That blinking LED light on the left top edge of my phone is my nemesis. You see, that blinking light is my alert that I have new information to look at, whether it is email or text or a missed call/voicemail. Somehow I can delay emails and phone calls, but text messages get as immediate response as possible. I have to consciously tell myself NOT to respond sometimes….mainly with my clients.
That’s right readers, I text my clients. We have established passwords for everyone so that we can verify that even though the message pops up with their id on my phone, it is actually my client texting me. We’ve talked about the possibility of the texts to be found by others and that 100% confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. And they have agreed that it is the form of communication that they want to engage in. That being said, I do my best not to engage in texting conversations with my clients by stating that texting to check in on appointments, to cancel, or to just make sure of something we discussed was accomplished is fine. I don’t want a play by play of their day via text. But I have embraced the idea that texting is a form of communication that my clients prefer and so I am meeting my clients where they are at. That being said, there are many days where I question whether or not my ability to be contacted in this medium is really a good thing. Especially when my clients forward chain texts that I am sure they have forwarded to their entire address book or text me at 1130 at night when they remember something. And these are the moments when I have to remember to not reply. I don’t want my clients thinking I am available 24/7 even though in theory as an in home counselor I sort of am.
On another blog I talked about having a relationship in the digital age and one reader Brent commented about texting his 13 year old son and brought up a really valid point of being able to communicate with him in a way that his son was comfortable talking about a difficult topic, girls. Brent, if you are reading this blog, I want to say good for you! I don’t think you are contributing the downfall of communication, rather I think you are encouraging your son to communicate rather than just try and figure out things on his own. That being said, would I suggest trying to have an in person conversation as well? Absolutely! Again, things can be missed via text, but sometimes that just might be the only way an individual will communicate about something. I had a client who had a safety plan for her cutting behavior that included calling me or texting. She would hang up if I called her to talk about what was going on, but would communicate via text. Should I have left her hanging just because it was a communication option that was not my preferred method? I doubt anyone would say yes that I should have, but I did realize through that experience the necessity of addressing texting with clients. I needed to establish some boundaries and rules about how I was going to handle all of that, for my own sake as well as for the sake of my client.
This new technology is a learning curve for all of us, even those of my generation who it comes more easily to than others. And each of us needs to be ok with what we set up as policies for ourselves. Please do not simply follow the trend without thinking through some things. I will be honest and say that sometimes I feel like I’ve learned through trial by fire…learn from one client what not to do and fix it for the rest of your clients. But that’s the growth process. I encourage you all to search for technology and social media policies in informed consents, read up on the ethics behind the use of technology and social media, ask your own clients what they are comfortable with, and consult with other professionals. Please don’t be afraid to text your clients, but also don’t do it freely and without forethought…and afterthought as well. It is a useful tool and I will say a quick text has saved me driving 45 minutes out of my way to be stood up by a client…and that indeed was worth the conversation about the implications of texting with one’s client.
Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.