches to doing good hypnotherapy varies from one therapist to the other, so in this article I am not going to spend time in this paper discussing how to do good therapy, but we have found that there is much you can do that is peripheral or supportive to the actual hypnotherapy process to improve your client return rate.

I think that even the most experienced and successful hypnotherapists will find some useful techniques and rules below to help your business grow like ours has. I am going to present these in order of contact that you have with the client. I will start off with the first impression and end with setting up the next appointment.

First impressions and consistency of presentation

The kind of appearance that you present to the perspective client is really a marketing decision. There are several ways that you can market yourself, for example you can market yourself as "Professional", "New Age" or "Casual" or some combination of the three. Whichever approach is taken, it needs to be consistently presented. For example, if you select the "Professional" presentation of your office, then it's probably best that you present yourself as a professional all the way. This means, professional advertisement, professional letterhead, business cards, location, waiting room, office, dress, credit card accounts, and everything

Whatever way you decide to present your office, it is very important that your consistency of presentation be consistent. If you present yourself or your business to be a "top-notch" professional organization in your advertisements, and then you meet your client for the first time in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, most clients will not come back.

Does this mean that you cannot be successful if you dress casually for your appointments? Would casual dress be bad for your business? Would it be bad for the profession? Some would say so. Maybe they would be right. But I do not think so. It is really more of a choice, and then consistently presenting yourself the way that you have chosen to conduct your business.

At The Banyan Hypnosis Center, I chose to present the center to the public as being very professional. After one of our potential clients sees one of our advertisements, such as our Yellow Page directory advertisements, our web site, brochure or our location, they expect to see a therapist come out in slacks and a tie (or equivalent for female therapists), and we do not disappoint them. Consistency of appearance builds confidence, a very important part of building any kind of business, and it is extremely important in the hypnosis business.

On the other hand, let's say that you decide to present and market your office as having a more casual atmosphere. You could name your office something like, The Casual Hypnosis Center. I think that such an approach would not have as wide an appeal as a more professional approach, but there is a good case to be made for niche marketing, if your surrounding population is densely populated enough to support it. For example, if there are several other hypnotherapists in your area and they are all stressing how professional they are (i.e., professional degrees and being placed in a professional office building). Then you can offer a more casual alternative.

The advertisements for this fictional hypnosis center should reflect the theme. You might even have a picture of yourself dressed in a nice casual way in the advertisement. This way the clients that you get from the advertisement will be the individuals that want to do hypnotherapy in that kind of environment. These clients will be happy to see you come out of your office and greet them in your casual attire. They may even tell all of their friends about how comfortable they were in your office and how at ease they felt with you. Then you may build an entire clientele who love you in blue jeans. This kind of approach may be the preferred approach if you are working out of your home. (Note however, that even though your attire may be casual, you should always conduct yourself in a professional way. But then I suppose that goes without saying.)

So, present yourself and your business in a consistent way. Clients are often a little nervous when they come for their first hypnotherapy appointment anyway, and consistency of presentation reduces surprises, builds confidence, and brings clients through the door that can appreciate your specific style or marketing approach. These clients are more likely to return and refer their friends and family.

Please avoid at all costs, overselling yourself and your office! For example, I believe that it is ill-advised to advertise your office as being the "World Headquarters" or the "National Institute" of an organization and then when your clients come to your office it is much less than they expect it to be. They will tend to feel like they have been misled (and they probably have been).

You have gotten off to a very bad start if you are perceived to have misled your potential client in any way. Just remember that consistency of presentation builds confidence in your clients and when you meet or exceed their expectations they will always be pleased and will increase the probability that they will want to work with you for the number of sessions needed and happily refer their family and friends.

Telephone contact and setting up the initial appointment(s)

If receiving a phone call is not your first contact with your client, then it is certainly one of the first contacts, and thus how you handle it is very important. At our center we have a full time receptionist, a part-timer and someone that fills in. And, as I said before, our presentation is purely professional. So, the people who answer the telephones at our office, are usually not the hypnotherapists themselves. However, they are well trained in how to answer the telephone. As a matter of fact, Erin, our full time receptionist is a certified hypnotherapist even though she does not see clients. Her strong background and understanding of what we do is invaluable in answering questions from those who call and ask about our services. This results in her having an outstanding ability to book appointments for our hypnotherapists. When in the past, our receptionists were not trained and certified in hypnotherapy, they themselves have all been through some hypnosis sessions with one or more therapists, and know a great deal about hypnosis. Also, it doesn't take long before they have seen many clients come to our office and be successful. This enables them to talk sincerely with potential clients and tell them about the success that they see everyday with our clients.

