Everything You Need To Know About Virtual Therapy

Is it just me, or does it feel like we’re all on the TV show Chopped? The host has just asked us to open our baskets to reveal the MOST random assortment of ingredients.

What can you make out a can of tuna, some broccoli you found at the back of your fridge, and salad dressing?

I wonder what the mental health edition of Chopped would like…

How about a dollop of anxiety, a heap of uncertainty, and a dash of resilience?

We are all making the best of what we have, whether it’s the food in the back corner of the fridge, or our mental and physical health.

If you feel that you are running a bit low on your mental wellness reserves, then I promise you, you are not alone.

In the last several weeks, we have been finding innovative ways to stay in touch with friends, keep the kids entertained, and maintain some semblance of sanity.

I am so in awe of the way my clients have been coping with these overwhelming circumstances!

It’s a testament to the enormous capacity for resilience we all have.

However, we could all use a little help. And nourishing our mental wellness is more important than ever.

Mental health professionals recognize this.

Therapy can be particularly useful in times of acute stress- and we would like to think that a global pandemic qualifies for this!

As social distancing transforms the terrain of modern life, many therapists are switching from in-person appointments to phone or video sessions.

Research has shown that ‘tele-therapy’ is overall an effective form of therapy. It stands up well to face-to-face services in terms of treatment outcomes.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that these are new waters for both therapists and clients, and it can take some getting used to.

There are also people who are finding this new mode of service delivery advantageous. Virtual sessions help increase access to mental health resources. For people who live in rural communities, getting to a physical office once a week is not realistic. Now that more therapists are switching to online services, there is a larger pool of mental health professionals to choose from.

For the rest of us, there are many things you can do to adjust to virtual therapy or ease the transition from in-person to virtual sessions.

7 tips to make virtual therapy work for you.

1. Re-set Your Expectations

Let’s get one thing out of the way- virtual therapy will be different from in-person sessions. There are non-verbal cues that are lost when you are not in the room with your therapist.

However, you can still have a meaningful experience!

We recommend using video as much as possible. It aligns most closely with the experience of in-person therapy

Even if you cannot use video conferencing, keep in mind that your therapist is trained to support you through talk therapy. Many of the tools we use are verbal ones!

So, given the circumstances, you can still get a lot out of your phone sessions.

2. Prepare for An Adjustment Period

If you are trying therapy for the first time, it may be strange to share your vulnerabilities with a stranger over video chat or on the phone.

If you are used to seeing your therapist in their office, it may feel odd to suddenly be talking to them from your couch. Or perhaps, it seems too personal to have your therapist see your personal space over video.

These are natural reactions! We often rely on people’s physical presence to gauge how at ease we are in any situation.

With time, even this will become more comfortable. The more you and your new therapist get to know each other, the more fluid the conversations will be. Likewise, the transition from in-person to virtual therapy may take some getting used to, but it will eventually feel more natural.

3. Find A Private Space

It is much easier to share your feeling and get the most out of virtual therapy if you are in a private and quiet area of your home that you’ve designated for therapy. This will help you get into the right headspace for the session.

Try decorating your therapy space so it feels like a retreat from the rest of the house!

There are so many ways to do this- candles, essential oils, cushions, or a special armchair that you sit in just for the sessions.

It’s also hard to relax and if you are constantly worried you might be overheard. For those of us living with others, this can pose a challenge.

Here are four ways to create space for a therapy session when you live with other people:

Try asking your partner/family member/roommate to use noise-canceling headphones for the duration of the session

Use a white noise machine or download a white noise app on your phone

Request that your partner/family member/roommate make themselves busy during this time in a different part of the house

If you have access to a car, do your session there!

4. Have An Anchor

Virtual therapy can be particularly difficult to adjust to if you rely on your therapist’s physical presence to help you feel grounded and emotionally regulated.

We recommend finding a calming, soothing object to bring with you the virtual session. You can reach for this in case you feel triggered and need to enhance your sense of safety.

Here are a few ideas:

A photo of a happy memory

Something soft and comforting like a plush object or a blanket

A warm cup of tea

5. Communicate Any Concerns About Virtual Therapy

This one seems obvious. However, research shows that one possible drawback of virtual therapy is clients are less likely to speak up about concerns related to therapeutic rapport.

This is problematic because if your therapist is not aware of your needs, they can’t try something different to address them!

Just as we encourage clients to communicate any concerns they have about therapy during in-person sessions, we invite clients to let us know if something about virtual therapy is not working for them.

As a therapist, I can tell you that I appreciate client feedback during the process of therapy. It ensures we are both making good use of our time together.

Be clear and honest, so you and your therapist can work together to find a solution that benefits you.

You’ll be glad you did!

True story: One of my clients, who lives with a big family, said she gets the most privacy at home when she is in the bathroom. So for our sessions, she brings a cushion + coffee and sits in the bathtub for the entirety of the session. Creative and works like a charm!

6. It’s Okay If All You Can Talk About Is COVID-19

There is no shame in using your virtual therapy time to discuss how COVID-19 is affecting you.

In fact, most therapists will address it.

This is a truly unprecedented situation that has disrupted many lives and created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. It is natural for you to be affected by it!

Here are a few ways your virtual therapist can help you cope:

Validate your feelings of stress and anxiety

Reassure you that you are not alone in feeling this way

Help you create an alternative routine and ‘new normal’

Share free and accessible resources including financial aid measures

7. Have Additional Supports In Place

Everyone arrives at therapy for different reasons and social distancing may be exacerbating those reasons for many of us.

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or struggling with substance-related issues, it is important to work with your therapist to come up with a detailed plan on the days it is particularly difficult to cope.

Additional supports may involve identifying:

A list of people you can reach out to

 24/7 distress lines

Virtual support groups

Several support groups are continuing to conduct virtual meetings.

Whether it is your community at the gym or band practice, people are finding creative ways to continue to keep up with their ''normal routines''.

Your therapist can help you find these resources.

If you don't have a therapist, reach out to me if you are looking for specific resources and I am happy to send them your way!

In Closing...

If you haven't considered therapy until now, it's a great time to start!

Many therapists are taking on a larger number of new clients due to accommodate the increasing mental health needs during this pandemic.

WellNest has also gone entirely virtual since March 16, 2020, in order to continue providing support to our community in a safe and accessible way.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in accessing virtual supports during COVID-19?

Flip me an email if you have any more questions about virtual therapy. I'm happy to guide you through the process!

Be safe and well.

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services