So… how do you do it? Do you carry a pager? Do you carry your cell phone into the shower with you? Do you have an answering service? Do your clients have access to your cell phone… your email… your FaceBook…? Do you check in and respond to your clients when you are on vacation? I’m not sure if what I’ve observed over the years is a function of a maturing in my career or if it is a function of change over time in the profession. When I started out almost 20 years ago I carried a pager and had an answering service with access to my home phone number (and eventually my cell phone number). When clients called, day or night, the service found me no matter what. I returned calls at 2AM.
Quickly I learned to set better boundaries and let my clients know that after-hours calls were for clinical crises ONLY. I started learning and using DBT strategies to set healthier boundaries for those challenged by impulse control and distress tolerance issues.
First, I got rid of my pager. Next, I let go my answering service. I checked with several of my Private Practice colleagues, only to find their process over the years was very similar to my own with regard to availability. Today I check my confidential voice mail box 2-3 times a day during the week and once or twice over the weekend. My instructions to my clients are that if they are in crisis and cannot wait for my return call, that they contact Crisis Services, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. My clients do have access to my (business) email, but they know that it is not for therapy or crisis – just for making or changing appointments or non-emergent issues.
I do have a FaceBook account associated with the college I work for; I never forget that it is PUBLIC. I tweet and I blog, and fully appreciate the public nature of those media.
So, am I available to my clients? You bet I am! I am very active in our sessions and in times of crisis (even if I’m not the “first responder”) I am there to help them through the rough times. I value and cherish my downtime and use it in part to recharge myself for the time I am at work. Long gone are the days when the 2AM phone calls left me tired and dragging for the 10 clients I had to see the next day.
I guess it is a matter of perspective. What do you think?
Deborah Legge is a counselor, an assistant professor, specializes in coaching counselors in private practice, and is the founder of InfluentialTherapist.com