Crafting Emails as a Therapist

You’ve Got Mail!

One of the most important veins of internet communication happens via email.  Very few people in the U.S. are able to navigate work or education without email, and most people will have multiple accounts.

If you are reading this, you know how to internet and you probably already know how to use email.  As therapists are in the people business, we need to be prepared to use email effectively in order to maximize client contact.  This goes a bit beyond having a professional tone.  Therapists need to imagine each step of the email-writing process as little opportunities to build rapport.  How does one do that?

Check out my top 4 rules for crafting emails as a therapist!

RULE #1 – READ and REPLY

Although email seems a bit less effortful than sending a letter in the mail or picking up the phone and calling, sometimes clicking “SEND” is a big deal for the client.  Even if your response is poorly worded and lacks important details, the meta-message of responding  means a lot to the client.  Fred Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was known for personally responding to every bit of fan mail he received, and I believe that therapists should aspire to do so as well.

Try to at least skim through the email and pick up the important details.  The best part about email is that messages are often brief (under 100 words) and can be read in less than 3 minutes.

For example, let’s say you get the following email from a client:

SUBJECT:  Hi Dr. [You]. Can we meet?

Hi Dr. [You],

My name is Bobby, and I have an interview coming up in May.  I tend to get really anxious during interviews, and I want to be more calm and relaxed.  Can you help me with this?

Thanks,

Bobby

If you are able to respond within an hour of receiving the email, try to do so.  This sends the message that you are well-equipped and in tune with your client network.   If you are unable to respond within a 24 hour time frame, set a vacation auto-reply that says something like this:

SUBJECT: RE Hi Dr. [You]. Can We meet?

Hello!

Thank you for your email, I appreciate your willingness to reach out to me.  Your message matters to me, and I do my best to respond to emails as soon as possible.  I will try get back to you within the next business day.

Best wishes,

Your First Name

Your Full Name
Therapist at [Counseling Center]

Although auto-reply seems a bit fake, this is a simple and effortless way for you to connect.  Preferably, you want to sit down and craft something more meaningful.  This brings us to rule #2…

RULE #2 – ANSWER with AVAILABILITY

When you reply to an email from a client, an important thing to include is your available times.  This tactic communicates openness and that you work on a solid schedule.

In responding to Bobby’s email, you may want to say something like this:

SUBJECT: RE Hi Dr. [You]. Can We meet?

Hello Bobby!

Thank you for your email.  I would love to meet you and learn more about your story.  It sounds like you are working through something that many adults today face, and I think it is great you are reaching out.

When can we meet?  My available slots are:
Monday: 1-2pm, 3-4pmTuesday: 11am-12pm
[etc]

Best wishes,

Your First Name

Your Full Name
Therapist at [Counseling Center]

Notice that I include the client’s name in the response.  This detail indicates that you read who they are before you responded, which is important.  I also provided a good Rogerian reflection, which can be a big bonus for early rapport.

RULE #3 – SPELLING and GRAMMAR

OK, I confess.  I’m not an English major, and I grew up in a rural farming community where grammar is a type of cracker you dip in milk.

I make some grammatical errors in my writing, even though my content is easy to read and communicates my voice.  However, I rarely make spelling errors because I use the mystical powers of spell check.  Although spell check is a blessing, the curse is that a misused, yet correctly spelled, word will not come up.

Make sure to read through your content as you write and check for words that may be misused.  You can catch easy mistakes if you read your content out loud once before you click submit.

In terms of email, your spelling and grammar communicate a level of professionalism.  Avoid using cyber slang (i.e. LOL, TTYL, etc.) and psychojargon (i.e. cognitive dissonance, rapport, conditioning, etc.).

RULE #4 – USE a SIGNATURE

Nearly every email hosting site (Gmail, Yahoo, Webmail, etc.) has the option to create a “custom signature.”  A signature can be found at the bottom of your email under the body of your message and is created automatically by the email host.  Look under your account settings or search online for “setting a custom signature for [your email host]” and follow the instructions, as the small details may vary.

Gmail is very straightforward and offers good options for customizing your signature.

For example, if I were to send you an email right now that only typed “Hello!” in my message, it would look like this:

Hello!
Kyler T. Shumway
Doctoral Student of Clinical Psychology, George Fox University
Duke ’14   Psychology | Human Development
“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
“NOTICE: This e-mail (including attachments) is covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C._2510-2521, is confidential and may be privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please be aware that any retention, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this communication is prohibited. Please reply to the sender that you have received this message in error, then delete it. Thank you for helping to maintain privacy.”
Everything that you see below the ” — ” is my signature.  Some of you may see that and say “wow, that is a lot of information,” and you would be correct.  However, every bit of information I include is intentional and effective.
The reader can glance over my signature and learn that I graduated from Duke University, I am a doctoral student at George Fox University, and I have my own personal website.
I also include a confidentiality notice in my signature which is a great way to remind people of HIPAA policy and encourage proper ethical use of electronic messaging.  Remember, email is not a secure means of communication and so treat any message as if it could be intercepted by a third party.

Questions or Suggestions?

Send me an email today!  I am happy to provide email craft coaching, and I enjoy working with therapists on their online presence.

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