By: Larry Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP
No reasonable person today will call or email a physician, whom they never had seen before, and request a consultation. For that matter, most reasonable persons would not contact any service provider professional (accountant, attorney, architect, financial advisor, etc.) out of the blue and expect a consultation. If a person managed to contact such a professional, that professional would most likely insist the caller make an appointment.
Unfortunately, in the realm of mental health, somehow it became acceptable for individuals to contact a mental health provider, one they had no contact with previously, even after normal work hours, and expect that professional to give of their time and provide a consultation. I contend the primary reason this happens in our field is that we mental health providers have allowed it and continue to reinforce such behavior.
Why do we allow this?
First, as mental health providers we are “helpers.” If someone is in need, we are inclined to offer assistance—even if the situation might not be appropriate.
Second, our field is so crowded and competitive many mental health providers are likely to respond to such an unexpected contact in the hope that the caller/emailer will subsequently become a paying client. Experience teaches such individuals rarely become good clients, as their behavior already reflects their lack of respect for the profession and the provider.
Is this really a problem?
Yes, I believe it is:
- As mental health providers we should not reinforce impulsive, “entitled” behavior. Such callers or emailers should be quickly informed that it is inappropriate to offer professional services without an agreement to treat and that an appointment must be made. (Try not to schedule them in prime time, as they are likely to no-show, experience teaches.)
- If we provide our time and expertise in such situations, I submit we are cheapening our profession by teaching such individuals we work for free. Experience teaches that many such callers call or contact more than one mental health provider, expecting free advice.
- If someone contacts us out of the blue and indicates they are in a crisis, they should be quickly referred to an emergency room or a helpline. (Be sure to document such.) If the mental health provider fields the call and the caller implies any threat to themselves or others, that professional may now be in a duty-to-protect situation.
It is time mental health providers regain their self-respect and manage such “late night” inquires in a true professional manner.
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for over 38 years. He works with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provides forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department for Northern Arizona University. He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him But Can’t Live With Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” and “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals.” His contact information is: 602-996-8619; 11020 N. Tatum Blvd., Bldg. E, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ 85028; LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.