I never thought that my first blog post for my website would be about online therapy during COVID-19 pandemic. But here we are…
Each and every person around the world has been affected in some way by the outbreak of COVID-19 and our lives are no longer the same. To give examples of how things are affecting us would be futile as we are all so different, but it’s safe to say, whatever we were doing before, may not be happening now. We have changed. The world has changed.
We’ve been warned of the mental health fall out of a major global pandemic and the rising levels of stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression being exacerbated. We’ve also come to realise that people are different and often surprised at how they are coping pretty well ‘all things considered’. So whether you’re shifting from seeing your therapist online now or are new to online therapy, seeking help is meant to continue to be supporting you with whatever needs you have now.
I’ve been working online long enough to know the many benefits of online therapy both to a client and a therapist. Having sat on both sides, being in therapy isn’t easy. I once had a therapist who compared therapy to going to the dentist.
No one likes going to the dentist… and there is no pain like tooth pain!
If you’ve never had therapy before, going online for help may seem counter-intuitive. You’ve watched the movies with the stereotypical ‘shrink’ who has a very smart office with lots of books, who sits in a chair and makes notes and has something clever to say every now and again.
Art Therapists aren’t exactly like this… depending on our settings, we may have an array of creative options at hand in our therapy spaces at your disposal to experiment with and use as a way to bridge the gap between our inner worlds and how this can be expressed.
But all this happens inside the confidentiality of a therapy room. However, this isn’t possible now. So here we are… being forced, or having to opt for online therapy if we need or want to get help from a therapist.
There’s now plenty of research to back up why online is not only as effective as in-person therapy but may even provide more positive outcomes when working online. This may be due to more privacy, accessibility and availability, comfort levels and ability to talk about things that may be far too difficult in person which can be a highly charged environment. Therapy can feel really exposing. After all, you may be talking about thoughts, feelings and experiences that are usually kept very well hidden or unspoken in your day-to-day. It’s not easy to ‘go there’ and there is usually a lot of resistance. Being in a less intimidating environment like the comfort of your home can help broach these areas with less intensity and feel more manageable.
Here are some things to think about when and if you decide to explore online therapy:
A lot of people are currently in a lockdown or practicing social distancing. Depending on where and how you live, this may come with advantages and also some challenges with having to navigate less personal space than we are used to. The upside of having online therapy at home, is, well… you’re at home. No need to travel to see a therapist at their place of work saving time, money, energy etc.
But what if ‘your’ environment isn’t conducive to a therapy space? How do you create a good enough space for your sessions?
I usually ask clients to think about their ‘rituals’ before their sessions to help them transition into the therapeutic hour. In-person therapy would have involved ‘attending’ therapy in person with traveling to a therapist’s office, arriving a few minutes before your session, sitting in a waiting room etc. In all through this, we are metaphorically ‘changing gears’ from what we were doing before, to then entering a space that is meant for therapy. You’d be ready to walk in, take a seat and begin your session.
But if you’re home, you could be switching gears very quickly and perhaps not making time to mentally prepare for a session with your therapist. Will you be disturbed? Is your device charged? Is your cat joining the session? If so, do you need to let them in before you start?
Think about minimising your distractions, maybe even changing the location in your home where your sessions take place so you have a protected space for therapy. Taking a few mins before your session to just catch your breath and engage with yourself as you are. Turn off notifications on your devices and computer, grab your note/sketchbook and notice what’s happening in your mind and body. This will help you prepare as it would if you were about to walk into a therapy room, without leaving where you are.
Name the weird
Listen, online therapy can be weird and there’s no hiding that. If you’re new to therapy or a new therapist, it’s a bizarre thing to sit there and start talking to a perfect stranger. In all this talking and ‘therapy’ something is meant to ‘happen’? You don’t know this person and you probably don’t trust them yet. That’s to be expected. It’s also strange for us therapists meeting a new client and that too, online. We have to work a bit harder to engage in conversation and of course, we may have usual reactions to awkwardness too.
The more you bring what you’re aware of in your current reactions, the more a therapist can work with you and be supportive to the experience. After all, you get out of anything what you put into it.
Make the most of technology
I work as an arts therapist meaning I use a number of different art forms to facilitate and support the therapeutic process. This has been wonderfully creative for transitioning to working online and I encourage clients to bring into the sessions what they may have brought in person.
Use emails to share images that you’ve found since your last session, listen to a song during a session, Share your poem you wrote the other day, share the screen if you’re drawing something or if you’re reminded of an image etc … You have THE INTERNET at your disposal, this can be a good thing for helping the expression of those parts of you that words cannot describe.
Testing Testing 1, 2, 3…
If you’re thinking about starting online therapy during COVID-19 or any other time, most therapists like myself will offer a free online call to just touch base and see if we’re the right person to help you. Take advantage of that free call. Talk to a few people online and see what it feels right. By far, all the research has shown that it’s not the theoretical orientation of a therapist that has the greatest outcome for clients, but it’s the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
These are intense and challenging times and this may throw up a lot of our own ‘stuff’ so if things get really hard, a therapist may be able to help with managing difficult feelings and support your way forward that feels right for you.
If you have any questions I’d be happy to help. You can get in touch by contacting me here.
Stay safe and stay connected.