Most of us feel some sort(s) of strain from the global pandemic, and many have wisely decided to engage in counseling or therapy – likely via telehealth, or in this case, telemental health. As an already burgeoning platform for therapy pre-global pandemic, online therapy has become a norm for standard of care. More and more people are starting their therapy journey online, and this may be the case for a long while to come. There are a few ways to optimize the experience and make sure you get the most out of your time:
- Secluded Spot – In a typical scenario, you would have the safety and confidentiality of a therapy room, but with current social distancing recommendations, you may be sharing space with your partner, children, pets, etc. at home. When possible, take your therapy session to an area away from those you are quarantining with- perhaps a quiet bedroom, bathroom, car, or even closet (yes, people are doing therapy in their closets). Find an area where you feel comfortable, and where you can freely speak about what you would like to during therapy.
- Good Connection – While this may seem obvious, a stable internet connection can ensure a fluid session that is not riddled with “Can you hear me?” and “I can’t see you!”. Time is precious, and spending therapy time finding the strongest connection point in your house is not fruitful. Try using an ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi to create a hardwired connection. Otherwise, sit as close to your router as possible. If you cannot sit near your router, consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender to increase the strength of Wi-Fi in your preferred therapy location. If using a computer for your session, close extra tabs and applications to minimize bandwidth usage. If your connection is still poor, disconnect extra devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops from the Wi-Fi. Finally, make sure you and your therapist have a plan in case your connection drops.
- Optimal Lighting – This is important because we emote so much through our faces. Your therapist may be better able to connect and pick up on non-verbal cues that are important for session if they can see your face clearly. Sit in a place with good lighting in front of you such as near windows with natural light. Some people who are online for meetings opt to purchase a ring light to place in front of their device. If you don’t have a ring light, a lamp is a good substitute. In a similar vein, elevating your laptop or device can give a better view of your face and body language. This can be as fancy as a laptop riser or as simple as a stack of books or boxes. Elevating prevents shadows, giving a clearer view of your face.
- Presence – During your session, make every effort to be fully present. Eliminate distractions and don’t attempt to multitask. This means not cooking dinner, cleaning your bathroom, or scrolling through Facebook while in therapy. Also, avoid texting or otherwise using your phone. If you need to occupy your hands, consider unobtrusive activities such as squeezing a stress ball/pillow or crocheting. Allow yourself to have undivided attention as you would in a face-to-face session. Similarly, avoid coming to therapy under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and other substances, or partaking during session.
- Scheduling – Consider your schedule and pick optimal times for your therapy. While some people thrive on back-to-back scheduling, take a personal litmus test to see if this works for you. Typically, the commute to the therapist’s office allows you to have some time to switch gears before getting into the emotional work therapy entails. Since you do not have a commute to engage in telemental therapy, determine if immediately going from work and personal obligations to therapy is palatable for you. Consider giving yourself a 30-minute buffer between work/home responsibilities and the start of your session.
- Voice Concerns – Online therapy has been around for a while but is relatively new to many clients. If you have concerns about the security of telemental health, ask your therapist about the measures they are taking to ensure security and confidentiality. In your first session your therapist will introduce themselves and ask you to do the same. If you have questions about their identity or validity, you may ask them to provide their Psychology Today page, personal website, or licensure number so you can ensure they have appropriate credentials to conduct therapy.
Telemental health is an effective way to engage with therapy, and some basic knowledge on how to optimize the experience can help you get the most benefit out of your sessions while feeling comfortable and secure in participating.
Anousha Lakhani is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Houston Family Counseling and is accepting new clients through telemental health. To set up an appointment with her call 281-570-9643 or visit https://houstonfamilycounseling.org/