What Are The Rules For Texting With Your Therapist?

Note added October 2017:  This post was written in March 2016, when I had just started texting with my therapist, and it mostly covers my concerns and uncertainties. For an updated post that describes the rules we eventually settled on as well as the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a half, check out The Actual Rules for Texting with My Therapist.

Contact with your therapist outside of therapy sessions is a tricky thing. No, more accurately it is a minefield of imagined expectations and hopes, with plenty of opportunity to explode in your face. It’s all the more confusing if a therapist doesn’t have clear rules, or has them but only adheres to them some of the time, or changes the rules without telling you, or even changes the rules and tells you. It’s complicated.

Over the past week or more, E. and I have texted a lot. Some days just briefly but other days a lot, and every single day for the past 10 days. Before that, in my many years of working with her, I had not only never texted her, but I had never called her. I had rarely emailed, and almost only about scheduling. So this is a very new place for me, a potential minefield.

What Are Rules For Texting With Therapist? #therapy #depression laquemada.org

In session yesterday, we spend a lot of the time talking about other topics, but near the end of the session, I raise the question that I think E. has been waiting for the entire time.

“How will I know if it’s too much?”

She looks at me for a moment,”Right, that’s the question, isn’t it?”

I look back with my eyebrows raised, saying nothing, something I do to her a lot. This really needs to come from her: what are the rules, what are the boundaries? Don’t wait and tell me after I’ve crossed the line.

“I don’t have a good answer for that,” she tells me. “Right now, it feels right. I enjoy it, not that that’s a reason to do anything in therapy, of course. But it’s not a bother at all. And I feel like it meets a need of yours, that it’s good for you.”

I feel a little relief, to hear that she likes it and isn’t annoyed.

“It’s not something I would do with most clients. In fact, I don’t do it with any other client. But we’ve known each other a long time, and I’ve seen your needs change over time as we’ve gone deeper into the work, and this feels appropriate. At the same time, I don’t think it would be right to keep it up indefinitely.”

Inside my head the littlest self thinks: She only does this with me. I’m special to her. Yay! 

The cautious one (my teen self, perhaps?): This is temporary so I should hold back, maybe not let myself get used to it.

But I don’t say either of those things. I just ask her, “Okay, so how do I know when is too much? I don’t want to overstep the boundary and piss you off, and then have you tell me.”

“Right, of course you don’t. What if we just check in about every week? Can we keep it open like that for a while?”

So that’s what we agree, for now. My adult rational self is entirely fine with keeping it open and seeing how it goes. I will just have to see if any less rational part of myself starts getting anxious about it. I like the idea of checking in every week to make sure, and I’m glad I brought it up explicitly. I often don’t bring up our relationship as a topic of conversation, but that only leads to me guessing and assuming in ways that feed Anxiety (as if she needed feeding!). Talking about it weekly is almost like giving me a map of the minefield, so maybe I won’t step on anything too deadly. Or so I hope.

“I just have one concern,” she says to me.

Uh oh, here it comes, I think.

“I don’t have my phone on all the time,” she tells me. “Sometimes I won’t be able to answer immediately, and I don’t want that to upset you. I will always respond as soon as I can though.”

Phew. “That’s fine,” I say, and I mean it. If I know she will answer, I can wait.

rules calm

18 thoughts on “What Are The Rules For Texting With Your Therapist?

  1. It IS such a minefield. I suspect she’s just overjoyed that you’re finally reaching out to her when you need to. This is big. Well done 🙂

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  2. really impressed with you broaching a sensitive topic, but you are right that anxiety doesn’t need additional fuel to want to burn the place down! Really glad she is available for you, and that you are feeling safe enough to utilize her. I like your keep calm graphic.

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  3. It’s totally a minefield! It took forever for me and T to negotiate and deal with – and it involves all the feelings of neediness and vulnerability so it can become a very very intensely emotional subject that can be difficult to discuss. I think it’s so good that you’re talking about it. It’s a minefield – before we established rules that he would always respond, it would be hit or miss, and that would make me intensely dysregulated. I still sometimes think he’s dead or gone if he takes a while to respond, or that he’ll ‘take away’ this method of communication. He knows that, we’ve discussed it. How long have you been seeing E?

