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Why Boundaries matter in email counselling

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When counsellors ask me about email counselling one of their biggest worries is boundaries.

Without the traditional structure of a 50-minute session it can be easy to feel lost in knowing what to do.

If you are new to reading about email counselling you might find my free guide on email counselling helpful to get started before reading this blog. In it I explain what email counselling is, how it works and why I love it.

If you are ready to expand your thinking and explore deeper then keep on reading as we start to think about boundaries in email counselling.

How do I manage my time and set expectations for clients?

With email counselling clear contracting is key.

By this I mean that the written contract you send to clients must make it explicit how email counselling works, i.e.,

  • how often clients should email you?

  • how will they email you?

  • how much they should write?

  • how will they pay?

With many years of experience working in this way I wanted to share with you the main things to consider before you start offering email counselling to clients.

Is a word limit essential?

Imagine if there was no set end time for your sessions. No clock to go by to close the sessions. You just sat there and let the client talk and talk until they had said all they needed and wanted to stop.

Of course this does not work and I don’t know any credible counsellors who would ever consider working in this way.

An agreed end time is essential for both you and your client.

With email counselling there is of course no end time so the most effective way to have a boundary on how long the sessions are is to agree a word limit.

Not agreeing a word limit in email counselling is one of the biggest mistakes counsellors can make as this can open the floodgates for long emails which are impossible to read and respond to within a realistic time frame.

I’ve had counsellors tell me they have tried email counselling, and that they told the client to spend 50 minutes writing. This, in theory, sounds like it could work, but what about the clients who type very fast? And how do you know they haven’t spent 3 hours writing?

Either way, with this method it is common to be landed with very long emails.

You will likely find it difficult to sustain this arrangement, as it will be hard to find the time and energy to read and respond to every email.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will you agree a word limit with clients? If so, how many words?

  • What will you do if your client writes too much?

  • Will you have a word limit for your replies too? If so, how many words?

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How much should I charge?

We are not used to paying for emails, so it can feel a little strange to charge clients for email counselling.

You might wonder how much to charge, and if clients will want to pay, and whether it is worth it.

I have seen some email counsellors charge less for email sessions than their usual rate and I wonder to myself why they do this.

  • Are they afraid they are not good enough or that clients won’t pay their usual rate?

  • Do they think email sessions offer inferior counselling or are somehow a plan B?

In reality, it is very common for email counsellors to report taking longer to read, reflect and respond to clients’ emails, so why might they charge less?

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This is a unique skill they have undertaken specialist training to offer, but if counsellors undervalue their own time and expertise this can, in turn, undervalue the sessions in the eyes of their clients, who may well view email as the lesser option.

I personally choose to charge the same for email sessions as I do video sessions.

However, it could be argued that clients should be charged more per session, given the extra skills and training they take to offer.

Why time boundaries matter

It’s all very well having an agreement as to when clients will send their emails and when you will reply, but you need to be ready for what you will do if these boundaries are not stuck to.

This can be much easier to manage in 50-minute face-to-face sessions if you have loads of experience of working in this way and will have probably encountered DNAs and late clients countless times.

But the nuances with email counselling are very different and need to be thought through carefully before you start working with clients or you could find yourself in some choppy waters.

Some questions to consider:

  • What will you do if your client doesn’t send an email?

  • What will you do if your client’s email comes late?

  • How much time will you put aside to read and respond to emails?

  • How long will you wait to send your reply?

  • How will your client know when to expect your reply?

Email counselling is amazing, and can work very well when you have well-thought-through boundaries.

I am here to help you if you want to learn more.

Do you want to feel more confident to offer email sessions?

I take counsellors and trainees through all they need to know to be ready to offer a professional email counselling service to their clients.

Eager learn more?

Join our next group on my Email Counselling training.

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