Here are some tips for getting the most out of your therapy sessions online
Counselling and psychotherapy sessions online enable you to enjoy all the benefits of therapy without leaving home. It became much more commonplace during the lockdowns, and many therapists are offering online sessions. This means you are no longer restricted by location or the need to travel, and you can work with the therapist of your choice rather than choosing from whoever is available locally. In my own practice, I have found that many of my clients who work with me online live in the local region (Plymouth, Devon) because they would like the option to meet with me in person when possible. Knowing that your therapist is nearby is reassuring and familiar.
I hold my sessions on Zoom and send you a private link for each individual meeting. Make sure you allow sufficient time to sort out any computer issues, for example you have sufficient battery. Practise so your camera on Zoom includes your head and shoulders. If your head is cut off, it is harder for your therapist to connect with you. Visual clues are an important part of the work, such as your posture, your gestures and your facial expression, so make sure there is good light on your face. If you have your back to a window then you may need a source of light to your side or in front of you. Check that your audio is working well, and use a headset if you need it. Check that you are happy about what your therapist can see the room behind you and change the view if you would prefer to.
It is helpful to have an agreement with your therapist about what you will do if there is a problem with the internet, or with your computer. If there are sound issues, sometimes these can be resolved by logging out of the session and then rejoining. If the internet fails, you may be able to connect by using your phone data, or indeed finish the rest of the session as a phone conversation on a phone app. If none of this works you will need to re-schedule. It’s good to know in advance what to do. Sometimes my internet signal fluctuates and I lose the connection, but usually if this happens then you can wait in the session until I come back, and we can exchange email/ text messages using our phones.
Ensure you are comfortable so you can relax and focus. You need tissues, a notebook and pen, and whatever diary, calendar app or planner you use to schedule the date of your next appointment. It is most important that you have privacy for your sessions and you will not be interrupted by another person or your phone. So don’t forget to tell everyone you are not available during this time. It can reduce the quality of your session if you are concerned that anyone could overhear you. One of the fundamentals of psychotherapy is privacy and confidentiality. It is not necessarily that you are saying anything you would not want others to hear, but in psychotherapy you explore your own mind and feelings freely without judgement, and you need the space to express feelings and thoughts that are new and unknown, and it would not benefit you to have to explain this to anyone.
The therapist responds to your whole embodied presence, and not just the words you say, which are only one part of what you communicate. In working online, there tends to be more emphasis on the words you exchange with one another, and so it is important to take time to just be in the session and not feel you must talk and fill every moment. The more subtle nuances of the conversation can be easily overlooked if you are focusing mainly on the content of the words said. It is just as important to take time to check in with how you feel in your body throughout the session, and allow your mind to let go.
Your therapy sessions need to be enjoyable and not stressful. You need to feel sufficiently safe and relaxed to allow your deep feelings to be present and to express them. This is one way in which online sessions can be more difficult as the therapist is not holding the physical space to help you feel contained and safe when difficult feelings emerge. The therapist may not be so fully and sensitively aware that feelings are beginning to emerge for you. Thus you need to work closely with the therapist when feelings arise, so that you do not push them away too quickly or rush past them and move on to a different subject!
If your psychotherapist is silent for a little while, don’t panic and think they are not there or not paying attention – they need time to pause, reflect and process their responses to you. This is a unique kind of conversation, where both of you need to take in and reflect upon what the other has said. The tendency in working online is to talk more, and then you may not in fact take it all in, and you will jump too quickly from one subject to the next. Writing down some important points as you go can help you take things in, and you can go over them later.
Online sessions work well, but you may need to learn how to get the most benefit from them. Although it can be an advantage not to have to travel to see your psychotherapist, it also means that you do not have a space of time between your session and your next activity unless you deliberately build it in. So don’t schedule anything immediately after your session, and if possible allow 90 minutes in your schedule for your session, not just the 50 or 60 minutes that your therapist provides, so that you are not immediately available to have a conversation with someone else or get something done the moment your session finishes. Take some quiet time and space with your journal, reflect upon how you feel, and let it all settle and integrate.