If you picture a therapy session, you probably imagine two people sitting in comfortable chairs with a coffee table in between them. But there is a new setting for psychological therapy: online, via video call.
I have worked this way for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has meant this has been the only option. Before I started providing online therapy, I had some reservations. Would I be able to establish the same kind of rapport with the client? What if the technology didn’t work? Would the client achieve the same improvements compared to face-to-face therapy? Fortunately, with experience and the right adaptations, my clients have continued to have a positive and effective experience of therapy. Here’s my guide for successful online therapy:
1. It is equally possible to build a positive therapeutic relationship via video call.
This has been my experience and this is also documented in the research into online therapy. For therapy to be successful, the therapeutic relationship is key. You need to feel safe with your therapist and trust in his/her approach. You need to feel listened to and validated. This is perfectly possible to achieve via video call. You are able to pick up on the same verbal and non-verbal cues from your therapist via video call, which in my opinion, makes is better than conducting therapy via telephone.
2. Clients can make the same improvements via video call.
Again, this has been borne out through my experience as well as through the research. If the therapeutic relationship is good (see above) and you do the work in between sessions and put into practice the skills learned in session, then your outcomes are likely to be the same as they would have been if you had met with your therapist face-to-face.
3. You can get over the self-consciousness of seeing yourself on video.
Seeing myself on video was something I didn’t like in the beginning! But I have got used to it over time. There are also ways to minimise how much you see of yourself. For example, in Zoom, you can change the size and position of the images, so you appear smaller and/or nearer the bottom of the screen. I’ve also heard of people sticking a post-it note over their own image so they don’t need to see themselves at all!
4. It is possible to create a safe space for therapy.
For some, the benefits of having therapy face to face may be as much about the setting i.e. getting out of their home and into a neutral space. It is also important that you feel you can talk openly without being overheard. These are important factors, but it is usually possible to achieve a safe space via video call. Everyone’s circumstances will be different. You might want to avoid being in your bedroom as you associate this as a place for relaxation. Alternatively, you may feel that your bedroom is the only room where your privacy can be ensured. You might want to create an area within one room which you reserve for therapy time. If you do not think you can feel safe and be open in your home, sitting in your car might be a possibility or using a friend’s house. Whatever your situation, if you have any concerns about finding a suitable space, you should speak to your potential therapist for advice.
5. Technology can sometimes let you down but it’s manageable.
Even with the best equipment and internet, technology can still sometimes go wrong. Connecting directly into the ethernet, rather than using Wi-Fi can help, as well as minimising the number of devices using the internet. But if connection is poor, then it is usually possible to continue without by phone. Often it is possible to keep the video connection but use the phone for audio, thereby not losing the added benefit of non-verbal communication.
Of course, it is always your choice about whether to engage in therapy face-to-face or online. But there can be some added benefits to online therapy. I am able to be much more flexible around timings of therapy sessions because I’m not constrained by room booking schedules. This flexibility also means I am able to offer appointments more or less frequently than once per week, as per your needs and preferences. If you have physical or psychological difficulties that make it difficult to leave your house, then online therapy can enable you to access the support you need. If you have caring responsibilities, including young children, it may well be easier to find an hour in your day for therapy, rather than the additional time required for travel and the need for alternative arrangements for your dependents. I also offer reduced rates for online therapy, as there is no room hire fee.
So, if you would like to consider online therapy or have some additional concerns about whether this might be the right approach for you, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a free and confidential discussion.