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

  • Tell the consumer how you plan to use email in the counseling process and outline general guidelines about frequency of contact.
  • Tell the consumer 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.”
  • Tell the consumer how quickly you expect him/her to respond to an email from you (Abbot, Klein & Ceichomski, 2008; Jones & Stokes, 2009; Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
    • Indicate what steps will be taken if he/she does not respond within a given time frame (like follow-up phone calls or letters) and how this 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 Ground Rules about Consumer Emails

  • Tell the consumer that he/she should only send emails that relate to the case (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
    • No forwards of songs, jokes, YouTube videos, poems, etc. (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
  • Inform the consumer that he or she should not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when responding to emails from the counselor (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004).
  • Inform the consumer that he or she should not watch TV, listen to music, or otherwise be disengaged when responding to emails during the counseling process (Zelvin & Speyer, 2004). Assure him or her that you will bring that same level of attention to the process.

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).