A few months ago, I emailed a therapist in the city where I lived. Dear Therapist, I’m not sure if you’re accepting new clients, but I’ve recently realized that I would like to see a psychotherapist again. I’m wondering if you’d be available for a consultation session?
I waited. After a week without a reply, I went back to this therapist’s website. I looked at her friendly professional photograph. I looked at her description of her practice and noted the smart design she had chosen for her page. I liked everything she was presenting there — especially her specific training. I looked at her email address and went back to my original email to make sure I’d copied it right. I had.
A month passed. No reply.
To be fair, psychotherapists experience what we all experience from time to time in our email inboxes: too much. Messages slip by. Or we check them on our phone and forget to flag them for reply, later. Sometimes we even believe we did reply when we didn’t. Messages get lost or routed to spam. And then there are times when we make a choice, for whatever reason, not to reply at all. We all do it. We drop the ball.
When the therapist I emailed didn’t respond, my mind spun. Maybe she had met me (the city where I live is small) and hadn’t liked me? Maybe she had checked my personal website and dismissed me as a potential client? As a writer who has recently been sending a work out for publication, I experience rejection and judgement over email on a fairly regular basis. When the therapist didn’t reply, I combed over my email to her, looking for flaws. After a few weeks, I decided that maybe her client log was full and she just didn’t have time to reply to my email. Maybe my email went to spam. Instead of reaching out to her again, I decided to wait and try someone else.
I write this not to shame the therapist, but to bring this issue to the attention of all therapists who market their practices online. Emails from potential clients are vulnerable acts. They are made by people who need support and have reached a point where they are able to express this need. Therapists who publish their email addresses and invite contact via email to potential new clients have an ethical duty to respond. I would go one step further, too: therapists who encourage email contact have an ethical duty to check their spam folder, once in a while, for messages they may have missed.
We all miss messages. But when a psychotherapist misses a message from a prospective client, they miss someone’s tender first move in the therapeutic journey.
—Elaine Bleakney, Digital Editor, Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
Image by Elena Strebkova via Flickr