Structuring an email relationship

email iconFor some consumers, email might only be used for meeting reminders or quick clarifications. For others, email may be more personal and involved, constituting a greater part of the counseling process. Whatever the purpose, it is important to describe your expectations up front so email does not become burdensome. Although this section primarily discusses email communication, much of it can also apply to text messaging.

Explain How Email will be Used in the Counseling Process

  • Discuss with the consumer how both of you can use email in the counseling process and outline general guidelines about frequency of contact.
  • Review how often you check your email and how quickly he/she might expect a response from you (Abbot, Klein & Ceichomski, 2008; Bradly, Hendricks, Lock, Whiting & Parr, 2011; Jones & Stokes, 2009; Zelvin & Speyer, 2004)
    • This can also be accomplished with automated return messages that say something like “Thank you for contacting me.  Due to the volume of emails I receive, I reserve a specific time during the week to go through them.  If you do not hear from me by next Monday, please call or email again.”
  • Establish response time expectations with the consumer (Abbot, Klein & Ceichomski, 2008; Jones & Stokes, 2009; Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
    • Discuss why timely communication is important and how delays might affect his/her case.
  • Let the consumer know if you plan to respond to emails once his/her case is closed (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).

Suggest Steps to Make the Relationship Secure

  • Avoid including any personally identifying information such as Social Security numbers, first and last name, birthdate, etc.
  • Include emergency referrals, such as a suicide prevention hotline number in the counselor signature line (Bradly, Hendricks, Lock, Whiting & Parr, 2011).
  • Secure permissions from the consumer to communicate with others (such as family members, job coach, psychological evaluator, or teacher) about aspects of the case (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004). Obtain signature for release of information as needed.

Develop Backup Plans if the Technology is Failing

  • Provide an alternate method of communicating to reduce frustration if issues arise (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
  • Take some time to evaluate how the online method is working for the consumer.
    • Encourage consumers to inform you of misunderstandings or concerns (Abbot, Klein & Ceichomski, 2008).