“Did I tell you I had to fire a client last month?” That’s how my recent coffee date with a fellow massage therapist got started. It’s a situation we all dread, so I asked for details.

[Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.]

[Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.]

She told me that he had been a client for over a year. He always booked 90-minute sessions, and paid up front for multiple sessions at a time. He originally came to her for a running injury. The treatment plan began with once-a-week sessions, went down to every two weeks, and eventually to the once-a-month maintenance plan he was currently receiving. After this last treatment, my friend was showing him a stretch she thought could benefit his current flexibility concerns, and he asked, “can you show me that again?” “Sure,” she said. “Should I explain the objective again, or were you unable to see what I was doing?” “No,” he said, “I just like to look at your ass.” The look on her face must have alarmed him, because he quickly added, “I was just trying to be funny.” Even as she was standing there in shock and disbelief, she was able to express two statements, “That was not funny.” and “We are done.” He collected his things and left.

Over the next two days, my friend considered the situation and consulted her advisor. She wanted to be sure she interpreted the situation accurately, and that she wasn’t overreacting. Ultimately, she thought about how it made her feel “icky” and how, even if he was joking around, she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to be his therapist. She decided to call and dismiss him as a client. As the phone rang, her heart pounded and she was shaking (a common response to confrontation and why we all try to avoid it!). She was a bit relieved when his voicemail picked up, so she left a message. She told him that she had given it a lot of thought and that she just could not continue to be his therapist. She told him that she cancelled the upcoming appointment they had already scheduled, and recommended another clinic in the area for any future professional treatments. Then she mailed him a check for the balance on his account (he had paid up front for several future sessions), and included a written note reiterating the message she left on his voicemail. My friend told me she wasn’t sure that he really got the message until she saw that he had actually cashed the check. She finally felt relief.

I thought she handled that particular situation really well. So, of course I wanted to share it with our SMA Community… in the event that a similar situation happens to you.

How to Fire a Client 1-2-3-4

  1. sma-blog-youre-firedIf you feel comfortable and it is safe to do so, address the behavior directly (e.g., “that was not funny”). When a behavior is particularly egregious and unacceptable, you may choose to dismiss the client on the spot (e.g., “we can no longer work together”). However, if you are unsure of what to do, make no decisions and go on to step 2.
  2. Give yourself a couple of days to process what happened. Consult with an advisor and consider the following:
    • Is your interpretation of the situation accurate?
    • Is it a fire-able offense?
    • Does it require client education and would you feel comfortable educating this client?
    • Would you feel comfortable seeing this client again?
  3. If you decide you cannot continue to see this client, call and deliver the news over the phone. Be direct (e.g., “I can no longer be your massage therapist.”). Do not argue with the client, you do not have to justify your decision. If you have to leave a message, keep it simple without an explanation.
  4. Send a letter reiterating the phone conversation or voice message. Again, be direct and include referrals, if appropriate.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Would you recommend anything different, or any additional steps?