Again consistency is important. Our telephone is answered with the following greeting, "Thank you for calling the Banyan Hypnosis Center. This is (receptionist's name). How can we help you succeed today?" We have received many good comments about how we answer the telephone. It instills a sense of confidence and professionalism. But we don't stop there...I've called other hypnosis offices in our area, and I was very surprised to find out how poorly they handle telephone queries. Some offices even refused to answer questions on the telephone! They demand that the potential client comes in for a "free consultation," before they will answer questions other than how to get to their office. What a turn-off this can be for the person who is seeking hypnotherapy! I think this is a mistake. Rule number one of business is "Make it easy for the customer/client to do business with you." Plus, not answering questions over the telephone does not exactly build a sense of trust. Once I found out how some of the other offices were operating, I decided that we would be very happy to answer questions and we put that in all of our advertisements. Clients that trust you are more likely to come back and refer their friends and relatives to you.

The two things that perspective clients will ask on the telephone are, "How much?" and "How many sessions will it take?" I am not going to spend much time here on how to handle the first question because how that question is handled is mainly a sales technique (but here is a quick hint, do not just tell them how much it is until you have engaged them in some conversation and you can do so by first asking them some questions like, "what issue do you want to work on?" and so on. Let them get to know you and then answer the question. Or they will just move on to the next hypnotherapist in the phone directory and compare prices.)

How you answer, "How many sessions will it take?" is important, because how you answer that one can determine whether your clients come back and finishes his or her course of therapy. Do not underestimate the number of sessions that you expect that it will take to take care of the client's problem, just to get the client to come in. Doing so would be unethical (and word gets around). In addition, if you greatly underestimated the number of sessions and then work takes longer than you said that it would, the client is likely to feel manipulated or that you are incompetent and cannot do the work that you said that you could do.

As a side note, I find it interesting that when I was working as a psychotherapist at the University of North Dakota and the State Hospital, or with Lutheran Social Services doing family therapy, I was almost never asked how many sessions it will take to do the work. They just assumed the therapy would end when we accomplish what we set out to do. But, my hypnotherapy clients almost always ask us how many sessions it will take.

At our center, we tell them that "most issues are handled in four to six sessions on average and tell our potential clients that we rarely go past 6 sessions for any particular issue. That is what our stats demonstrate and that is what we tell our clients. The expectations have been set. The client now knows that it is not a "one shot deal" and that although hypnotherapy is a form of rapid change, we do not sell a "quick fix". If a potential client says that he or she wants to have just one session to "try it out", we do not accept them. We have found that in general, these clients lack the level of commitment to succeed in hypnotherapy, and we may even tell them so. This will usually persuade them to go ahead and commit to the five or six sessions that it will take to succeed.

And guess what? Once we started telling our clients that it would take four to six sessions, and they came in with that expectation, they easily continued to come in until the work was done, even in the rare cases when it took longer than the number estimated. So, depending on how long your style of therapy takes, on average, let the clients know up front. It will work out better in the long run.

Guaranteeing the appointments

Back when we first started out and we were not as busy as we are now, having a "no-show" was not that bad. This was especially true of a first session with a new client. We thought that it was better to have made an appointment with an "iffy" client than not to have any appointments at all. This was also true of clients that rescheduled at the last minute. Now that our therapists are booked two or three weeks in advance, and having a client not show or reschedule at the last minute is expensive because we would be far better off by booking only those clients that are truly committed to doing the work. Now, our hypnotherapists are seeing four to five and sometimes even six clients each day. So, we tried an experiment. We decided that we would initiate a new procedure when we book clients. We decided that in order to book an appointment, our clients must either pay before the session (when the session was booked) or give us a credit card to hold the appointment time. This pre-payment is non-refundable without at least a 48 hours notice (defined as two work days) of appointment cancellation or appointment change. If they used a credit card to hold the appointment, then the card would be charged if they did not show up or did not give us the 48 hours notification if for any reason they decided to not use the appointment.

We, honestly at the time, did not know how our clients would accept this. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they had no qualms about giving us their credit card number to hold the appointment time, or in sending us a check in advance. Their credit cards are charged if they do not show up for their appointment. Their checks are deposited two days before their appointment. This has significantly improved our client's ability (or motivation) to make scheduling changes earlier, and we have a much lower number of "no-shows", and we can more easily fill those vacated appointment slots because we have the extra 48 hours notice.

