Recently, a friend asked me if it was “bad” to drunk-dial her therapist. Mind you, she didn’t mean calling up your therapist’s office to find out when your next appointment is when you are, coincidentally, drunk. She is referring to the drunk-dial that we all know and love: the call from a loud bar or party where one bleats out various syllables and phonemes that make little to no sense, the call where one professes his or her undying devotion to a former lover or friend, and the call where one admits that he’s “curious” about that recent WGM ad he saw in the local personals.
Most therapists would agree that clients aren’t encouraged to call between appointments for trivial reasons, but aren’t discouraged under appropriate circumstances. In my practice, if a client is feeling suicidal, is trying to more fully understand a topic discussed in a prior session, or lost his or her appointment card, a phone call is more than acceptable. However, phone discussions have rules: we limit the phone contact to ten minutes or less, focus only on the sole reason for the call (e.g., there will be no “Oh, while I’ve got you on the phone, can I ask you about this new Dr. Phil book?”), and that the client will go to the emergency room if he/she is suicidal and our phone contact was not helpful. Another rule that I erstwhile believed was understood applies as well: do not call drunk.
These rules are in place because without boundaries, a therapeutic relationship can be exploited, not necessarily out of malice, but because of the fragility of the human condition. People in need will take what you give, but without structure, your role as a therapist becomes one of enabler. Drunk dialing your therapist isn’t inherently needy, but is a reflection of poor impulse control, a possible substance abuse problem, and a virtual guarantee that you’ll be discussing the “underlying meaning” of the call at your next session.
With that in mind, I didn’t hold back when answering my friend’s question. “Do not drunk dial your therapist’s office. For that matter do not drunk email, drunk text or, even worse, show-up drunk at your therapist’s office, especially if you do not have an appointment.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think it was so smart when I sobered up.”
“Did he answer?”
“No, it was a Tuesday afternoon, he was probably in session.”
“What did you say?”
“I just told him that I really appreciate all of his help, that he’s a good therapist and a good person.”
“Well, I’ve heard worse. You’ll probably be talking about it in a bit of depth next session, though.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“How do you figure?”
“He drunk-dialed me back later that night! He told me I was the greatest client he’s ever had, that he hopes we work together for years, and that I have more insight than all of his other clients put together. Man he was smashed, he could barely enunciate my name (which is one syllable). I’m sure he’s mortified, so I’m in the clear. Life is good, let’s grab a beer.”
“It’s 10:30 in the morning.”
“This isn’t Prohibition, don’t be such a pussy.”
Notwithstanding the above, please consider my advice. I stand by it.