You’d be surprised how often I hear, “You’re the only therapist that called me back,”. Therapist’s voicemails are often full of appointment requests. It’s a common complaint amongst therapy seekers that therapists just are not responsive to calls or emails. There’s a very common reason for this…we’re busy.
Therapists in private practice are often a single person running an entire business. Unlike typical doctor’s offices, there are no assistants or admins manning the phones and sitting at a front desk. A lot of therapists don’t even have an office (outside of their desk in their home). So they are single-handedly responsible for answering phones, responding to emails, seeing clients, writing notes for sessions, scheduling appointments, building a website, managing their billing/insurance calls, and ultimately keeping their business afloat. Plus, we didn’t even mention the possibility of a crisis arising. So voicemails and emails often get pushed to the end of the to do list for many therapists.
We truly give undivided attention
When working with clients one-on-one for an hour at a time, clients expect our undivided attention. Your therapist wouldn’t answer a phone call during your session, and they won’t answer your call during someone else’s session. They also aren’t answering calls, while writing clinical notes or attending to personal needs between sessions. Many therapists also have untypical “business hours”, so calling at 9am may actually be outside of their scheduled work day. Most therapists see 4-8 clients a day. That’s 4-8 hours out of the day that they will not be answering phone calls or writing emails. They are also most likely not going to respond outside of work hours because that is their personal time.
We aren’t always available 24/7
So you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t my therapist always be available to me if I need them?”. The answer…yes & no. Your therapist will most likely inform you when you begin treatment if they are available for calls in between sessions. Keep in mind that a private practice is the lowest level of care. There are higher levels of care, such as intensive outpatient programs, that provide more frequent, on-call, services. You may be familiar with a medical provider’s voicemail message saying, “Please hang up and call 9-1-1 if this is an emergency or reach out to the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if you are in crisis.”. This message is there to remind clients that their therapist is NOT who they should be calling in an emergency. Just like a physical emergency, you should head to the ER, not call your PCP. You should do the same if you are in a mental health crisis…seek out immediate care from a 24/7 crisis line or emergency room. If you don’t need immediate care, then you probably aren’t in a severe crisis. You should still go ahead and schedule a time to meet with your therapist in the next week or so. A good coping skill while waiting for an appointment is to reach out to a close confidant. This can help you cope with current emotions until you are able to meet with your therapist. [Side note: If you want to know a little more about various levels of mental health care, check out this blog.]
We try to make scheduling simple
So what’s the solution? Many therapists have tried to mitigate this inconvenience by using technology to attend to scheduling needs. Being able to schedule appointments online means you don’t actually have to speak with anyone to find an appointment that fits both your own and the therapist’s schedule. This makes scheduling super simple and takes the phone tag out of the dynamic. You may also reach out to a larger group practice when seeking treatment. These larger practices may have an administrative assistant available during typical business hours to attend to client’s scheduling needs.
We have policies & procedures for a reason
Please don’t be the person that ignores the procedures for scheduling and calls anyway. This will just lead to more unanswered voicemails. If an appointment isn’t available, it is most likely because a) the therapist is seeing another client at that time, b) the therapist is not scheduled to work at that time, or c) the therapist has already made personal plans and is no longer available on such short notice. Reaching out this way may just lead to a longer delay before your next session. [We aren’t returning from vacation early just because you called.]
We will get back to you…eventually
So, to recap…always plan to schedule your appointment at least a week in advance. This gives the therapist time to get back to your email/call with knowledge of their upcoming openings and during a time they are actually free to speak to you about your needs. Also, read any instructions that may be available about scheduling on a therapist’s website. They often inform you if they are accepting clients, the best way to contact them, or whether to give them a certain amount of time to respond (amongst other helpful information). Another pointer, try to schedule your next appointment at the end of your current session. This secures your spot on the therapist’s calendar and gives you time to save it on yours.
Here at Simplee Therapy, all appointments (for new or current clients), must be scheduled at least 3 days in advance. This allows for therapists to properly prepare for each session. Same day and next day appointments are not available. You can always reach the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or Text “HOME” to 741741. Remember, if you are in an emergency situation dial 9-1-1 or head straight to your nearest emergency room.
There are a lot of people seeking mental health support right now, and a very limited number of therapists. Therapists want to be available and provide supportive care for your mental health needs. Please have patience when reaching out. If you are looking for a new therapist, check out these resources to find a good fit for your unique needs.