Today North Texas has been declared an inclement weather zone. I called my clients yesterday to cancel, but some I emailed today to double-check. One of those I emailed I was slightly concerned about, because she seemed especially vulnerable to perceived rejection. On our very first session, she had confessed to being afraid I wasn’t interested in talking to her.
I didn’t understand why, so I asked her about it. She said the reason was the gap in time between our first contact via email in the early morning, in which I offered her some times to come in, and the final contact to confirm a time at the end of the day. Of course for me I was just writing before clients, and then after clients. There was no significance to the delay. But in the first email she mentioned some sensitive information about her, information that could cause some people to reject her immediately.
Of course I was quick to assure her that had nothing to do with the reason it took me a little time to write back, and urged her to please share other fears like this with me immediately, if they came up. I wanted to have a chance to reassure her.
She agreed, but it got me to thinking. For a long time, I’ve been hearing from our receptionist, my co-workers, and from new clients myself this same statement. “You guys are the only ones who called me back.” “I’ve called a ton of therapists and no one else will return my calls.” How would that make these people feel?
I don’t think that my group practice is the perfect example of calling people back by any means. Sometimes it does take a few days to get back when we’re really busy. But I’m fairly certain that all my co-workers always at least attempt to return calls. And from what I’m hearing, it seems like other people in our area do not do the same. I wonder, can that really be true?
Seems like it could be interpreted as an ethical issue to me. Just like my client in the example above, vulnerable populations can read so much in to a delayed or a missed phone call. What kind of messages might the clients who get “ignored” internalize when no one calls them back? They have made the monumental and commendable choice to seek help, and getting in return the message that no one thinks they are worthy of their time.
Other clients I’ve talked to read into this situation on a different, but equally alarming, level. I’ve had some people say to me, “No one else called me, if you hadn’t called I had decided to take it as a sign that I shouldn’t go to counseling now.” Yikes! It’s scary sometimes how significant our influence is.
I am not putting myself up above anyone else. In fact, there’s days when a huge sigh escapes me at the stack of messages I have to return at the end of the day. Sometimes, I just want to go home. If I hadn’t have discovered how important this was to clients by accident, I might have fallen into the habit of forgetting to return calls as well, I don’t know.
But now that I know, I have to take it seriously, and I urge you to do so as well. If you’re full, consider making sure that they get that information, and don’t just have to assume it because you never call back. I know our receptionist is great at telling people the potential wait time to see my supervisor, so that the client feels informed right away. It’s not your job to find them another therapist, but at the same time, you might offer them a really broad referral. Just a place to get them started, like a therapist search tool or another therapist you trust. Your attention could encourage them where they might otherwise give up.
You never know how much just taking the time to call someone back might make a difference in their life.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.