All great changes are preceded by chaos.
Have you gotten used to online everything these days? Online check-ins with family. Online happy hours with friends. Online work. Online workouts. Online school. There sure are a lot of very big transitions going on in all of our lives right now!
I’ve been offering all online counseling for the last few years in my therapy private practice based out of Flower Mound, Texas, and have learned quite a lot from day one to today. I’d like to share some of my tips and insights, which may be especially helpful if you’re new to the online counseling world, and hopefully also helpful for seasoned online counselors and clients as well.
Online Counseling Positives for Clients:
- It’s safe, secure and easy to access. I use a system called Simple Practice for all of my online counseling sessions.
- It’s comfortable- you’re in your own personal space for your sessions. Your pets can be in the room with you for comfort as well. I like to refer to them as your “therapy pets.”
- It saves you time- you no longer have to drive anywhere (when in non stay-at-home order times) or take time off of work for your therapy sessions.
- It saves you money- you no longer have to find childcare for your kids, as they can be home with you during your sessions. It also saves you money on gas, during times when you could be driving to sessions again if you chose this route.
- It’s confidential- you don’t have to worry about anyone seeing you enter or leave a local therapy office.
- It’s researched based- research has shown that online counseling is just as effective as in office sessions!
- It’s easier for you- you may not currently have a lot of energy to get yourself to a therapy office (in “normal” times) given your anxiety, depression or grief symptoms (especially if you’re a pregnant or postpartum mom). With online counseling, you can still get help and support, even on the most difficult days.
- It means you can find a therapist you truly connect with, not just someone in your local areas, as online counseling opens up the entire state of licensed clinicians to you.
- All you need is a private space to meet in and a device for your sessions such as a computer, tablet or cell phone.
- No added worries about getting sick or making someone else sick as you’re able to meet from home and follow the current stay-at-home guidelines.
- Your therapist may be able to meet during your child’s naptime if you have young kids.
- You don’t need to worry about your relationship with your therapist, as empathy, warmth and connection all come through on the screen as well!
Helpful Tips for Therapists for a Great Video Call:
- Try out a lot of the different HIPPA compliant platforms and then choose your favorite one. Test out these systems, and work out the issues, with family and friends before using them with clients.
- Use headphones so there’s no feedback or echo during your call (it helps if your clients does the same).
- Use an Ethernet cable plugged directly into your router for the best possible connection.
- Position your screen so you’re making eye contact with your clients.
- Your personal level of confidence with this new technology will come though on the screen, so be aware of your confidence level and how you’re looking and sounding on screen.
- Make sure you have a consistent, quiet space for your sessions each week.
- Have great lighting by positioning lamps on each side of your computer. Eye protection LED lamps are especially helpful to protect your eyes, especially if you’re seeing a lot of clients each day.
- A white noise maker outside your office door should help drown out some of the noise of family members and pets who are currently at home with you. I use fans and the Relax Melodies app on my ipad for white noise.
- Have a backup system if technology fails. I have set up that I’ll call my clients on their cell phones if the video system isn’t working for some reason.
- Have a very comfortable chair for your sessions!
- Make sure you dress professionally- you will need to get up at some point during one of your sessions, so wear pants!
- Make sure your computer is charged and plugged in before your sessions begin.
- Take breaks between sessions and get up and walk around, stretch your body, drink some water, grab a snack, etc.
- Keep your sense of humor! Things will happen that you don’t anticipate, and your clients will be looking towards you to keep your cool and model great behavior when things don’t go as expected.
Learn to Expect the Unexpected with Online Counseling:
- Technology fails happen such as no video or fuzzy and frozen screens (usually with funny facial expressions). Sound sometimes goes out as well, which can be related to their earphones, a computer that needs to be restarted, or another reason all together.
- Interruptions from partners occur, even when boundaries have been set. They are sometimes hard to avoid with everyone home together right now.
- Kids may come in to ask questions since they are currently e-learning from home.
- Babies crying, waking up from naptime early, grabbing the screen if they’re sitting on your lap, etc.
- Toddlers wanting your attention
- Pets acting silly, making noise, needing to go outside, barking, etc.
- Phones ringing.
- Doorbell interruptions.
- Onscreen alerts.
- Alarms going off- cell phones, smoke detector, house alarm, neighborhood emergency tests, etc.
- Weather that causes issues like a power outages.
- Internet issues
- House issues such as a busted pipe (this one happened to me during a session!).
Yes, there are so many things that can go wrong when relying solely on technology for your therapy sessions, but there’s also so much that can go right!
It’s a big transition for you as a clinician if you’ve never done online therapy before, and it’s also a new experience for your clients who have never tried it as well. There’s definitely a learning curve for both of you! That being said, the more comfortable you are in this new space, the more comfortable your clients will be too.
As a clinician, you have a great opportunity to model for your clients your own humanity and vulnerability around navigating these new waters. In our current COVID-19 world, what a gift to still be able to help and support your clients through the use of online counseling! With openness and curiosity, you and your clients may come to embrace and enjoy online therapy, to the point where you both may want to continue this mode of treatment long after the stay-at-home orders are all lifted. Think about it!