Responding to Lengthy Emails Desperate for Help
Perhaps because of my many articles on the Internet, I receive several lengthy emails daily laying out painful stories. People are looking for relief or solutions or help to restore relationships. The relationships have been fractured by tremendous conflict and/or abusive and/or neglectful behavior. At times, rather than seeking to restore a relationship, the writer is seeking help to manage the behavior of another. The other may be a child, adolescent or spouse whose behavior is out of control. Most often those writing have seen numerous other therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, healers, advisers, clergy and coaches. All to no avail. Now they are writing me.
Situations that people write to me about are never for information purposes only. These people want help. Virtually all emails end with a phrase asking what the writer should do in the circumstance.
Given the intensity and intractable nature of issues conveyed and the prior attempts at resolution, the likelihood of a good outcome is low. While not asking for a magical solution, there is still the sense that the writer is seeking a reply that somehow or other makes things better. This is simply unrealistic which is not to say unwarranted. We all want for bad things to be better and we all can be desperate under such circumstances.
Most help delivered in these situations are by well intentioned people meeting with you on the standard 50-minute basis. Week after week people return spending the first third of the meeting recapping the discussion of the week before. The next third of the meeting goes toward updating of events since the last meeting. The final third of the meeting, precious little time, goes towards processing your feelings and perhaps considering next moves.
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Complex life problems cannot be solved in a lengthy email and reply. Complex life problems also cannot be reasonably unpacked and examined in the standard 50-minute therapeutic hour.
My reply to lengthy emails is always the same. While I cannot read lengthy emails, feel free to call me and we can set up an appointment. However, when you call, I will advise that the likelihood of a change is usually low given the history. If people are going to come and see me, I do not want unrealistic expectations or the expectation that I can magically makes troubles improve, let alone disappear. My help starts by the person first getting a hold of their expectations – before we even meet.
Then assuming someone wants to still see me, I set a lengthy appointment. These meetings easily run three to five hours. These meetings however provide ample time to hear and unpack a lengthy story and for me to also obtain the information necessary to be helpful, such information often different from what a person would otherwise provide.
Before the meeting’s end, I provide opinion and guidance. I offer my best feedback about the situation and what might be helpful. There is no guarantee that this will be helpful or to what degree it may make a difference. I can only assure that this is a different process and experience than people have encountered elsewhere. At times, this is very helpful and other times, not. However, it provides a different experience to the merry-go-round of sending emails and seeing therapist after therapist. That itself can be very helpful.
If you are dealing with a challenging situation that seems to escape resolution, it would be my pleasure to be of service, but it can’t be through lengthy emails or a quick telephone conversation. My help begins with a very lengthy first meeting. This is different and you need something different.
Desperation leads to applying the same frantic solutions. Take a breath, think it through and then if interested call and we can set up an appointment. If you are nearby, we will meet in person. If you are at a distance, we can meet through SKYPE. And by the way, I do see many people in these circumstances. I would be pleased to try and be helpful. It just has to be in a process that may lend itself to something different. This is not by crisis, but by thoughtful consideration of matters at hand.
Please review my services to see how I may be helpful and for information about my fees and then call if you still would like to meet. I am available. It’s up to you.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.
If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.
Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.