Getting to session on time is our responsibility as clients. But that’s not always possible. Maybe there’s traffic, maybe we got stuck in a meeting, maybe our alarm didn’t go off. In any case, we may be 5 minutes late, maybe 15, or maybe we’re only going to have 5 minutes left in our session.
On such days, there’s of course a mad dash to get to session on time but also a resignation to fate, an acknowledgement that despite our best efforts we could not make it. And to honor our efforts and our intent, we expect that we will still be given “our time”. This doesn’t happen.
Here are some thoughts on how to navigate being late, and what to expect from our therapist and the session on such days. This article explores what it means to be on time, and what to expect from our therapist when we’re late.
Why time matters:
A psychotherapeutic session is for us, the client. It’s time that we have decided to take to devote to our mental health. We put our phones away, we take time off from work, and come to sit in a quiet room where we can use the therapist as a guiding tool to think about the things that are most concerning to us. We invest energy – physical and psychological – and money into this process, and expect to perhaps experience self growth, perhaps overcome some particular issue.
Over time, going to therapy on time every week, or knowing that a session is approaching, becomes a learnt experience that indicates that time for our psychological work is coming up.
Interestingly, the therapist is invested in this time for our-selves too. They are invested in seeing us successfully think about our-selves and our issues. They too want to spend those 45-50 minutes with us, thinking about us and talking about us.
They wait for us, even if we’re not there.
An extremely simple logic is this: I imagine we wouldn’t like it either if our rhythm or the predictability of the therapeutic system was disrupted because the previous client was being accommodated for being late.
For me, knowing that my session is where the therapist and I together embrace that time and space for my benefit is the biggest reason why I (a client) should be on time, respect and cherish that time.
What to expect when we are late:
This is the catch. Much as the therapist is invested in our time with us, this is their professional life intersecting with our personal lives. They have other clients while we don’t have other therapists.
We have to realize that they are committing their hour to us, and cannot commit more than that. If we come in late, maybe they can accommodate us, but if they don’t, it’s not a punishment.
It does not invalidate our earnest attempts to be on time. It’s just an ethical, professional practice that they must follow. In a way, it reinforces the value of our time together.
They will charge us for the full hour / session, because they were there, waiting, committed. I completely understand how it seems unfair, and it sometimes is.
I’m also not denying that as clients, this can be infuriating, and may even make us take a few steps back and wonder – does this therapist really care?
Don’t they know that I respect our relationship and want to be on time? That this is anomalous? Do they not trust me?
This is well-placed anger and we should bring it up with the therapist. Any good therapist will explain to us bits of what this article is saying, and will additionally help us work through that anger. We could likely express that we feel uncared for, pedestrian even, and that the situation was out of our control.
But we also need to understand, despite our anger (and it would certainly be interesting to learn to be angry with them, but also remember the practical and professional boundaries of the relationship), they need to stick to our allotted time together. For example, they might need the 10-15 minutes between sessions to mentally disengage with one client and connect with the next.
They have to practice by a certain system which values the order of time.
It’s helps both us and them with a certain predictability, a certain categorization of the mind’s functioning, a certain fairness to schedules and it’s ideal if both parties help each other adhere to it.
Perhaps there is an alternative somewhere? One possible solution is that if we know we’re running late, we can request that the session be held completely or in part on the phone / Skype or something like that. Other than this, I haven’t been able to come up with any other way to make this feel more fair to us as clients.
The system may seem rigged to be fair to the therapist in this situation, but on closer inspection, it also seems fair to the system and to other clients, and so also to us.
Some extra notes:
- Don’t worry if you’re late once in a while – let your therapist know why it happened, maybe they’ll be able to accommodate you. Trust that they trust you.
- If it seems like you’re often late, you might want to talk to your therapist about what that means.
- If you’re late to the point of missing the session, please don’t argue about being charged for all of it. The therapist sat there for your whole session, albeit without you.
- If your therapist is late (say, without good reason, or perhaps more than once), then that’s something you need to take up with them very seriously. If there is no satisfactory response or a correction towards a schedule, (and you find yourself waiting for them instead), considering changing therapists.