5 Steps to Make Telehealth Work for You
Online therapy sessions (also sometimes referred to as telehealth, virtual therapy, or online counseling) has been growing in popularity among mental health professionals for years.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become a necessity for providers who want to continue to serve their clients.
I began offering video sessions about four years ago after hearing on a counseling podcast about the benefits of adding online services to therapy practices. I extensively researched the laws and ethics of working with clients remotely and tried out several different platforms. During all of my intake sessions, I let new clients know that video sessions are an option for any situations where they can’t physically make it to my office but still want to meet. Over the years I’ve had about half of my clients do a remote session at some point— sometimes due to weather, busyness, a child’s illness, etc. I’ve come to appreciate that just as much work and progress can be accomplished in this format.
I’m thankful that I already had those pieces set up before the pandemic because I was able to transition fairly easily to a fully-online practice during the quarantine. Many of my clients were immediately comfortable with switching to a video format because they had experience with online meetings for work or other settings. Even those who were initially reluctant to try video sessions are finding that they’ve adjusted and are grateful to still have access to support during this time.
While there are so many benefits to telehealth sessions, there are also a few differences that you’ll need to think through to make the most of your online therapy experience.
Quarantine is a time warp. It’s difficult to remember what day of the week it is, and even harder to keep track of what’s on your schedule from day to day. When you don’t have to think through the process of physically traveling to the office, it’s easier for your session time to slip your mind. Try setting an alarm for 15 minutes before your session to allow time to set up your space and mentally prepare for the work you want to do. You will feel less flustered and more engaged when you aren’t rushing into the session at the last minute.
Create your environment
When you come to my office for a therapy session, it’s my responsibility to create a calm, safe space for you. But when we’re doing an online session, that responsibility is shared. I still need to make sure that there is confidentiality and focused attention on my end (I eliminate distractions around me and use my sound machine outside my door, just like I would during an in-office session). But you have to think through those things on your end. Minimize distractions by closing other tabs and setting your phone and computer so you don’t get notifications and alerts during your session. Gather anything you might want during your session- a pen and paper, tissues, water. Make sure you will be comfortable to sit in your location (chair, room temperature, etc) for your whole session. Thinking through those details will help you feel the most settled and focused.
Along the lines of intentionally creating your environment, you definitely need to consider privacy issues. If you live with others, you will need a plan to make sure you are not interrupted or overheard. Ask family members to support you by not interrupting your session, and post a reminder on your door. You might need to physically leave your house (I’ve met with several clients who sit in their cars while we talk). You might also try a white noise machine or app outside your door.
One of the most difficult things about online counseling is when sessions are disrupted by glitching or disconnected calls. You will feel most connected and heard by your counselor if you both have strong Internet connection. This might take some trial and error. If your connection isn’t great, first try plugging into your modem using an ethernet cord. Second, if you have poor connection on one video platform, you might need to try a different one. Ask your therapist about experimenting with a different platform. Third, try to reduce the number of other devices being used by your Internet at the same time (ask your housemates to not stream other services during your session). Fourth, try restarting your device and reconnecting to the session.
Because dropped calls do occasionally occur, it’s important to establish a backup plan with your therapist ahead of time. If the session is disconnected, who will call whom? Keep your charged phone nearby in case you need to finish your session by phone.
Sometimes there are benefits to forced change. People who were once skeptical about online therapy are now discovering that there are many advantages. Planning ahead and being intentional about your telehealth sessions will allow you to get the most out of your experience.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are feeling isolated and anxious. You are not alone. If you’ve been curious about telehealth or online counseling sessions, let’s give it a try! Contact me for an intake appointment and let’s talk about how you could receive support and work toward your goals in an online format.