During the recent challenges brought about by Covid-19, we all had to make significant changes to our lives and adapt quickly to a new reality. This is also true for therapists and clients who shifted quickly from the safety and familiarity of their consulting rooms to video or telephone meetings. I would like to acknowledge the impact of these changes on both clients and therapists on a separate blog. But first, to help remove some of the anxiety of involved in this transition I want to outline how you can make the most of your online therapy sessions.
- Spend some time setting up
Although most of us are familiar with video technology in our personal and professional lives, meeting online for therapy requires some preparation. Not just in terms of tech but also allowing a psychological transition into the therapy space, especially if you are shifting from a different activity in your home.
Give some thought to the room you wish to use, making sure that it is private and quiet, and that you will be sitting comfortably for the duration of the session. Make sure your devices are fully charged or plugged in and well positioned, so that you can see and hear your therapist well. Preferably wear headphones for a better sound quality and experience. Have a phone available in case one of you encounter issues with your tech and need to continue your session over the phone.
Finally, make sure the lighting in the room is positioned so you can also be seen well. Seeing and hearing you well will enable your therapist to ‘tune in’ much better to you, reading nuances in your facial expressions and tone of voice.
- Avoid all distractions
Make sure your notifications are switched off and all distractions are put away, such as work and study materials. Most therapy rooms are deliberately thoughtfully furnished in order to offer a calming, comfortable and uncluttered environment. Ideally try to replicate this in your home where possible. If you live with others, schedule your session at a time when no one will hear or interrupt you.
- Communication queues
Psychotherapy and counselling usually take place face to face because it important for both the client and therapist to be able to communicate well with one another. This communication is largely non-verbal and often ‘felt’ rather than spoken. Video can be an additional of barrier to communication, despite advances in technology and video quality. Therefore, it is important that both client and therapist flag up missed queues or gaps in connection as it can be the case with delays or frozen images. Voice any frustrations you are experiencing in relation to this and work with your therapist to try and improve them where possible.
- Transitioning into and out of your appointment
As in number 1., give yourself space before and after your session. The travel journey to and from a meeting can help with processing, reflecting and thinking. In the absence of this, allow yourself some quiet time before and after your therapy session. Dealing with difficult emotions and discussing sensitive topics can leave us feeling vulnerable for a little while. If you are using your therapy to work on relationship difficulties with someone you live with, engaging with them straight after your appointment might not be a good idea. Go for a walk, take a bath, or just ask for some quiet time on your own. Equally, moving from a therapy session straight into dealing with work emails might not be such a good plan.
- Remember the positives
With Covid-19, we have moved our face to face meetings online because of circumstance rather than out of choice. However, people have been offering online therapy for quite a few years now. Although my preference remains meeting people in person, I am beginning to appreciate some of the advantages of online working. For instance, it is nice to be able to use headsets and adjust the volume if I can’t hear someone well. Because I no longer need to travel to and from work, I now have more time to do things I used to have no time for. It has also given me much more flexibility to see clients at times I previously couldn’t. There are advantages and disadvantages of working at home and working online. It will take us sometime to get used to our new reality. If we can’t change our new predicament, we may as well make the most of it!
Sam Jahara is a Psychotherapist and Supervisor in private practice working with individuals and couples. She is also the co-founder of Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy, a multi-approach clinic, offering Psychotherapy, Psychology and Counselling to all client groups, both face-to-face and online.
Further reading by Sam Jahara