Should I start by telling you about that time a dear colleague’s outgoing voicemail also featured her 3 year old in the background declaring the need to “go potty right now!” Or the time a colleague’s message completely omitted any identifying information, so you weren’t sure if you got the right number? Yikes!
Both you and I know that changing the outgoing message on our voicemail is a seemingly simple task, that can take a lot more time than it really needs to.
Press record, realize you can’t remember the number for the crisis line, stop recording.
Press record, get stuck, fumble on your words, stop, erase.
Record, mess it up, erase.
Re-record, lose your train of thought, erase.
Record again, listen to the voicemail and realize that you spoke so fast you can barely understand yourself.
Record, fumble, get through it, listen to the recording, and realize how annoyed you sound.
How many times have you been frustrated that you got lost halfway through the greeting and forgot what you were trying to say. Or maybe you’ve even recorded the perfect greeting, without the dog barking in the background, only to realize that you forgot to say whom clients should call while you’re away?
I finally got frustrated enough to type myself a cheat sheet of all necessary information, so that it is a breeze each time I need to change my outgoing voicemail. And because you’re here on this page, here’s your handy cheat sheet, just in time for the holidays.
I’m not going to get super fancy with all possible variations of this message, but just enough to nail down the basics. Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to add more pizzazz to the basics 🙂
Step 1: Simple Greeting
So let your warmth come through your voice and make sure to smile while you’re recording this message. Trust me, your clients will hear the smile in your voice.
Listed above are a few common greetings most therapists like to use. You can customize with any others that feel natural to you. Don’t try too hard, or else this initial greeting may become more of a distraction than an invitation for your caller.
Step 2: Your Name
Your current and potential clients need to know that they reached the right number for you, so make sure to announce your name. Try not to rush through your name, but to enunciate it slowly. For those of us with unusual names, this is an opportunity for a new caller to learn your name, so take your time to say it slowly and with care. After you have recorded the message, listen to it carefully to make sure that your name can be clearly heard without distortion.
I’ve included a couple of examples of common ways that many licensed therapists tend to address this step.
Please feel free to customize this step as needed, while always making sure to follow the necessary legal and ethical guidelines of your licensing authority!
Step 3: Crisis and Emergency Information
Whom would you like your clients to contact in case of emergency? Make sure you have the current information for local crisis support handy, as you never know when the need may arise.
For those of us who work in private practice, we are often unable to offer immediate crisis service due to limitations, such as being sole practitioners. In such cases, it is still important to let clients know about local emergency services or crisis hotlines that are available for them. I’ve included one simple example for therapists demonstrating this step.
If you have a clinician-on-call or an answering service, this is a good spot to include that information. For example, most therapists in private practice, have a colleague who is willing/able to cover for them during weekdays, but this is not crisis coverage. In such cases, this is a conversation that we usually have had with our clients ahead of time, so that they know whom to contact while we are on vacation. Offering that same information again in this voicemail is a reminder, and can be supportive to many clients.
While on this topic, I’d certainly recommend having a discussion with clients during informed consent and again later in therapy, about what constitutes an emergency and whom they should contact in such cases. Some clients may react to all challenging situations as if they are a crisis, while other clients may not realize that feeling suicidal is a crisis situation and that help is available for them 24 x 7.
Step 4: Out of Office Info
While some clinicians choose to include start and end dates, others feel that it is helpful to only include the end date. This can be a clinical choice based on population served, or a personal choice based on clinician experience and level of comfort.
Special Circumstances: Maybe you’re planning to be away from the office but wish to be somewhat available for your clients on a limited basis. You could certainly include that information in this section.
You could also use the format from the out-of-office messages of some psychiatrists that say: “If you are a current client in crisis, you can reach me on my cellphone at xxx-xxx-xxxx.”
Variations: Maybe you’re not going to be away from the office, but only reducing your availability, you can certainly use a similar format to announce, that you will only be in the office on Mondays and Tuesdays for the month of January.
Step 5: Invitation to Leave a Message
Most therapists would like their clients to still feel comfortable leaving a message, should they wish to. This may also be a time that you invite potential clients to leave you a message stating that you will contact them upon your return to the office.
Okay! You got this far, and its almost time for you to go on vacation, so just wind up the message with an appropriate greeting of your choice.
Step 7: Upon your Return
For most of us, we’re actually pretty good at remembering to change our outgoing voicemail so that our clients will be supported while we’re away. The challenge usually it remembering to switch back to the regular message after you return to the office. So make sure you leave yourself a note to attend to this on your first day back at work.And if you need a simple template for that regular message, you can always contact me.
Here’s hoping your time away from the office is nourishing for you, and allows your clients to feel empowered in their increased ability to care for themselves and access their support network.
Was this helpful for you? Did it streamline your process for creating your out-of-office voicemail? Drop me a line and let me know!