This policy is in place for all of the appointments that our clients make, not just the first appointment. Do we make exceptions to this policy? We do when the appointment is not the first appointment. And, in this case it is up to the hypnotherapist working with the client whether or not we charge them for a missed appointment, because the hypnotherapist knows their client best, and knows what is best for their ongoing therapy. I would say that in such cases we accept excuses about 25% of the time. The rest get charged for the missed appointment. We inform our clients of this policy and we also send them a letter restating it. If you decide to set up a policy like this in your office, be careful when accepting excuses. If you make an exception in every case, you will completely eliminate the effectiveness of the whole policy. Having said that, we always allow our clients to reschedule at the last minute if the weather is bad. Up here in Minnesota, that is just a part of doing business because, especially in the winter, it can be unsafe to travel when we get an ice or snowstorm.

Friendly accepting attitude for the therapeutic environment

The first meeting with the client is very important. The therapist needs to be warm and accepting. We call this time spent with the client before the hypnosis session, the pre-hypnosis interview. It is equivalent to the "intake" that is performed in a counseling center, but usually much shorter, usually only taking fifteen to twenty minutes, but could run longer if the client has a lot of questions, or seems fearful of hypnosis or the therapist in anyway.

This pre-hypnosis interview should not be confused with the pre-talk, in which the hypnotherapist takes a short time to talk to the client about hypnosis. At our center, we use a videotape to do this, which runs about 20 minutes in length and answers most of the questions that new clients have about hypnosis, while removing any fears or misconceptions that they might have that would inhibit them from being successful in hypnosis. First time clients are asked to come in thirty minutes before their first appointment so that they can fill in the initial paperwork and view the video. Using this procedure has saved us countless hours of time, and we can be assured that each client gets a good pre-talk.

During the time spent with the client doing the pre-hypnosis interview, it is the therapist's goal to connect with the client and really establish him or herself as being non-judgmental and truly having the client's best interests in mind. When meeting with your new client for the first time, you need to let the new client know that you value him or her, and can understand or empathize with the client's issues.

The pre-hypnotic interview is a time to fill the client with optimism, and positive expectations for success, both in becoming successfully hypnotized and also in succeeding in progressing toward their goal of treatment.

It does not occur very often, but on the rare occasion where a hypnotherapist and client cannot connect properly, we will refer the client to another therapist. Fortunately, we can do this "in-house," but if that were not possible, I would have no problem referring a "mismatched client" to another therapist. An example of this kind of situation is when a client is not comfortable with the gender of the hypnotherapist. Fortunately, we always have at least one male and one female hypnotherapist at our office. If we did not have that luxury (and most don't), I would make sure that I knew of a good hypnotherapist that I could refer these clients to and of course that hypnotherapist could refer clients to me if the same problem occurred in his or her office.

Establish goals tied to an expected number of sessions

On the first session and during the pre-hypnosis interview, it is appropriate to narrow down goals and again discuss the expected number of sessions. Some clients will not have confidence in the receptionist's estimate of the number of sessions. Or, there may be reason to revise the earlier estimate (like they changed the issue that they want to work on). In any case, it is good to again reinforce the expected number of sessions. Encourage them to have reasonable expectations. This greatly increases the chance that they will return for the number of sessions needed.

Here are some other techniques that I use. I give them additional reasons to come back. Here are a couple of quick ones. I will make sure that I say something like, "Each session tends to be ten times more powerful than the one before!" Or, "Next time we get together, we are going to discuss....," or "work on...." Give them a reason to want to come back for that next powerful or exciting session, and they will!

Finally, each session should have accomplished something and leave the client feeling great! Never leave your client feeling frazzled after a session. Each session should have a beginning, a middle and an end; and the end of the session should be uplifting and should build their confidence in what has transpired, that it will bring about results.

Don't complicate things by telling them what you are going to do next

If you use such powerful hypnotherapeutic techniques as age regression and regression to cause, do not complicate your sessions by telling your client that you are going to do this. Many clients will not come back for the next session if they think they are going to be regressed to some scary, highly emotional or embarrassing incident. Furthermore, if you tell them that the next session will contain that kind of work, they will probably only be filled with worry, which tends to interfere with the session that involves the regression.

Most therapists (i.e., psychotherapists and counselors) never take the time to discuss the kind of therapy that they are going to use in helping their clients. They simply decide what, in there training and experience, would best benefit their clients and then provide that experience for them, be it hypnotherapy, cognitive therapy or behavioral therapy, etc. Telling your clients what you are going to do next (meaning the exact techniques that you are going to use) usually only complicates the process or causes anxiety. If they want to learn how to do hypnotherapy, encourage your client to take the National Guild of Hypnotists Hypnotherapy Certification Course.

