Call Me, Maybe

Some therapists caution clients that if therapists allow them to call between therapy sessions then that is a sign they have a bad therapist. They say these bad therapists will enable them not to get support from other places in their life. They imply that these bad therapists will prevent clients from being independent. They warn that these bad therapists have unhealthy boundaries with clients.

I disagree.

It is true that it is important for therapists to have consistent, healthy boundaries in their relationships with clients. Therapists who have no boundaries between their work life and their private life are on a fast road to burn-out (and a burnt-out therapist isn’t all that helpful to anyone).

It is also true that it is important for clients to have multiple sources of support, not just their therapist. I certainly would not want clients to rely on me for all of the support they need; that is not desirable or sustainable.

Even so, I do allow — even encourage — clients to call me if they need my support between their therapy sessions. Why?

  • I trust my clients. My clients are adults who know what they need and when they need it. I trust them to ask me for the help they need.
  • I trust my own ability to set limits when necessary. I only offer what I can offer to clients with generosity. I don’t need to have a rule that they cannot call me when they want to call me. It has never been the case for me that I have been overwhelmed with clients calling me at all hours of the day and night. Rather, clients will not call me for help because they are worried about bothering me. If it happens that a client is calling me all the time, more than feels comfortable for me, then that is an issue I will bring up in a therapy session. Together, we will explore their needs for support, how they can get those needs met, and how I can help. We will explore what it means for them to call me to get support and what it would be like not to call me. We will explore how it feels for them that I have my own limitations and cannot give them all the support they need. Thus, their phone calls will become an important part of the therapy process.
  • I’m not such a big fan of independence. I don’t think any of us makes it through life without support. Why would I encourage people to get less help? I am more in favor of interdependence, of a world in which we can rely on each other and support each other to be the best people we can be.
  • The work of therapy happens mostly between therapy sessions. If clients do not do any work aside from the 50 minutes they meet with me per week, then the effectiveness of the therapy will be very limited. I want clients to think about therapy in between therapy sessions. I want clients to call me if I can be helpful. It makes the therapy work better. I consider it part of my job.
  • Clients sometimes need to learn how to ask for support and calling me can help with that. If I tell clients they should not call me between sessions, that doesn’t necessarily help them learn how to get support from anyone else. But if they can learn to ask for support from me when they need it, then gradually they can learn to ask for support from other people in their lives as well.
  • The ability to contact me between sessions can help build trust between my clients and me. For very understandable reasons, clients often doubt that I really care about them. They doubt that I can care about them if I am getting paid to help them. When they take the risk of reaching out to me between therapy sessions, they know they are asking for me to care about them outside of the therapy hour. I already care about them all the time, but they don’t know that. When they are able to talk with me for a few minutes outside of therapy sessions, they experience my genuine care for them.

    Some therapists would judge me as having poor boundaries if I care about my clients all the time. But I think that is just silly. Of course I care about them all the time. I may not be thinking about them all the time, since I do have a life outside of being a therapist. But I always care about them.

Psychotherapy is a genuine, human relationship between a client and a therapist. The most simple approach to getting support from anyone is to ask for what you need and trust the other person to offer what they can. That is exactly what I want my clients to be doing: asking me for what they need, and I will respond by offering what I can.

When other therapists say that clients should not be getting support from therapists between sessions, I think what they are really saying is that their own ability or desire to offer support does not extend to phone calls between sessions. I think that is fine. Different therapists, different ways of approaching the work. But my way works well for me and is helpful for my clients.

So call me, maybe, if this is the kind of therapy you are looking for.

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