03 Apr How To Make the Most of Your Online Therapy During COVID-19
A couple of years ago — long before COVID-19 was an unfortunate glimmer in the CDC’s eye — some therapists made the decision to switch from in-person therapy to telemedicine. If you are someone who has usually struggled with opening up to therapists, it may be easier to be vulnerable if you can shield behind the screen. Some patients have found to be able to disclose more, and as a result, deepen the therapeutic relationship. This new normal can put a hinder on many aspects of typical life, but it can also positively transform your therapy experience — it will also help you adapt to the huge shift to telehealth that’s now happening in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. If you’re looking to start online therapy, or if your therapist has moved their practice to digital for the unforeseeable future, it can be a jarring transition. While it can be a big adjustment, online therapy can be an amazing and worthwhile support system — particularly in a time of crisis. Consider these helpful tips as you make your transition to teletherapy a pleasant and transformative one:
You’ll get better at naming your emotions
In the absence of bodily cues, practice naming your emotions more explicitly. If you’ve been in in-person therapy for a while, you may be used to your therapist observing your bodily cues and facial expressions, and sort of “intuiting” your emotional state. Our therapists’ ability to read us is something we might take for granted as we pivot to telemedicine. This is why it can be really 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 our therapists useful information in the work that we do. Rather than saying “I’m tired,” we might say “I’m drained/burnt out.” Instead of saying “I’m feeling down,” we 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.
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 any time, anywhere. Still, it’s been found to be much more beneficial to set a time and place to pay focused attention to your session. 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.
Leverage the Unique Advantages of Telemedicine
There are some things you can do with online therapy that you can’t necessarily do in-person. For example, you can’t bring your cat to an in-person therapy session so it might become something special to introduce your therapist to your furry companion 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. A good idea might be to send the 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.
Some therapy platforms use a combination of messaging, audio, and video, while others are a typical session over webcam. If you have options, it’s worth exploring what combination of text, audio, and video works best for you.For example, if you’re self-isolated with your family, you may rely on messaging more frequently as not to be overheard by someone and have as much time as you need to write it. Or if you’re burnt out from working remotely and staring at a screen, recording an audio message may feel better for you. One of the benefits of teletherapy is that you have a lot of different tools at your disposal. Be open to experimenting!
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. Online therapy itself is a more recent development in the field, and not all clinicians have proper training on how to translate their in-person work to a digital platform. Of course, this idea is not intended to undermine your faith in them — but rather, to remind and encourage you to be your own best advocate in this process. So if a platform is cumbersome to use? Let them know! If you’re finding that their written messages aren’t helpful or that they feel too generic? Tell them that, too. 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.
Keep in mind that 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. Over to you, what has worked for you? Share your tips and experiences with us: firstname.lastname@example.org