Some of the fears that can be caused by talking about such insight therapies such as age regression can include: "What if I learn something I don't want to know," or "What if I cry and embarrass myself," or even, "what if I can't be regressed and I just waste my money?" Spare them the technical details and focus on the outcome. If you feel that you must tell clients that you are going to use these kinds of therapies before you use them, then, at least wait until they have come back for the session and save them a week's worth of unnecessary concern. Handling the process in this way may save you another "no-show" and enable your client to go through the hypnotherapy process much more comfortably.

One more thing, and this is about consistency again. If you are currently promoting yourself and your office as being professional and mainstream as we do (as opposed to being New Age), do not surprise your clients with an attempt at conducting a past life regression. I know that some hypnotherapists make a whole business out of doing Past Life Regression. And I am not going to get into whether that is a good idea or not. Please read my previous article in the HypnoGram, entitled, Never Do Past Life Regression (On Purpose), if you want my views on that. What I want to stress in this article is that if you want to keep your clients coming back until the whole hypnotherapy process has been completed, one of the most important strategies that you can employ is to promote yourself in a way that is consistent with what your clients will find when they come to your office, then providing them something that is effective, and is within the realm of what they were led to expect from you.

At this point you might be wonder"ng, ?What if they spontaneously regress to a past life?" If you are a new age or spiritual type therapist, well then, no problem! But if you are like me, presenting myself and my office as professional and mainstream, you need to give this some forethought. You need to know in advance how you will handle this. I decided that I will work with what the client has given me in the hypnosis session. In my opinion, it is the professional hypnotherapist's responsibility to know what to do in this kind of situation, because it will come up. Handle it well, and they will come back for more sessions with you, and refer others to you as well.

The first hypnosis session is the most important

Only when your client feels completely comfortable with the idea of going into hypnosis, and comfortable with the hypnotherapist, should the hypnosis session begin. In fact, it is my experience that it is very unlikely that you will have a successful session unless that criterion has been met. The hypnosis pre-talk should be designed to make your clients comfortable with hypnosis. The pre-hypnosis interview (intake) is designed to make the client comfortable with you.

Your hypnosis pre-talk should discuss the terms that you will use, such as "hypnosis," "hypnoth"rapy? and the "unconscious mind." You should also let them know that most people do not realize that they are hypnotized and it is perfectly normal if they somehow do not feel hypnotized. I recommend that you also let them know that hypnosis is not sleep, this prevents them from feeling disappointed if they don't feel as if they went to sleep during your sessions.

On the other hand, if some clients think that they are supposed to go to sleep, they may do exactly that! If I suspect that a client may be tired enough to go to sleep during the session, I will tell him or her that if he or she does go to sleep, they will have a very expensive nap and will not succeed in accomplishing what he or she came in to accomplish. That usually keeps them awake!

Here is one of the biggest secrets to having a successful hypnosis session that results in the client coming back and the client telling all of his friends and family about you--use convincers. By using convincers you demonstrate to your clients that they are doing well and have achieved the hypnotic state. We commonly use the "Eye Lock"Test? or the ?Arm Catalepsy Test" to accomplish this. I recommend this because in my experience, clients who are convinced that they are hypnotized will do better and are more likely to return for the rest of their sessions.

What is the difference between convincers and tests? Good question! When you test for the level of trance, you do so to determine the level of trance that your client has achieved. This should only be done covertly. This way you avoid having a client experience failing a test, which will most certainly affect their confidence negatively. You are using a convincer when you have already covertly tested for a deep level of hypnosis, and then have your client experience a test for a lighter state of hypnosis that you are certain that they will pass.

Other great convincers are given as post-hypnotic suggestions such as time distortion or sensitivity to a color such as red. (Thank you Don Mottin for those great hypnotic convincers. I use a version of them with every client and all of our hypnotherapists are required to do the same!).

Using these convincers is almost as important as administering a good hypnotherapy process during the first session. When you have clients leaving your office knowing that they were hypnotized, they are going to come back and they are going to tell all of their friends about you!

