Online therapy can feel awkward. But it doesn’t have to. It can be a convenient and accessible option, especially for people living in remote communities that may not have the same access to quality counsellors. Now that we are all sheltering-in-place it can offer a safe and comfortable way to connect with someone and nurture your mental health. There are also added benefits, like being in your own home, or having access to a hot cup of tea and your favourite fuzzy blanket, which may help make the experience more enjoyable and allow you to be more vulnerable. So how do you make the most of it? Consider these six tips as you make your transition to online therapy.
1. Carve out a safe space and intentional time for therapy
One of the most touted benefits of online therapy is the fact that you can do it anytime, anywhere. That said, I don’t necessarily recommend that approach if you can avoid it.
For one, distractions are never ideal when you’re trying to work and therapy is rigorous, difficult work sometimes!
The emotional nature of therapy makes it even more important to have some space and time set aside to engage with this process fully.
If you’re self-isolating with another person, you could also ask them to wear headphones or take a walk outside while you do therapy. You might also get creative and create a blanket fort with string lights for a more soothing, contained environment.
No matter what you decide, make sure you’re prioritizing therapy and doing it in an environment that feels safest for you.
2. Expect some awkwardness at first
No matter what platform your therapist is using, it’s still going to be a different experience from in-person so don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t feel like you and your therapist are “in sync” right away.
It can be tempting to think that some discomfort or awkwardness is a sign that online therapy isn’t working for you, but if you can keep an open line of communication with your therapist, you might be surprised by your ability to adapt!
It’s also normal to grieve the loss of in-person support, especially if you and your therapist have worked together in person before.
It’s understandable that there could be frustration, fear, and sadness from the loss of this type of connection. These are all things that you can mention to your therapist as well.
3. Lean into the unique parts of telemedicine
There are some things you can do with online therapy that you can’t necessarily do in person.
For example, I can’t bring my cats to an in-person therapy session but it’s been special to introduce my therapist to my furry companions over webcam.
Because online therapy is accessible in a different way, there are unique things you can do to integrate it into your daily life.
I like to send my therapist articles that have resonated with me for us to talk about later, set up small daily check-ins instead of just once weekly, and I’ve shared written gratitude lists over text during especially stressful times.
Getting creative with how you use the tools available to you can make online therapy feel a lot more engaging.
4. Practice naming your emotions more explicitly
You may think that it is harder for a therapist to read body cues online but this is not the case.
Since the sessions are generally done over Zoom or Facetime the therapist is able to see your face and upper body. Your counsellor will watch you closely and be able to speak to body cues she sees when appropriate. At the same time she is supporting you in naming and describing emotions and “felt sense” body sensations.
The feedback from our resident counsellor at evolve, Deedee Poyner, is “It’s as if I am right there with my client.” Clients have also reported feeling seen, heard and supported in their healing process online.
At the start of your sessions you are guided in how to set up a safe, comfortable healing environment in the familiarity of your own home. Being comfortable is important and can allow us to be more open and expressive and better able to communicate our emotional needs.
It can be beneficial to practice naming our emotions and reactions more explicitly. For instance, if your therapist says something that strikes a nerve, it can be powerful to pause and say, “When you shared that with me, I found myself feeling frustrated.”
Similarly, learning to be more descriptive around our emotions can give your therapist useful information in the work that you do together.
Rather than saying “I’m tired,” you might say “I’m drained/burnt out.” Instead of saying “I’m feeling down,” you might say, “I’m feeling a mix of anxiety and helplessness.”
These are useful skills in self-awareness regardless, but online therapy is a great excuse to start flexing those muscles in a safe environment.
5. Be willing to name what you need even if it seems ‘silly’
With COVID-19 in particular, an active pandemic means that many of us if not all are struggling with getting some of our most fundamental human needs met.
Whether that’s remembering to eat food and drink water consistently, grappling with loneliness, or being fearful for yourself or loved ones, this is a difficult time to be a grownup.
Taking care of ourselves is going to be a challenge at times.
It can be tempting to invalidate our responses to COVID-19 as being an overreaction, which can make us reluctant to disclose or ask for help.
However, your therapist is working with clients every day who undoubtedly share your feelings and struggles. You aren’t alone.
What should I say?
Some things that might be helpful to bring to your therapist during this time:
- I am feeling very isolated and lonely. Can we brainstorm some ways to help me stay connected to other people?
- I keep forgetting to eat. Can I send a message at the beginning of the day with my meal plan for the day?
- My anxiety is starting to impact my daily activities. Could you share some resources for how to cope?
- I can’t stop thinking about the coronavirus. What can I do to redirect my thoughts?
- Do you think my anxiety around this makes sense, or does it feel disproportionate?
- The person I’m quarantined with is impacting my mental health. How can I stay safe?
Remember that there’s no issue too big or too small to bring to your therapist. Anything that’s impacting you is worth talking about, even if it might seem trivial to someone else.
6. Don’t be afraid to give your therapist feedback
A lot of therapists who are making the shift to telemedicine are relatively new to it, which means there will almost certainly be hiccups along the way. As you both experiment with online therapy, feedback is essential to figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you.
So if you can, keep communication open and transparent. You might even set aside dedicated time each session to discuss the transition, and what has and hasn’t felt supportive for you.
Our resident counsellor Deedee started to do online counselling a few years prior to COVID-19 to great success. The positive feedback supported her in going forward to develop an effective online therapy and counselling practice during a time when this healing support is needed more than ever.
Online therapy can be a powerful tool for your mental health, especially during such an isolating, stressful time.
Don’t be afraid to try something different, vocalize what you need and expect, and be willing to meet your therapist halfway as you do this work together. Now more than ever, we need to protect our mental health.