Be on time for your appointments & consultations. Punctuality conveys professionalism, respect and allows you to address & manage possible resistance on the part of the client.

There’s a Catch–22 type joke (at least, I thought it was a joke) about clients’ attendance at appointments:

If they’re early, they’re anxious; if they’re on time, they’re obsessional; if they’re late, they’re resistant.

Therapists, by contrast, seem only to have two modes: on time (rare) and late (mostly). Lateness on the part of therapists is usually due to an excessive workload and so is likely to be forgiven—or at least tolerated—by NHS clients. The implicit message, that the therapist’s time is more valuable than the client’s, doesn’t make for a good start to a session, however.

In an over-subscribed service, punctuality is difficult to ensure. Many medical services don’t even try, overbooking clinics on the principle that there will be non-attendances. The aim is to ensure that the clinician never has to wait for a patient, but this almost guarantees that the patient will face a lengthy wait.

Punctuality has no downside. Lateness may imply importance and high demand, but punctuality conveys professionalism, courtesy and credibility: who would accept time management advice from someone who arrived late?

Ten minutes in a busy clinic can be a very short time: scribbling casenotes, fielding phone calls and requests from colleagues, scanning files and letters prior to your next appointment.

Ten minutes in a waiting room is a long time, especially if you have arrived early in order to ensure that you are on time, if you are anxious or in pain, or if you have psyched yourself up for the appointment. A punctual therapist will get a calmer, less anxious client.

Therapists who book appointments back to back (or overbook clinics) to compensate for non-attendance are replacing one problem with another. Punctuality ensures that persistently late clients are obvious to the therapist, not just their receptionist, permitting contributory issues to be addressed. Tackling client lateness when you are habitually late would be a challenge for even the most blatant hypocrite!

7 Responses

  1. I used to be so uptight by the end of the day after two three-in-a-row session days. It never occurred to me that I could change it.

    Then one day when I was working with my therapist on “will structure” (a bodynamic term), I realized that I did have a choice.

    So, I implemented a 15 minutes between clients schedule. People said my clients wouldn’t remember an appointment on the quarter hour.

    Well, they did. What a change this meant to me. Now, I have plenty of time between clients to make a call, go to the lou, read or write notes. I’m prepared. I don’t carry the energy of one client over to the next.

    But most of all I feel I am truly “walking the talk” about living a balanced life.

  2. Excellent advice.

    Strangely, I’ve also been advised against offering appointments on the quarter hour, when people seem perfectly capable of keeping any other kind of appointment (GP, hairdresser, etc) at quarter past, ten past or even five past the hour!

  3. I agree that to us it may seem like such a small time but to the client, particularly if they are anxious, can be a very long time. I try my hardest to be on time or early so that I don’t do that to my clients. Sometimes it is unavoidable and I always apologize to my client when that happens.

  4. I am a therapist myself and my new psychotherapist has been late for the five sessions we have had so far. I arrive at her office and she is not even there. I wait in my car or outside the door for up to 15 mins. She always apologises but I am still left feeling uptight. It kinda looks like we are not a good match. I will however discuss what gets evoked in me when she is late – but I guess I also need to let her know that its just not OK by me …..

  5. I was taught very early on that being on time and punctual was important. Surely if we don’t model clear boundaries for our clients, their chances of working on their issues in the session have potential to be contaminated by their feelings about the lateness of the therapist.

  6. I think that every therapist should manage to be on time to their clients in spite of the fact that they have too much workloads,as this creates a positive impact to the clients coming for help.

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