Give them a first session filled with the suggestions for what they came in to receive

We use a particular process of hypnotherapy that provides high quality outcome. It does not matter which of our hypnotherapists sees our clients. The process is called 5-PATH™ (an acronym for the longer name, Five-Phase Abreactive Therapeutic Hypnosis). This ensures quality, and leads to a predictable and consistent way of conducting our sessions. The first phase of the 5-PATH™ includes everything mentioned up to this point in this article, including:

  • First Contact
  • Hypnosis Pre-Talk
  • Pre-Hypnosis Interview
  • Induction designed to create somnambulism
  • Covert test for somnambulism
  • Convincers
  • Hypnotic suggestions for the issue
  • Post-Hypnotic Interview

Our sessions are scheduled on the hour and a half and as such, because of time limitations, most of the time, the first session consists of only Phase I as outlined above. (If more time is available than is necessary to conduct a direct suggestion-only session, our hypnotherapists may continue on to the next phase of the hypnotherapy process, Hypnotic Age Regression Therapy.) Having the first session which focuses mostly on direct suggestion techniques requires the least from your clients and is most often going to be a very pleasant process, which leads to a desire to come back and continue in the hypnotherapy process. Keeping it simple by focusing only on direct suggestion is especially recommended for new hypnotherapists, and age regression therapy should be left to those who have received advanced training in the process.

It is highly recommended that during this first session, you limit the number of behaviors that you will work on. At our center, we usually suggest only one to three changes. Suggesting too many changes during a session only tends to weaken the process. Pick one to three changes and really reinforce them in the session using good scripts with lots of repetition and compounding.

Make sure that the changes that you want to suggest are acceptable to the client before the hypnosis session begins. For example, if your client wants to lose weight, before you suggest that they are going to exercise, you need to make sure that they are both willing and able to accept the suggestion, or it will be rejected. Make sure that your clients want the suggestions that you are going to give them, as it greatly increases the probability that they will accept them in the hypnotic state. Also, asking your clients about the suggestions ahead of time will help to put your clients at ease and increase their confidence in you and that the session will be successful.

While it is fine to suggest more than one change in behavior in the session, I recommend that you only work on one issue or goal at a time. Some clients will come in with a "laundry list" of things they want to work on, like weight loss, pain control, and test anxiety. We simply explain that we find that hypnosis is more effective if we work on one issue at a time, after which we can move on to the next issue.

Give them a session to look forward to

I like to suggest to my clients that each subsequent hypnosis session that they have will be more powerful than the previous one. This suggestion can be made before, during and after the actual hypnosis session. I especially like to suggest this at the end of the session, after my clients have emerged. I will regularly suggest that the next session will be as much as ten times more powerful! My clients will usually look at me and say "Wow!" Then they leave my office really looking forward to that next session and you can bet that they will come back for more!

The Post Hypnotic interview

The time spent with your clients after you emerge them from hypnosis is called the post-hypnotic interview. It is a time best spent giving them the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have and then point out the convincers that you used, while praising them for doing so well.

At our center, when we make the first appointment with our clients on the telephone, we also set up the next four appointments. This shows that the new client is dedicated to making the change and also to ensure that their hypnotherapy process will not be interrupted because of scheduling difficulties. Before we started doing this, we sometimes could not get clients in every week because we were so busy. By making all five appointments right away, we ensure that they will be able to come in without experiencing scheduling difficulties due to our appointment book being full.

Before we started doing this, we found that it was important that we immediately ask our clients to make the next appointment right away. Don't wait for them to call to make the next appointment, most people will procrastinate and then you find that they are going too long between sessions. So, right after you have answered their questions and discussed the convincers, set up the next appointment. I would say something like, "I would like to see you in about 3 to 10 days. Is that do-able for you?" Then get out the appointment book.

Hopefully, you would have already booked them for the next appointment when they first called you. Our receptionist knows that it is in our client's best interest to schedule the five appointments right away, and more can be scheduled if needed later.

Make sure they leave with a brochure and your telephone number

When your clients are ready to leave your office, always give them another brochure, and a laminated card. I tell them, "I have had this card laminated because I want you to always have it. Even if you run this card through the washing machine, you will still have my number. I want you to know that if you have any questions about what we have done, or anything that we are going to do in the future, you can give me a call. From now on, I am your expert on hypnosis, so if you have any questions, ever, about hypnosis you can call me. I want you to succeed. Your success is my success. It will never be a bother, because this is what I do. You can always call me. Sometimes people have general questions about hypnosis. That's okay too. I find that it takes only a couple minutes on the telephone and I can usually answer your question. Now, I'm usually in session, but as soon as I get out, I will call you right back."

Reinforcing that you care about them, their questions, and their success, keeps them coming back and sending their friends and family.

I recommend that you use all these techniques and you will keep them coming back to complete what they have started. You will find that both you and your clients will experience more success.

Copyright © 1998, 2004, 2005, Calvin D. Banyan. All rights reserved.

Originally published in 1998, then revised in 2004 and published in the National Guild of Hypnotists, and then further revised in 2005 and placed in the 5-PATH® Advanced Hypnotherapy Certification Manual: Level II.