Thanks to the realities of social distancing, it seems like everything is going digital. People are working from home and doing meetings, happy hours, and even dates on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. Everyone’s streaming their workout classes and finding ways to learn new skills, connect with friends, and play games together online. But the digital trend isn’t just here for our work and personal lives; therapy sessions are going virtual, too.
Teletherapy (or online or virtual therapy) is essentially when a mental health practitioner conducts their therapy sessions via telephone or through a video call. It is invaluable not only to help people still receive mental health care while social distancing, but also to reach those who don’t live near a therapist or who live with a disability or chronic illness that makes it harder to leave their homes. The medium may not be the greatest fit for everyone based on their needs and interests, but as a clinical social worker, I believe it’s a great resource to utilize during difficult times where accessing a therapist face-to-face is limited.
However, if you’ve never done a virtual therapy session before, you might have a lot of questions. What should you expect from a session? How can you optimize it to make sure that you still have a great conversation with your mental health-care provider? Here are some virtual therapy sessions tips to help you make a seamless transition from in-person to online care.
1. Do your best to establish a truly private, safe space
You are entitled to confidential sessions no matter which kind of therapy you are in. When doing teletherapy, your therapist is expected to uphold confidentiality by ensuring they are in a private space where no one can hear what is being discussed between the two of you—and that they’re using a mode of communication that is compliant with HIPAA (aka health data privacy laws).
However, your therapist has no control over your environment, so there are some things to keep in mind on your end to ensure you can have a truly confidential session. Considering that most people are working from home now, having access to a private space can be difficult, but planning in advance can help. Some people have success with requesting that other people living with them allot them the 30 to 60 minutes they need to be undisturbed in a designated room, where others find it helpful to take a walk during this time.
If you’re home with your kids, plan an activity in advance that they can do while you’re on the phone. Maybe your session can be during their designated screen time, when they are doing online learning, or even during nap time. If your kids are making noise in the background, don’t worry about making the sessions comfortable for your therapist—they should be equipped for unexpected life moments like this and it is not your job to make them comfortable.
2. Test your technology in advance
The biggest hindrance to having a successful virtual therapy session is a bad internet or cell connection. If your phone is known to drop calls, or your internet service is often spotty, you might want to deal with these technical difficulties in advance to ensure you can have a successful session. Make a call to a friend to test your service the day of to make sure things are working. If you are going to be having your session outside (say while on a walk or in a park by yourself), make sure that you’re in a spot with good service.
3. Imagine talking to a friend
Some folks have a hard time wrapping their minds around what a virtual or online therapy session looks like. I always tell them to imagine how their calls go when talking to a friend. It’s simply a natural conversation. If you were having in-person sessions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, your therapist will most likely resume where they left off. If this is your first time, your therapist might be using the first few sessions to walk you through paperwork or email you documents to fill out in advance. Even though your therapist is not your friend, don’t fret or overthink the process. Teletherapy often involves the same social and communicative skills that you use in order to talk to loved ones on the phone or to talk during digital meetings at work.
4. Take time to build a new rapport
Like any typical therapy session, it will take time to build rapport with one another on a new medium—even if this is a person you’ve been seeing for a while. If you are having a hard time having calls over the phone, request to do a video conference call so that you can meet your therapist face-to-face, which can ease the discomfort a bit.
The biggest thing to remember during this transition is that whatever fears or concerns that you have regarding the teletherapy process can be worked through with your therapist. Take note of what’s making you feel uncomfortable about the process either beforehand or during, and I encourage you to process and discuss your discomfort with your therapist.
Due to this unprecedented pandemic, there is no telling when most therapists will resort back to in-person sessions. Creating a new norm can be difficult, but it can be worth exploring. Trust the process and see where it leads you.
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