Therapists are an empathetic group of people; that’s what makes us good at what we do.  Our empathy can sometimes hinder us as businessmen and women. Setting and sticking to your late cancellation and no-show policy helps clients appreciate the value of our time and prevents resentment that may crop up when last minute cancellations arise.  Here are 4 tips for setting and enforcing your cancellation policy:

Set the Limit Up Front

The late cancellation policy is one from the informed consent I talk about during the initial session.  When you emphasize it and clients initial that space on your form, it’s easier to enforce.  There are exceptions to the rule I am happy to make when the situation arises.  Working with kids, I tell parents if their child has a fever, is throwing up, or has lice, they will have a fee-free cancellation as long as they let me know ahead of time.  I have never had anyone abuse this policy because parents know I am taking their unexpected events into consideration.

Consistency is Key

The goal of having this policy is to prevent clients from cancelling last minute.  As with any policy, enforcing it consistently is the only way it will prevent the “offence”.  It’s often a difficult conversation for therapists to have so practice the language you want to use

I keep a credit card on file for non-illness related cancellations, so here’s what I say:

“I missed seeing Susie this afternoon.  I will charge the card I have on file for the missed session unless you want to pay another way.  I still have Susie on my schedule for next Thursday at 5:00, does that work?”

Habitual Late Cancellations and No-Shows

Have a frank conversation with the repeat no-show client.  Figure out if they are ready to commit to the therapeutic process.  It’s OK if they aren’t; they will appreciate your understanding.  It could be they are truly forgetful or not effective at managing their schedule and that becomes a therapeutic goal.


Send appointment reminders to reduce late cancellations.  My client management software ( sends email reminders.  A colleague sends reminder emails each morning so she can plan her day accordingly.  If clients are not able to make their appointment, they are still required to pay the cancellation fee.  She has noticed a dramatic drop in last minute cancellations since she started the daily emails.  (Editor’s note: This is not my favorite way of enforcing. However, since it doesn’t take my time and is automatically sent by my software, I don’t mind. I recognize the crowded calendars we are all juggling)

As a therapist in private practice, you don’t want your annoyance for a late cancellation to affect your work.  Resentment grows quickly when your time is being wasted, and you are not making the income you expected.  Being clear and consistent and enforcing your cancellation policy will help your bottom line and your mood.