Should a therapist’s phone message include a 911 statement?

The Psychology Today website published a brief but provocative commentary on 1-1-15 about what it means to have a voice mail greeting that includes a statement about calling 911 in an emergency. “Don’t Tell Me to Call 911: Do therapists need voice mail messages that demean their patients?” was written by Johathan Shedler, Ph.D., who advocates for not directing patients to call 911. He states, “It conveys that our patients are idiots” and asks, “Do we really think they don’t understand, without instructions, when to leave a message for a therapist and when to call 911?” He has several criticisms of the 911 message, but his primary concern is, “It conveys that our fear of liability trumps our respect for our patients’ intelligence and judgment, not to mention common sense.”

Dr. Shedler advocates, “It’s not the way to handle suicide risk. If a patient is a suicide risk, this should be addressed during office appointments. There should be a clear, well-thought-out, mutually agreed upon plan about how suicidal crises will be handled and exactly what patient and therapist will do when they occur. If such a plan exists, the 911 message is superfluous. If not, the message is not an acceptable substitute.” In regard to fact that therapists cannot be accessible to their patients 24/7, he states, “There is no need to restate the obvious, unless the therapist conveyed false expectations in the first place.”

There are some comments to the posting that are offended by it and highly critical of Dr. Shedler’s comments, but I think that they are worth considering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>