Can I Contact My Therapist In-Between Sessions?

There’s no rule that says that you can’t contact a therapist in between sessions. But it’s not always clear about whether or not this is the best course of action.

We might wonder:

  • Is it ok to contact a therapist in-between sessions?
  • If I do, how will they answer? Will they answer?
  • Are there other options that might fit the bill?

These are some of the questions I’ll be exploring in this month’s article.

Instant Info

Many of us are accustomed to fast and easy access to information. I was staying in a provincial campground a few years ago, and wifi was an included amenity. Part of me was surprised, part of me wasn’t. Whenever we have a question, we look it up on the Internet, providing we own a device and have Internet access. When we contact someone—personal or professional—we generally expect a response.

Your Therapist Is Unique

As much as I would like to give a standard set of answers about therapists’ responses to in-between session contact, therapists are unique in terms of their boundaries, expectations, and ultimately their responses.

Most therapists will have a client service agreement that is presented to clients for review before starting counselling. While it may be tempting to breeze through such documents, dismissing them as just another example of fine print, we may unfortunately miss important information; sometimes therapists’ policies around in-between session contact are spelled out clearly therein. Clients also have the right to ask their therapist directly what the therapists’ parameters are.

Scenarios, Scenarios

Now that I have said that I actually can’t be too specific about what counselling clients can expect from their specific therapists, I still think it’s useful to look at common reasons for contacting a therapist in-between sessions as well additional general options and possible counsellor responses.

I Want to Book An Appointment

Some clients choose to book an appointment with their counsellor at the end of their appointment, while others choose to arrange their next session sometime after their last appointment.

Questions to consider

  • Does my therapist have online booking?

Getting familiar with the therapist’s software and booking this way is instantaneous and saves a lot of back and forth scheduling, which can be onerous by email.

  • Is my therapist an independent practitioner or part of a larger clinic?

If your therapist is a solo practitioner, you will have to book through them directly, if online booking is not available. This is usually done through email and can involve some back-and-forth communication until a time and day and be settled on. Larger counselling clinics typically have support staff who can do bookings for you. I recommend phoning to speed up this process, which also capitalizes on the fact that there is typically someone picking up the phone during office hours.

When Is My Next Appointment?

In our busy world it can be easy to forget when one’s next counselling appointment is.

Questions to consider

  • Do I have an online client account with my therapist, that lists upcoming appointments?

This is the quickest and easiest way to find out.

  • How else can I find out?

It is important to email or phone your therapist to ask. No one—client or therapist—enjoys a missed appointment.

I Need to Cancel My Appointment

The fastest way to do this is through online booking, if available. Typically email is the second choice, or via a phone message if the cancellation is time-sensitive.

Question to consider

  • What is my therapist’s cancellation policy?

Most counsellors request between 24-48 hours in order for clients to avoid a financial penalty, which in many cases is the cost of the session.

I Want To Share A Resource With My Therapist

Many therapists enjoy and learn from the resources that clients share with them. Resources can include book recommendations, community offerings or links.

Questions to consider

  • If sharing this information by email, am I expecting a response?

Therapists may or may not respond, depending in part on whether or not they have a policy around having contact with clients in-between sessions.

  • Will I be hurt if I don’t receive a response?

Lack of response may be related to their policy or in other cases, the therapist may not have had a chance to review the resource yet. A lack of response should never be personal towards clients.

I Want to Share an Exciting Update With My Therapist

Something wonderful may have happened in between sessions that you want to share. This is understandable when one has a therapeutic relationship that’s full of warmth.

Questions to consider

  • If sharing this information, am I expecting a response?

Again, therapists differ about replying to client messages in-between sessions.

  • Is what I wish to share confidential?

Email is not confidential and if your information is sensitive, consider waiting until your next appointment to share it.

  • Will I be hurt if I don’t receive a response?

Probably best to share personally, in case your therapist bursts your balloon with a lack of response. This could be related to a preexisting policy, being very busy or the therapist wanting to express their response in-person.

I Want to Share My Therapy Homework Before My Session

It can feel great when we complete our therapy homework. It’s natural to want to share that with your therapist!

Questions to consider

  • Did my therapist and I arrange for the homework to be sent to them beforehand?
  • If yes, is there a secure portal to send it to?
  • If there’s no such portal, can I encrypt it if sending by email?

Some therapists prefer to review homework beforehand, others prefer to do this with you in the session.

  • Am I expecting a response to the homework before my session?

Reviewing homework takes time and concentrated reflection and unless you have arranged to pay your therapist for their time, review generally takes place during the session.

  • How do I wish to share the homework during the session? Read aloud to the therapist? Send via secure email? Screen share during a secure video call?

Collaborate with your therapist to see what they recommend.

I Am in Crisis In-Between Appointments

Because therapists help with many different life problems, and, if we have a good connection with a therapist, it’s natural to want to go to them first. This may or may not be the best course of action, depending on whether or not your therapist is available or has the infrastructure set up to respond to crises in between sessions. This information should be included in their client service agreement. If it’s not, be sure to ask.

Questions to consider

  • Do I need immediate help?

If so, there are a few emergency options including calling 911, proceeding to your local hospital emergency department or calling a crisis hotline.

  • Is my situation urgent but not an emergency?

Options may include checking your therapist’s online booking for cancellations, asking your therapist if you can be placed on their cancellation list (or doing this online, if available), seeing if your therapist has an appointment type that you have never tried before that might be more readily available, or asking them for a referral to another counselling service or practitioner in the community. If you have access to an employee assistance line, which are typically available 24/7, this may be a decent option.

  • Can I wait until my next appointment?

Consider documenting any events and your thoughts and feelings before your appointment, and bringing any notes your appointment. While not a substitute for therapy, a related book, workbook or therapeutic video may also offer general support and guidance.

Consider phoning your therapist and leaving a message, if they have a confidential voicemail system. Some therapists also use secure software that allows clients to add a note, with important details about their situation. Email is not recommended to convey sensitive information.

  • Am I expecting a response?

As noted above, if you are in need of immediate help, please reach out to an emergency service or hotline, as therapists are typically there to provide counselling services and they may or may not have provisions for immediate crisis intervention. When therapists are in session with other clients—which may be back-to-back throughout the day—they will be unable to respond to messages which, if you wait, could put you at risk. Therapists may also not have the session availability that you need if they are booked ahead with other clients.

  • Am I expecting to hear back by email?

I hinted at the confidentiality issue, above, but additionally, most therapists cannot reply by email because of the risk that their email reply could be misinterpreted (email is often unintentionally blunt) and due to the great deal of time needed to read, reflect and respond sensitively. If you do not receive an email response from your therapist and this concerns you, please raise your concerns with them in your next session.

In Conclusion

Ideally, contacting your therapist in-between appointments is best discussed with your therapist before you ever need to do so. Clear communication is key and ultimately clients should never feel afraid to contact their therapist to ask questions about policy or in-between session parameters. For a richer discussion of such topics, I recommend asking your questions right in the session itself.