8 Tips to Make the Most Out of Online Therapy

Millions are turning to online therapy due to lockdown. It's a great way to stay on top of mental health. But there are a few things to know to make the experience more fulfilling.

by Jeremy Glass
Originally Published: 

As coronavirus deaths surge past 100,000 and quarantine continues, our collective mental health is suffering. Millions of Americans are stuck at home, struggling with anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, loneliness, and the various symptoms of economic reversal. In search of help and unable to go to traditional routes, Americans are flocking to online and app-based therapy solution. Subscriptions for teletherapy apps and services like Talkspace and BetterHelp, which match appropriate mental health professionals with clients via video conference, phone, and text message, have been surging.

To go without proper mental health counseling is to neglect oneself. Teletherapy is a worthy option in our socially distant times. But the experience of the virtual doctor’s office is different from the physical one. And understanding the various differences between the forms of therapy — and what you can do to make a smooth transition — is essential.

“It can take some adjustment,” says John McGeehan LCSW, CADC, Founder and CEO of The Dorm, treatment group for young adults, “but teletherapy can work if you’re working with a treatment community that’s receptive and adaptable to your needs.”

With these teletherapy tips in mind, the experience will be much more aligned with your expectations.

Find the Right Platform

With so many options for therapy quite literally at your fingertips, finding the “right” way to chat with a therapist is easier than ever. Don’t feel confined by the camera on your phone; not everyone’s preferences are the same when it comes to therapy. Apps like TalkSpace allow you to text with your therapist instead of face-to-face phone calls, whereas BetterHelp gives you an array of options to communicate the way you feel most comfortable with. If you need to see your doctor’s face on your screen to get the most out of your call, talk to them beforehand to discuss how to get the most out of your session. Remember: you’re in control of your own session, so do whatever makes you most comfortable.

If Your Therapist Isn’t a Good Match, Say So

Not every patient and therapist match will be a productive one. And anyone who feels off about their therapist should feel okay saying this. “It’s very important to choose a therapist with whom you’re comfortable. And if the first match doesn’t work, you can find someone you are comfortable with. It doesn’t always work the first time,” Neil Leibowitz, Chief Medical Officer for TalkSpace previously told Fatherly. “The first person isn’t always a good fit.” Leibowitz stressed that this is okay to feel and is not insulting to the therapist. “Most providers are happy when someone switches if it’s not a fit for them,” he said. “We want clients we can help. We don’t want people who are forcing a round peg into a square hole. This is important for the client to do because providers often won’t push a client to switch because it can be very alienating.

Create a Quiet Place

One of teletherapy’s biggest draws is that clients can attend a session or simply talk with a therapist from anywhere. But the world is full of distractions and distractions don’t lend themselves well to self-interrogation or feeling free to discuss what’s really going on in your life. It’s crucial, then, to seek out a private spot where you can be alone to speak your mind in peace. “I recommend anywhere that feels somewhat comfortable and gets you away from prying eyes or ears,” says Psychotherapist and Fortune 500 Executive Coach and Corporate Consultant Dr. Daryl Appleton. “Get creative: Sometimes your garage, bathroom, or car are the MVPs of virtual therapy.”

Give Yourself Warm-up and Cool Down Times

Much like you want to warm up and cool down before and after a workout, you want to give yourself time to prepare and decompress after a session. Dr. Appleton suggests giving yourself 10 or 15 minutes before your appointment to collect your thoughts and get into ‘therapy mode,” and padding the end of each session with another 10-to-15 minute buffer to process the session. The latter is especially important, as it provides time to make any notes or reminders before diving headfirst back into work or life.

Limit Distractions

Therapy is work and that work needs to be free of distractions. Emails, news notifications, children barging in don’t let you be fully available to the task at hand. So be sure to take as much precaution as possible before a session starts. That means, per Dr. Appleton, to turning off your email and silence notifications; alerting work colleagues; arranging coverage for your kids for the hour or so session. Not possible to have someone watch the kids? Appleton suggests saving screen time privileges until your session starts. Wait till your appointment bust the iPad out so you have some peace and quiet.

Consider the Camera

Behind the tiny camera in your computer lies a wealth of anxiety. Whether we realize it or not, webcams can easily distract from a conversation by making you the center of attention. “When we talk to someone in person, we don’t stare into a mirror,” says Dr. McGeehan. This obviously isn’t an option for video calls and, as McGeehan notes, can be stressful to anyone struggling with low self-esteem. To solve this, McGeehan says to ask doctors for a video-free option while making sure to take breaks between calls. Or, if you’re able, disable the mirror view of yourself on the camera so all you see is your doctor.

Take notes

Speaking of notes. Currently, our minds are collectively all going a thousand miles a minute. Writing down your thoughts is an easy way for you to catalog thoughts and recall the feelings you might want to bring up during your session. “Jot down the highlights of your week or month to bring up,” adds Dr. Appleton. “Even if it’s on a napkin. We can’t rely on the events of the week or what we want to process in our golden hour as much as we used to. This is a great way to maximize those precious minutes in therapy.”

Cap Sessions at 50 Minutes

In a time where video chats are hailed as the solution to quarantine-fueled sadness and boredom, the act of constantly engaging with your family and friends can camera can be exhausting. Dr. McGeehan noticed this particular brand of exhaustion or zoom fatigue in many of his clients. His suggestion? Limit each session to 50 minutes while balancing your therapy with exercise or any kind of physical, screen-free activity to ward off the stress. “Zoom fatigue is real,” he says. “Even our clients experience fatigue from being on the computer hour-after-hour.”

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