When Covid-19 shutdowns began in the spring of 2020, the majority of therapists switched their practices online. The many online therapy platforms available now made that fairly easy. Teletherapy has many benefits. It helps us get the support we need to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that may be exacerbated by the current Pandemic and/or life after Covid. However, online therapy is different from face-to-face counseling because a relationship that usually feels more personal now takes place over a screen. Learn 5 easy ways to make your virtual therapy sessions feel more comfortable and effective.
Why do people need virtual therapy?
Research on mental health during the Pandemic has highlighted the growing need for mental health services in the U.S.
- In November 2019, prior to the pandemic, mental illness impacted 20% of American Adults.
- By November 2020, eight months into the Pandemic in the U.S., almost 2 out of 5 American adults were struggling with anxiety or depression.
- During the Pandemic, rates of addiction and suicidality have increased significantly and show no signs of decreasing.
The Pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of kids, teens, and adults in significant and ongoing ways. Pandemic-related stressors include social isolation, physical health, job loss, financial instability, housing, education, childcare, and discrimination toward minorities. This distress is on top of normal life-related stressors such as death, loss and grief, trauma, health, finances, family, professional/academic performance, and relationships.
As a result, the demand for therapy has increased beyond what most private practices, school clinics, and community agencies can handle. The need to expand access to care will likely continue for years to come.
What are the benefits of teletherapy?Phone and virtual counseling sessions have increased access to licensed mental health professionals. Online therapy has helped remove barriers that kept people from seeking mental health services in the past. The benefits of teletherapy are key. Examples of barriers that have been removed include:
- Living in areas with few or no mental health services.
- Lack of access to therapists who specialize in specific issues.
- Accessibility issues for people with disabilities and chronic illness as well as those who are homebound.
- Less scheduling flexibility due to work schedules, childcare, and other commitments.
What are the disadvantages of counseling online?Teletherapy technologies and online therapy programs are making it possible for people all over the world to connect with mental health professionals online. However, therapy through a screen has its downsides. Some of the disadvantages of online counseling include:
- Virtual therapy sessions feel different, and sometimes not as powerful, as meeting in person.
- Lack of focus since people are surrounded by the distractions of home.
- Concerns about privacy on both the therapist and patient’s sides.
- Lack of a personal connection that comes from seeing and reading each others’ body language or just being in the same room.
How do I get the most out of online therapy?
While we used to exercise, socialize, work, and attend appointments in different physical spaces, many of us are still logging onto our computer or smartphone for various personal and professional interactions. This can make it hard to separate the different areas of our lives.
While cutting out a commute and being able to multitask may be helpful in some areas of our lives, there are still pieces we need to ourselves. Therapy is one area of our lives that can deeply benefit from creating a separate, private, and distraction-free zone.
To fully benefit from virtual therapy sessions, we need to be able to talk openly and honestly about our feelings. We need to hear and/or see our therapist respond to us. Most of the factors that make face-to-face therapy successful are still necessary for virtual therapy to work.
Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to prepare for a therapy session and increase your comfort with doing therapy from home or wherever you are.
1. Switch your phone to “Do Not Disturb”
Preparing for your counseling session should start with putting your phone in its “do not disturb” (DND). This will ensure your therapy hour isn’t interrupted by texts, emails, or notifications. If you risk becoming distracted by a nearby computer, iPad, or other technology, turn off your alerts as well as your screens.
Shifting perspective, even by a few feet, can make a huge difference in how you feel.
2. Change Your Location
It can also be helpful to take your virtual therapy calls in a different physical location. Sitting at the same desk where you work can make therapy feel like just another chore to cross off of your to-do list.
You may want to walk through your neighborhood or a nearby park while you talk. In some cases, your therapist may offer walk-and-talk therapy. This means they will meet you for a socially distanced walking therapy session.
If you prefer to stay home, try relocating to another spot in your living space, such as your bed or living room couch. If you live in a studio, try moving your chair so you can look out the window. Shifting your location, even by a few feet, can make a huge difference in how you feel.
Try surrounding the space where you have your therapy sessions with plants to make it feel more relaxing and special.
3. Set Up a Special Space
You could take that previous tip a step further and set aside a nook in your home specifically for meditation, therapy sessions, and other mental health-boosting activities. This area is not used for any other kind of activity.
A healing space doesn’t have to be a separate room with a door that closes. You can easily turn a corner of your living room or bedroom into a relaxing, comfortable space by adding some pillows, blankets, and other comforting objects. Adding plants, essential oils, and/or a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) therapy lamp can also help make this corner feel separate and soothing.
If you live with others, you’ll want to make sure you discuss how each of you will use any shared space. Make sure you respect each other’s needs, privacy, and boundaries.
4. Set Aside Time Before and After Your Session
If you went to therapy in-person in the past, you probably had time during a car ride, walk, or subway trip to and from your therapist’s office. This time spent commuting can be really important for gathering your thoughts and then reflecting on your session. You can create this buffer time at home, as well.
If time and weather allow, plan to take a short walk or bike ride both before and after your therapy hour. Ideally, you would leave 30-60 minutes before and after a session. Mark this time in your calendar. Canceling it is not an option since it’s essential to your health.
If you’re crunched for time, close your eyes and take slow deep breaths for 5 minutes before and after your sessions. This slowing down will help boost your focus before therapy and then give you some time to feel centered afterward.
Other suggestions for creating a separation between your daily routine and therapy include:
- Sit quietly for a few minutes without looking at a screen.
- Lie on your bed or couch with your eyes closed.
- Play with your pet.
- Look at a favorite piece of art or decoration.
Playing with your pet, closing your eyes for a moment, or looking at a favorite piece of art can help provide separation between your virtual therapy session and the rest of your day.
5. Talk About Your Virtual Therapy Experience
Be open and honest about your experiences of virtual therapy sessions with your counselor, therapist, or psychologist. Our therapists are highly trained professionals. They are here to help you identify and work through obstacles. That includes the therapy process itself. For therapy to work, you have to feel like you are getting what you need from the partnership with your therapist and the work itself.
Talk about being angry or frustrated with not being able to see your therapist in person. Let them know you miss having the office as a private and separate space. Talk about how it feels to discuss deeply private issues at home and/or having them see where you live.
Open and honest conversations may help you and your therapist figure out unique methods that work for both of you.
Next steps for feeling more comfortable with virtual therapy sessions
Working with therapists online will probably always feel a bit different from in-person appointments. However, there is so much to gain from working with a mental health professional from the safety, comfort, and convenience of your own home.
Working with a therapist online removes barriers to getting treatment that can help you feel better and live the life you want. Additionally, you may actually find the distance and separation make it easier to open up and speak freely.
Over time and by creating a special space for your sessions, you may be able to make it feel more authentic, personal, and focused.
Online therapy sessions are available at Clarity Therapy NYC. Our highly-trained specialists can help you tackle issues that have come up since the Pandemic or have been causing pain and suffering for a while. We work with people in NYC and throughout New York state. Contact us now to set up your virtual therapy session.
The original version of this post was written by Fiona Lowenstein on August 11, 2020
Your Turn: Have you found any ways of making virtual therapy feel more comfortable? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!