From the COVID-19 outbreak to the peaceful-turned-violent protests happening in the streets of America, everything that’s happening around us can take a toll on our mental health. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmingly anxious or depressed, and quarantine survival tips are no longer helping, then online therapy may be the solution. It can seem like a big adjustment, but communicating your thoughts and emotions with a professional therapist — even through a phone line or computer screen — can offer you an incredible and worthwhile support system during these challenging times.
How to Have a Positive Online Therapy Experience
Consider these tips as you make your transition to teletherapy.
- Create a safe space and allocate some time in your day for therapy
The emotional nature of therapy makes it crucial to have a private and safe environment to do it in, as well as some time set aside to engage with the process fully. If you’re quarantining with a friend or family member in a one-bedroom apartment, then perhaps you could ask them to stay in the living room or wear headphones while you have your session.
- Expect a little bit of awkwardness at first
The experience will be different compared to having therapy in person, so don’t be taken aback if it feels like you and your therapist aren’t “vibing” right away. For example, if you use messaging as your primary mode of communication with your therapist, then it may take some time for you to adjust to the slight delays in response. Experiencing discomfort or awkwardness during your first few sessions, however, is normal. As long as you keep an open line of communication with your online therapist, you might be surprised by your ability to adapt quickly.
- Make sure you’re comfortable with the format you choose
Some online therapy platforms use a combination of audio, video, and instant messaging. If you have options, is it worth exploring them to determine which works best for you.
- Look into the unique parts of online therapy
There are certain things you can do with online therapy that you can’t do in-person. For example, you can’t have your adorable dog or cat right next to you during an in-person therapy session. Through teletherapy, you can introduce your four-legged best friend to your therapist via video call. Besides that, petting, hugging, or touching your furry companion can help calm and soothe you during stressful or anxious situations.
- Practice naming your emotions more explicitly
If you have had in-person therapy sessions in the past, then you may be used to having a mental health professional observing your facial expressions and bodily cues, and kind of “intuiting” your emotional state. A therapist’s ability to read your expressions and movements is something you may take for granted when you transition to teletherapy. Therefore, it’s important to practice naming your reactions and emotions more explicitly. For example, if your online therapist says something that triggers you or strikes a nerve, it’s crucial to pause and verbalize how his or her words made you feel. You can say “When you touched on that particular topic, I found myself feeling angry.”
Similarly, being more descriptive of your emotions can give your therapist useful information. Instead of saying you’re tired, you can say that you’re feeling burnt out or drained. Rather than saying you’re feeling down, you can say that you’re feeling a mixture of negative emotions, which may include anxiousness and hopelessness.
- Be willing to say exactly what you need
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the many other chaotic circumstances plaguing the world, many of us — if not all — are struggling to get some of our most fundamental needs. Whether it’s remembering to have breakfast and drink enough water, coping with loneliness, or being fearful for the future, 2020 has been a difficult year for adults and children alike.
Taking care of yourself is going to be difficult at times. It can be tempting to hide or invalidate your feelings toward the many crises occurring, which can make you hesitant to disclose or ask for help. However, it’s important to understand that your therapist is working with other clients who may share your feelings and struggles. You are not alone.
Here are some things that might be helpful to share with your therapist during this time:
- I feel lonely, but I’m scared of reaching out to old friends. What should I do?
- As someone who’s battling cancer, I can’t stop worrying about my high risk of developing COVID-19. How can I calm my thoughts?
- The people I’m quarantined with are impacting my mental health. What should I do?
No issue should be too big or too small for your therapist. Anything that’s affecting your mental health is worth discussing, even if the problem seems trivial to someone else.
- It’s okay to give your therapist feedback
You may not be the only one who’s new to teletherapy. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, many therapists are making the shift to online therapy, meaning they may be relatively new to it, too.
Conducting online therapy sessions is a recent development in the field, so not all therapists have proper training on how to interpret their in-person work to a digital platform. This doesn’t mean they’re incompetent therapists by any means. Rather, this should remind and encourage you to be your own best advocate in this process. For example, if a platform is too difficult to use — let your therapist know. If you think their written responses are not helpful — go ahead and tell them that, too.
As you and your clinician experiment with online therapy, feedback is essential in order to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.
Teletherapy can be a powerful tool, especially during such draining and stressful times. If you need help, don’t be afraid to seek it. Vocalize what you need and expect from your therapist, and be willing to meet him or her halfway as you work on improving your wellness together.