Google Voice is a tool I have been attempting to get people to convert to. [I think this may be a U.S. only tool].
For an overview video presentation as to what the service is, I would suggest starting here, where there are more video presentations as to what the service does and other tricks.
Google Voice Summary
- Google provides you with a FREE phone number you can forward to any phone(s) you want to receive phone calls at (with your google number). You can also make outgoing calls using the Google Voice website, a smartphone specific application, or through dialing your own Google Voice phone number, entering your PIN, and following the prompts to place a phone call.
- You can choose any area that you want your new phone number to to work at (I chose a phone number that is a local phone call for my clients and close to my office)
- Your calls get forwarded to your normally-used phone, without having to get a second phone number, mobile phone, etc.
PRACTICAL USE AND BENEFITS FOR SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Knowing That a Client is Calling You. I told my phone that whenever my own Google Voice number calls me (to forward calls or to dial out), that it show up like this:
I can choose whether to accept or deny the call.
Control Over Your Phone. Google Voice allows you to go into settings and do a lot of neat things:
- Caller Introduction: When you answer, you can have Google Voice present who the caller is and you can choose to answer, send to voicemail, or screen the call and listen in to the person leaving the voicemail. Pretty neat.
- Address Book: You can input phone numbers to your address book so that you can know who is calling you (“You’re receiving a Google Voice call from: [Computer digital voice]”. You can also segregate people into different groups. This has a practical use (see next post)
- Specific Voicemails: A Google Voice user can record different different greetings and apply them to specific groups. I have a group called “Spanish Speakers” who get the Spanish-Only greeting when they dial me, saving them one minute of their time in denying the English-Version of my greeting which precedes my Spanish-Version of the same speil.
- Mark as Spam. You can also blacklist certain phone numbers so that they go straight to voicemail.
Client Privacy. Be careful what you put out there. In this context, I would consult with your clinical supervisor, agency supervisor, or trust your own instinct.
I would argue that using this service is no different than using a regular cell phone line – if someone knows your password/PIN, they can log into your voicemail and listen to your clients’ messages. Once again, it would be in your best interest to consult with your supervisor.
I use the address book function with first names or Initials only, followed by brackets to indicate whether or not I can leave a voicemail (e.g. IOP [VM ok] or Jennifer S. [no VM]).
Security. Be vigilant in protecting your client’s identity.
DO NOT use the same passwords for all the websites you visit (e.g. Google mail, Facebook, MySpace, etc.). If someone hacks one website with the one password you use, all your web information will be compromised. I would go further and suggest that you change passwords every ninety days.
Boundaries. I use Google Voice for the sake of convenience – I never figured out how to use the voicemail at the office and I am sporadically there.
However, with clients having easier access to you, I would suggest setting boundaries as to what the cell phone can or cannot be used for.
- Acceptable: Scheduling (cancellation, running late, needing a change, confirming appointments), Generic questions related to services, etc.
- Not Acceptable: Anything that cannot be resolved in 3-4 minutes. [I have not thought this through all the way, so if anyone wants to suggest more ideas in the comments, I will revise this to better articulate this point].
I would also suggest outlining to a client that you may not be able to pick up the phone at all in certain circumstances.
Crisis. Outline crisis procedure in your voicemail greeting and be prepared to handle a crisis.
Every counselor has a line stating that “If this is a crisis, please hang up and dial 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital”, which I believe may suffice (ethically) when a client calls for help and you are unavailable.
I had a suicidal client on my caseload who would call me every time a crisis erupted. More than once, I had to call 9-1-1 for a welfare/safety check. More than once, I also had to remind that client to call the various crisis lines than are trained to handle these types of situations.
The latest incident occurred on a Sunday morning, while I was cooking breakfast for my partner and I. I received a telephone call from Client Mailbox and I wondered if I should pick up – it might have been a Monday client calling to cancel. Upon picking up the call, my suicidal client was sobbing hysterically and indicated that they were a harm to themselves. I called 9-1-1 and the incident was resolved via emergency medical responders. Lucky for me, I had that client’s information in a safe, secure place so that I could direct medical responders to help.
This goes back to boundaries and raises ethical issues about treatment for suicidal clients. As I am relatively new in the field, I am learning from these experiences and to establish boundaries so that a client knows what is expected of them. This also impacts self-care, as I spent some time during my weekend day reflecting about what had just occurred. I consulted my supervisor and squared things away. In short, I am still developing the most ethical response to a situation such as the one I just described.
GET IN ON THE ACTION
Whether or not you would use this in practice, I would suggest obtaining a Google Voice account.
If you are a social work student or educator, with a .edu e-mail address, I encourage you to grab a FREE invitation here. This promotion started last month [right when finals were laying down heavy on me] and it appears that it is continuing.