(Disclaimer: I know these are first world problems. Please know that underlying every word I write and utter is a grief for those whose lives are changed forever by this sudden and horrific situation, a concern for what may be coming next and a gratitude beyond belief that I am able to playfully grouse about said first world problems to you, my fellow first world citizen. Thank you for that grace, and for the role this opportunity to interact with you plays in saving my own sanity!).
Teletherapy: I know. It’s not ideal – for me either. With each passing day away from my beautiful office and the richness of face to face sessions with my beloved clients, I feel it too: it’s not the same. How could it be? Part of the mysterious alchemy of the therapeutic process is the safe, soothing environment in which it takes place. Away from laundry and deadlines and children and pets and all the pressures and demands of everyday life, an hour in the therapy room can and should be something of a retreat, a luxurious and rare opportunity to focus on self, even if the content isn’t always the most uplifting. I know that’s what therapy has long been for me personally, and I’ve worked very hard to ensure that the offices of Laurel Fay and Associates afford our clients that same welcoming and serene environment in which to do their significant and valuable therapy work.
These days my lovely office sits closed, and the magic of our space is held there with it. ☹
BUT – therapy isn’t really about the space, as you know. At its true core, therapy is really about the relationship between the therapist and client, and the client’s awareness that the therapist truly cares and is actually authentically invested in the clients’ story, struggles, and growth. Which I still am, regardless of physical location and backdrop.
Achieving gains in therapy is hard enough without the added hurdle of a global pandemic. But I submit to you that in some ways, this necessary shift in service delivery could actually move the therapy process forward for many clients (more on that later).
In the meantime, let’s name a few unexpected positives of teletherapy:
- No commute.
- Significant increase in therapist’s availability. I know for me, I have a thousand times more flexibility scheduling a teletherapy session, because I am not bound by the confines of travel and childcare. Which leads me to…
- Childcare needs for your therapist are no longer an obstacle. Personally, at least until schools reopen, I have free childcare for my 4 year-old in the form of her very capable (if not sometimes surly) teenage sisters. Go child labor!
- Teletherapy means choices – it can be phone or video. If you’re uncomfortable with video, phone works too. In fact, in my experience phone can be even more powerful of a therapy medium than video or even face-to-face sessions, because the potential anxiety of being seen and watched as you’re disclosing and processing painful or difficult topics is gone. I’ve had clients who were able to be significantly more vulnerable over the phone for this very reason, resulting in valuable therapy gains.
- If you’ve got a phone (and/or internet), you’ve got a therapist. Your schedule and obligations don’t have to be put off or cancelled because you need that time to battle traffic to get to therapy, have therapy, and then battle traffic leaving therapy. From the comfort of home your therapist can be right there with you, when you need it the most.
So this is sounding better, right? Turns out there are unexpected bonuses to teletherapy. But just like traditional face-to-face sessions, what you put into it is directly related to what you get out of it – and I don’t just mean content. Let’s talk basics, shall we?
Ways to Ensure Your Teletherapy Time, Money and Energy Is Well-Spent
Treat your teletherapy session the same way you would a traditional therapy session. This means you’re not driving, looking at Facebook, or unloading the dishwasher during your session. C’mon people. Give yourself the time and focus both you and your therapist need to make this whole thing work. Otherwise you may as well just call a friend for free (as long as that friend can tolerate you clanging silverware during the conversation).
You may not have the commute, but you still need the space – and it’s up to you to create it. Don’t try to have your session at the kitchen table after dinner while everyone is milling around. Find a quiet room, corner or space in which you can be alone and feel confident that you will not be overheard. You can even use your car (as long as you’re not driving it!).
Let your loved ones know you’ll be in session. In my house, I tell my family that I am going to work and am not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency (and asking me for extra screen time because Dad already said no is NOT an emergency). I also lovingly ask them to refrain from loud talking, singing, arguing, or music playing for the hours I am in session.
Keep the time sacrosanct. Whatever the reasons are for you to invest time, money and energy to travel to your therapist’s office, spend 50 minutes or more delving into, and dealing with whatever emotional fallout may follow, those reasons are still just as valid to bring to your teletherapy session. If it was important enough to schlep to the office pre-COVID-19, it’s important enough – may be even more so now – to take an hour at home to work on too.
Prepare. Usually the commute to therapy is the time many clients think about what they want to discuss in therapy once they get there. When the commute is running up the stairs, there’s not much pre-processing that can take place. Give yourself 10-15 minutes before session to settle into the space you’ve chosen in which to have your session. Make sure the chair is comfortable, have water and tissues nearby, and use the potty before your session begins, as you would with an in-person session (and please – don’t use the potty during session. Your therapist will be more than happy to give you a few minutes to go and come back; trust me.)
Don’t be discouraged if the first teletherapy session doesn’t feel therapy-ish enough. There’s a learning curve, for all of us. It’s okay if a portion of your session is talking about the awkwardness of not being in the same room with your therapist. Believe me, we prefer face-to-face too. But I’ve found that the relationship, connection, and past therapy gains and insights can serve as a powerful foundation for a great teletherapy session. Think of that one friend you have who lives far away. You don’t see each other or talk often, but when you do get on the phone it’s like no time at all has passed and you can pick up the connection right where it left off. That’s because of the connection you share, and the same goes for you and your therapist. Personally, I know most of my clients so well that I can imagine which of their facial expressions are accompanying their words as they say them (and I love that)☺.
In sum: don’t quarantine yourself away from your therapist. It’s okay if you have enough support right now (or even enough chaos) that you want to take a break. Maybe COVID-19 is even an opportunity to take a longer break from therapy and practice the skills you’ve learned and consolidate the gains you’ve made in therapy so far. Something like this can be a natural and reasonable time to take some time away from therapy.
But: that’s not true for everyone. You know who you are…circumstances of being at home 24/7 with some of the very people you’ve been struggling with the most means that this might be a time of even more stress for you. Not to mention dealing with the potential financial, familial and health anxieties pretty much everyone is feeling these days. For you, the time with your therapist is needed now just as much if not more so. At a time of social distancing and isolation, connecting with someone who knows you well and deeply can be grounding and encouraging. And being home can make otherwise low-simmering issues boil up – scary maybe, but also an opportunity for growth and change, fast-tracked. Think of it as “high-efficiency” therapy. I’m winking at you btw.
So we’re here. I’m here. And yes, we really are all in this together. So let’s keep as much normalcy as we can – you still get the therapy support you want, and we therapists still get to care for you, which many of us feel is our life’s work and purpose. Win win!
“See” you soon. ☺