When You Don’t Want Your Client to Answer the Phone

The pandemic and working remotely has shifted many lives, including those of social workers. Though some continue to do office-based work, there is a fair share that have been working from home. Whether it be working out of the office or from your makeshift bedroom-desk, social workers have not stopped working with their clients and supporting them. Perhaps it’s the variety of stressors that are simultaneously occurring, I’ve noticed myself having that automatic thought with select clients of, “Oh please don’t answer the phone.” As social workers, we are ethically bound to be effective, do no harm, and provide best practice. In order to ensure that quality care is being provided, it’s necessary that as professionals, we recognize those thoughts and self assess on where that comes from. So why is it, at times, we don’t want clients to answer the phone?

Burnout

On The Thought Bubble Podcast, we’ve talked about burnout, vicarious traumatization, and compassion fatigue. Remote work, alongside the compounded effects of dealing with one’s own mental health, adjustments due to the pandemic, and other stressors that happen because of being human and living, it feels that burnout has been increasing. Not only are social workers adjusting to working in a pandemic, but many have their own children that are now home schooled, spouses also working from home, and imbalance in other areas of life. Adjusting social work practice is already difficult, but doing so while macro stressors are impacting all parties compounds the stress.

In terms of preventing burnout, many professionals talk about creating boundaries and “leaving work at work.” As many are now working from home, it becomes even more difficult to instill healthy boundaries to create a semblance of routine and schedule. Personally, I have had clients that are not experiencing a crisis or emergency call me at both 1:00 am and 6:30 am – Hours that are not normal to talk to your therapist if it’s not scheduled and if it’s not a crisis. It was difficult at first, but I learned to be assertive with my clients in instilling those boundaries to ensure that calls like that were only done if absolutely necessary.

Whether this is pre-pandemic or in the middle of it, burnout never stops unless you actively work to prevent it. Burnout occurs when social workers experience overload and feelings of overwhelm. Oftentimes, there is a significant amount of work that time does not allow for. If you feel yourself not wanting clients to answer their phone, it’s important to seek supervision and ask yourself if there is too much on your plate.

Not Liking Your Client

Just because you are someone’s therapist, does not mean you are going to like them as a person. Of course, it’s important to distinguish one’s behavior from who they are as a person. We are human, and we don’t need to connect with everyone to be a good social worker. We consider a person’s background, and all of the social work assessments, trauma, and family drama. Sure, we can go over all of this and understand the reason behind our client’s behavior, but it doesn’t stop that behavior from being frustrating, annoying, or inconvenient. Now, as we discussed previously, it’s important to self evaluate to ensure the client continues to receive the most effective treatment. If you feel that the therapeutic relationship is not beneficial, or the client would be a better fit for another clinician, it is okay to transfer clients. However, always seek supervision and always ask yourself why. Social workers are not immune to implicit bias, and this is an important concept to accept and acknowledge. This is why it is vital to evaluate yourself and the reason behind your dislike. We should be providing care for vulnerable populations in promoting equity and social justice. With that being said, our own biases impact how we practice, and if we don’t see that and work towards better practice, we fail that client and we fail the purpose of social work.

Lack of Engagement & Rapport

Imagine you are calling a client that you recently met. You begin to feel some nervousness, and you think to yourself that you hope they don’t answer. Why? This may be because you don’t feel connected with this client yet, or you’re nervous on what this session will look like. There are times I become nervous about sessions, because I’m concerned we won’t have enough to discuss to fill 45 minutes. Feeling comfortable in session may come with continued work with that particular person, of which is a result of rapport and a solid therapeutic relationship. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable with this client, and if not, ask yourself why. Usually, it has nothing to do with the client, but your own insecurities, concerns, or Imposter Syndrome.

Final Thoughts

Not wanting your client to answer their phone for a session is a normal thought that many social workers and therapists have experienced. This work is difficult and hectic, and there will be times you crave an opening in your schedule, or you don’t want to pull yourself together to potentially deal with a frustrating client. The feeling is valid. The important next step, as a professional with high ethical standards, is to ensure your behavior is not impacted by that thought and negatively effects the client’s treatment. Continue to evaluate yourself, your practice, talk to your supervisor, and discover the WHY behind it all. This is a difficult time, and we are not immune to it. Give yourself grace, and know that we are always growing and progressing as professionals.