Challenging Times Call for Innovative Solutions

The coronavirus has foisted hard choices upon those who frequent therapy rooms, for both therapists and clients. COVID-19 brings more than just additional stress. The necessity of social distancing threatens the fundamental capacity for people to meet and support each other. Our response must be both creative and flexible.

A critical response to this new reality is expanding the use of remote therapy. For clients unfamiliar with remote therapy, this is uncharted territory, and the transition can be challenging. And when you factor in the inherent limitations of the therapist-client interaction for many in telepsychology, the challenge becomes even more complicated.

Therapists are trained to interact with their clients, on a moment to moment basis, in those ways that will support and enhance therapeutic goals. Because in remote therapy, the client and therapist aren’t together in the room, there isn’t the same flexibility and support in that interaction. This inherent difference must be recognized from the outset so that the therapist can innovate compensatory strategies to close this gap as much as possible.

Despite these challenges, telepsychology while quarantined has proven very effective and helpful for many when appropriately implemented. Some clients actually prefer the “space” afforded by connecting through the computer screen as opposed to being in the same room. Either way, the best way to maximize your online session is to be aware and take heed of these important principles.

The Importance of Privacy

Anyone who has ever attended a therapy session knows that it is all but impossible to feel relaxed and be candid if you’re concerned that someone may overhear what you are saying. For those living in close quarters with family members or roommates, this may require crafting a creative sound barrier such as noise-canceling headphones, listening to music or a podcast, or stepping outside your home or apartment for the session.

Realistic Expectations Can be a Game Changer

Rebecca Cowan, a Virginia-based therapist, board-certified telepsychology provider, and Walden University counseling faculty member, said it’s important to go into your first virtual appointment expecting that it will likely be different from an in-person session.

“You can’t avoid the fact that online therapy is different than face-to-face therapy. And it is essential to be upfront with your therapist about this. A prime example would be for those being treated for PTSD. Many such clients gain significantly from the calming presence of the therapist, which is absent in a virtual session. When you inform your therapist of this concern, the therapist can think of alternatives.”

Rebecca Cowan instructs her clients to create “comfort boxes,” which the client can reach for in times of stress or when there is emotional activation during the session. These comfort boxes are filled with a stress ball, meaningful photos, and essential oils. Creating comfort boxes is just one example of many possibilities. The key is to realize that your therapist doesn’t have telepathy, but sincerely wants to be helpful. So speak up.

Communicate Your Feelings About the Sessions

If you’re finding the adjustment to telepsychology too much of a struggle, or you feel that your therapist’s advice isn’t resonating, then it is crucial to be as clear and honest about that sooner than later. You can be guaranteed that what the therapist is unaware of won’t be changed. However, if your therapist is aware, change is possible.

It happens to be that some clients need more support from the therapist than others. This is why communication is essential to ensure that your needs are met. Some clients need to maintain their involvement in the therapeutic process between sessions, which can sometimes be facilitated through the use of worksheets or accessing other resources between sessions.

If it is a deeper personal connection that is missing, some therapists have found it helpful to begin each session by doing some grounding techniques together with the client, such as breathing exercises. Sitting in your chair and sharing breathing with your therapist can foster that personal connection, even through the computer screen.

It’s Perfectly Natural for COVID-19 to Dominate

Don’t feel that you need to avoid discussing coronavirus during the session. After all, it is the reason that you moved to telepsychology in the first place. Whereas it should be addressed if you are so inclined, there isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it.

Share your fears and anxiety about how disorienting the whole experience is. Any shame that you feel about expressing these feelings may be an essential reason why you have come for therapy altogether. Who knows, discussing coronavirus may be the entree to uncovering a more profound issue. And that can make it all worthwhile.

Help Students Cope with the Crisis

The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. You may be interested in our session entitled, “Can Social Distancing Bring Us Closer Together?” or one of our many other helpful offerings.