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    • Probably six, maybe seven years this time around. And maybe two years five or six years before that? So a very long time! And all that time without out-of-session contact. This is very new for me.

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  4. Well done, bringing up such a scary topic with E. I don’t know what the rules are. It can be a minefield. I think checking in weekly about out of session contact isn’t a bad idea. I’ve never talked to Bea about the rules for out of session contact; she told me I could email or text and so I email and text if I really need her right then. I guess I’ve always assumed she would let me know if I was emailing or texting too much. And she seems to welcome emails, even asking about me not emailing when I was feeling uncertain about emailing her.

    I think there is a place for out of session contact and that it can be really helpful. I’m glad you are reaching out to her and that she is open to it. 🙂💜

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  5. My therapist has a no texting rule which annoys me sometimes but mostly makes me feel relaxed because Zooey had a similar rule that I was unaware of and she broke that rule for me, which blew up in my face so… Anyway this is tough stuff so it’s awesome that you two are talking about it actively.

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    • Yes, we HAVE to talk about it, because if she just abruptly cuts this, I will pull away and so much will be lost from our relationship. And she recognizes that I’m trusting her a lot but that’s new for me and still precarious.

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  6. Nice post. It’s good to learn about others’ relationships with their therapists, the rules of engagement, etc. I have only texted my therapist of almost two years occasionally, and he has responded promptly and helpfully.

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  7. I’m so glad you guys established a boundary! You and I have a small victory today. To hear S say to me, “We are a good match” made me feel happy too. It’s kinda embarrassing for me to admit but yet, I can’t deny the little flutter of excitement when I heard it. And S said to me when I told him that I try not to email him so much, his response was, “Oh yeah. You’re right. I’ve realized now that you don’t email me as much anymore.” it definitely is hard to gauge how much is too much. With S, I feel like he’s a cautious therapist and doesn’t want to answer many questions or too many emails. But with E, she seems more experienced and more relaxed that she would text and email you back.

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    • I can tell though in our texting that she is self-monitoring a lot. When something gets into really intense material, she’ll suggest we pick it up more in a session. I think she mostly wants to use it to reassure me that she won’t abandon me, so I can fully trust.

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      • That’s interesting. I’ve written to S before sometime ago about some things through email and he would suggest the same thing as well – as in, talking about it during session instead of on the email. He told me that privacy is an issue when it comes to emails and he told me that he wasn’t comfortable putting into written words what he would like to tell me in person. I suppose, a therapist has to balance being supportive outside of session as well as not writing something that might potentially be used against them in the future… In any case, I think that it’s awesome that E is willing to go out of her way to reassure you – even if it is just texting. 🙂 It makes me happy to know that you have someone you can depend on.

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  8. It really is an individual choice/boundary between clients and therapists about outside of session communication, texting, emailing, etc. Your trepidation is understandable, and I agree with Andi that the communication is key. I think taking it week by week is a smart way to go. I get the “every single day” concern, that would make me judge myself, too. However, sometimes the structure shifts and that means needs can be met in a different way. I see it as a deepening.

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  9. I’m envious that you have a therapist you can talk to, much less text. Keep writing about this wonderful relationship. I hold no hope of finding someone like that, but it’s nice to know they exist.

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  10. My therapist and I text outside of session, we email as well .. as long as there are GOOD boundaries, there is nothing wrong with it. I felt uncomfortable about it at first, but I love that he trusts me and I trust him with that connection outside of therapy. We have been working together 9 years, and I would say we have worked outside of therapy through email and texts for the past 6 and email almost the whole 9 … some therapists choose which clients they feel safe to text with because of the boundaries.. not everyone has good boundaries .. so I would take this as a huge compliment that your therapist texts with you.. it means there is trust.. trust me, you will know when it begins to feel like too much, and when that moment does come – talk to her about it 🙂 thats what she is there for.

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    • Thanks for sharing this. It’s helpful to compare experiences. I do think that E. trusts me not to abuse the connection… and yet at the same time, I still feel a lingering worry about asking for “too much.” Maybe that’s okay though. Maybe that is not so much pathological as just recognizing that there should be boundaries and that she has a life of her own.

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  11. Pingback: The Actual Rules for Texting with My Therapist | la quemada

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