Virtual Counseling During a Pandemic
To help prevent the spread and transmission of COVID-19, social distancing has been recommended by the CDC whenever possible. While social distancing is an important measure meant to protect our physical health, it has wreaked havoc on the schedules of mental health professionals and patients alike as routine, in-person counseling sessions have made the shift to virtual.
Meeting virtually isn’t the same as meeting in-person, so it may feel a little uncomfortable or strange as you adjust. Here are some tips and insights that may help you adjust more smoothly. There are also some benefits to virtual counseling that may surprise you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Your Therapist Questions and Make a Plan
Before you agree to online counseling, ask your therapist how they will be providing treatment. Can you also speak over the phone? Will you need to have access to a webcam? Can you send emails or texts? Ask your therapist about any concerns you may have – they should be happy to have a conversation with you and help you develop a plan that makes you feel safe.
You should also discuss what you’ll do if any problems occur during your virtual therapy appointment. You may encounter technical glitches, but you may also notice that your progress is slowing or that your appointments are less effective than usual. If this is the case, you may need to consider a new approach – or possibly a new therapist.
Have a candid conversation with your therapist about any challenges you might encounter during tele-counseling and make a plan for how you can safely address them as they arise. Talking about your plan beforehand will help you feel more confident and less stressed about speaking up if something does feel off.
The Benefits of Virtual Counseling
It’s possible that you may enjoy online therapy – you may even end up liking it better than your in-person sessions. Many people find it easier to keep their appointments when they don’t have to commute. It’s also nice to not have to worry about what you’re wearing and you can take your appointment curled up on the couch – or even snuggled in bed – while you chat with your therapist. This is a very attractive benefit for those of us who struggle with social anxiety or depression. It gives you fewer excuses to miss your appointment.
You may also find that your therapist’s hours are more flexible as a result of changing patient schedules and not having to commute. That means your appointments are more on your schedule which also makes it easier to attend and keep up with.
Some people find it easier to be forthcoming about embarrassing or difficult thoughts or emotional issues during virtual counseling. The separation of the screen gives you a layer of protection psychologically and makes it feel a little less real and therefore less anxiety-inducing. You may find that you’re talking more freely during your tele-counseling appointment, which can advance your progress significantly.
Prepare Yourself for the Absence of Body Language
One thing that can be very jarring for patients and therapists alike during virtual counseling is the absence of non-verbal cues like body language. You’ll still be able to see one another’s facial expressions if you’re talking via video chat, but not being able to see one another’s body language can feel like a disconnect – especially if you’re used to seeing them in person.
If you start to feel unsure of your therapist’s reactions or you feel like they are misreading you, speak up about it. If your therapist is missing vital visual cues about your emotional state, try to correct that with feeling statements. “I feel disconnected,” “I feel sad,” “I feel uncomfortable.” A good therapist will work with you to explore and resolve those feelings. If you notice a feeling of disconnect through several appointments, it may be time to consider a new therapist.
Not All Types of Therapy Work Well Virtually
While traditional forms of therapy like talk therapy, marriage counseling, and CBT can work very well virtually, some forms of treatment just weren’t designed to be completed online. Hypnotherapy, EMDR, sand-tray therapy, and other tangible, physical therapies are very challenging to do well virtually. Talk to your therapist about the type of therapy you are receiving and how well it will work online.
If you have questions about virtual counseling, contact Chenal Family Therapy. We have a whole team of virtual counselors waiting to work with you!