Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ask the Doc: How much should I email my therapist?

In this day and age, I use email for as much as I can. Sometimes I've got a question for my therapist in between appointments. Should I email her?

Therapists, like pack mules or carrier pigeons, sometimes have more trouble than most when it comes to grappling with modern accoutrements like computers and smartphones. I'm not sure why that is - with 4 teenagers around the house I have had to stay caught up or perish - but it seems like the psychology profession lags a little in this area.

That being said, your therapist should have a well-defined email policy, just like all of her other policies. For me, I draw the line at scheduling via email, and here's why. Email, as you know if you've ever used it (ha!) can be a very tricky medium when it comes to understanding emotional intent and emphasis. My work is all about emotion, and my concern is that one of us will misinterpret something that's said in a letter. Also, establishing an expectation that email will be returned sets up the potential for further misunderstanding. As I've said in the past, it is important to me that I treat all clients the same, and that all my clients understand my therapeutic "frame."

I have had clients express dismay that I won't engage in long email conversations between sessions, because their previous therapist was available 24/7 for them. They'd write, the therapist would respond. Some even continue the conversation after they are no longer a client. This is dangerous ground to tread, given the artificial immediacy of electronic communication, and sets the therapist up for possible ethical violations. Once someone is your therapist, that's their role. Converting clients to friends or confidantes via email is a very slippery slope.

So, in short, scheduling = yes. All other communication, especially therapeutic or just "saying hi," = no.

And, if you have any questions about this post, feel free to drop me an email, because I'm not your therapist. :)

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