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.
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.