Tele-therapy: Lessons From the Pandemic

It’s already been six weeks since we were last able to seen anyone in our offices. Everything has changed so quickly and we have all been left scrambling to learn how to function in our ever changing environments.

When I first started my counselling practice a couple of years ago, I offered video therapy in addition to office sessions. I believed that tele-therapy services could relieve some of the burden for those who have to travel to their therapy appointments. I also thought that during inclement weather, virtual sessions might be a useful option.

While there was some interest in the service, the astounding response at the time was that most people preferred to come for an in-person session even if that meant driving several hours to my office or postponing due to poor weather. The majority of people, presented with the choice, preferred meeting in-person to tele-therapy options.

And if I’m being honest, I preferred it too. Effective therapy requires a secure and trusting relationship to develop. And being able to share physical and emotional space with another person in close proximity seems to set the foundation for healing to occur. I decided to stop offering tele-therapy services at the time.

So when the pandemic began spreading across our province – and before the Emergency Measures Act was invoked – we started offering the option of virtual sessions again. I was not surprised that the majority of people chose to continue to attend in-person, with the understanding of the social distancing measures that were encouraged at the time. Others chose to postpone their appointments instead.

And then we were told to close our doors. No more options. It was virtual sessions or wait until the restrictions were lifted. Many people have transitioned to online therapy while others have continued to wait it out. As time goes on and the waiting becomes more uncertain, more and more people are returning to therapy through virtual means.

So over the past six weeks of being an exclusively online therapist, I wanted to offer a few insights for anyone who may still be on the fence about connecting this way. Although I remain hopeful that some restrictions may be lifted soon, I think virtual therapy may be preferable for the foreseeable future as the pandemic experience is likely to extend into the coming months. Here is a few of my initial thoughts and observations:

  1. Video sessions require much less time and planning to attend. Rather than having to budget extra time to travel to or from the office, virtual sessions start and finish exactly on your scheduled time. There is no traffic delays, being held up at work or rushing around to get to your appointment! In this sense, it takes a little less emotional energy to prepare for and attend a virtual session.
  2. Video sessions are as close as you can get to seeing each other in person safely. With physical distancing in effect, we are all a little depleted in our social networking. I experience a little bit of joy every time the screen loads and I see your face on my screen! It feels good to be connected again when there is so much disconnection in the world around us. I have contemplated whether I’d prefer to be sitting in the office with masks on and distancing between us or whether I’d prefer continue video sessions where I can see your faces up close. And the screen is becoming more and more appealing! As much as I miss in-person sessions, I would rather see your whole face than just your eyes peering over a mask.
  3. Video sessions are definitely not perfect! There are occasional glitches, disconnections, and disrupted communications – but we make it work. Video sessions require the collaboration of both parties to make it work and in my experience, the glitches have usually lead to shared problem solving or and even some laughter but never, ever frustration. Even the anxieties of logging on quickly subside once we get into conversation. I can actually forget that we aren’t together in person as the engagement of the session takes over.
  4. Video sessions are still “your” time. Yes, I may see your pets, your unmade bed and your children popping their head in from time-to-time. These sessions don’t have to flow the same way that your in-person sessions did. Much of the work during the pandemic is about stabilization and building resources in preparation for the days when we can carry on with some of the deeper healing that had begin during our pre-pandemic time together.
  5. Most of us don’t enjoy seeing ourselves on video! My hair has well passed the point of needing a cut and colour by now…I don’t much enjoy seeing my reflection these days either. But just like during in-person session, the initial heightened awareness of our image evaporates once we enter the familiarity of being connected in a meaningful way again.
  6. Not everyone has been keen to make the transition to virtual sessions but I haven’t had anyone try it once and not return for another session. The biggest hurdle is taking the first step but now that we are in it, I would even suggest that some people are starting to prefer virtual sessions. It may have not been our first choice but now that we are here, it really is okay.

If you are thinking about trying virtual sessions or have any comments or questions to share, please connect with us.

The days you are most uncomfortable are the days you learn most about yourself.

Mary L. Bean