As a mental health professional in the community, it is vitally important for you to uphold professional boundaries to protect clients from developing a dependence on you or on the treatment process. As many of us are working from home providing teletherapy, now more than ever we live and die by our phones. Innocente in 2015 emphasized that the increased use of the mobile phone in therapy carries with it the expectation for an immediate response to a text or a call.
Having a clear policy on phone contact for clients can save you headaches down the road. It can help prevent clients from calling after hours, provide structure for you and your clients so they can feel confident that you will answer their calls at a particular time, protect you in the case of a client claiming you have not made yourself available, and can even help you in preventing burnout by giving yourself permission to uphold these boundaries between work and home.
Keep reading for 4 options for return call policies and please feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
Some suggestions for implementing these options:
- Don’t forget to give your clients an after hours emergency contact!
- Make sure your voicemail instructs clients to call 911 in an emergency (i.e. “You’ve reached Jane Doe with Great Agency. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911”).
- Make sure to review this policy with your agency or clinical supervisor to ensure you are following agency rules and your profession’s ethics.
- If you get paid by seeing client’s face to face, don’t be afraid to emphasize that the phone number you are giving them is for scheduling purposes only.
24 Turnaround Policy
This is my current phone policy that I’ve used for a little less than a year. I explain to my clients that if I miss their call, I will return the call within a 24 hour period outside of weekends and holidays. This works for me personally because I have weird hours where I can and can’t answer my phone due to evening classes and other commitments. This policy allows me some flexibility to attend to personal matters while allowing my clients to have some idea of when they can expect a call back.
Calls only returned during your agency’s operating hours
For clients who have a habit of contacting you after hours, only accepting calls during agency hours can help cut down on confusion for these clients about when they can contact you because the message is clear across the board: both you and your agency/supervisor are only available during operating hours.
If client does not leave a voicemail, you will not return the call
One of my professors who practiced home-based therapy for over ten years had a rule that if a client did not leave a voicemail, she would not return the client’s call. In rural areas where cell service can be especially spotty, this can ensure that each client receives a call back and can also help you to screen for the level of need when returning each call.
Setting limited hours to return calls
I think this policy comes down to personal preference, but I also think setting only a particular time to return calls can be limiting. For example, if you set your call back hours from 8am-9am, you might always miss clients who are not up at that time. Another limit to setting specific hours is it can be problematic for clients who have recurring appointments or other treatments for that time. It can also read ablelist for clients who require more flexibility due to illness or disability. However, this policy does provide a good amount of structure for the clinician in the otherwise unstructured environment of home-based therapy.
As important as it is to decide on a policy to return calls, it is equally important to stick to this policy to honor your own boundaries that you created. Remember, it is never too late for you to change your current policy so long as you give your agency and clients ample notice. Happy scheduling!