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Is This A Hang Up? Are Phone Calls During Therapy Ever Okay?

Sunflower’s been participating in  the PsychCentral forums as well as commenting on blog posts. Recently she wrote about her first visit with a therapist in which the therapist took a phone call — we asked Sunflower if we could share some of her comments here, at Therapy Soup.

“Her phone went off — over and over.

She never excused herself; never said it was an emergency or anything. She hung up after @ a minute or so, and continued on with my plan, as if that were a normal part of her professional day!


If I forget to turn my phone off, when I’m in an appointment, I apologize, and turn it off, without answering it! Right away!
My appointment time is for that appointment — and nothing more!

I’m sorry, but, I cannot understand this AT ALL!”

When C.R. and I interviewed therapy patients for our book, Therapy Revolution, one of the most common complaints was that therapists took phone calls (or accepted other interruptions), during sessions.

Can a phone call during a therapy session ever be justified?

Therapists working in some clinics may be required to answer calls from the administration — even during therapy sessions (though I don’t  like this policy, it can come in handy when important information about a patient’s care may be necessary to convey to the therapist during that patient’s session).

In private practices where the therapists set the rules, unless a therapist is truly expecting an urgent call, I feel it is inconsiderate to use the patient’s time even looking at caller i.d. The patient is paying for this time. Therapists should be entirely focused on the patient.

Before the age of cell phones, I recall that most therapists simply didn’t answer phone calls during sessions, some even switched their phones to pick up after one ring so calls would go to voice mail right away. Then, during the intermissions between patients, they would listen to their messages and return any urgent calls.

I also recall that people switched off the ringer and turning the volume down on the answering machine back in the ancient days before voice mail.

On the whole, it  seems to me that we have become so reliant on instantly being informed about anything and everything, that basic courtesies due patients (and everyone else, frankly), elude us. At the very least, if we do have to make or take a seriously urgent call, let’s have the courtesy to apologize.

What do you think?

Is This A Hang Up? Are Phone Calls During Therapy Ever Okay?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2011). Is This A Hang Up? Are Phone Calls During Therapy Ever Okay?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 7 Feb 2011
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