As the world has swirled into a frenzy around us we have been playing catch-up ever since. People have lost jobs, lost loved ones, or otherwise felt downright disoriented by the new world we live in. Here in Canada we seem to be better off than the rest of the world, but this hardly means we haven't been struggling. Anxiety levels are extremely high, we have been feeling disconnected from others, relationships have been strained, and we are still paralyzed by uncertainty. To minimize the spread of covid-19 as we found ourselves in a state of emergency, a staggering number of people suddenly found themselves working from home. I realized today that it has now been 4 months since I have seen a client in-person.
I've been working steadily from my home office providing remote virtual therapy sessions to clients new and old, individuals and couples since the end of March. This has been a transition for clients as well as a transition for me. My regulatory college, The College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) has mandated and continues to mandate that we continue with virtual therapy services whenever possible. On the occasion that it is not possible, they ask that we maintain proper safety measures including the use of a mask when social distancing is not possible. Through this unintended experiment, I've gained a few valuable insights worth sharing:
1) Virtual therapy works
There are always exceptions to any rule, and not all therapy will work for everyone, and any one therapist will not be the best fit for everyone. That said, people are still able to experience the benefits of therapy through a virtual platform provided they have a good therapeutic relationship with the therapist and feel they are being heard and supported.
2. In-person therapy is not ideal with a mask
You may have heard it said that a large part of communication is non-verbal. A huge part of the therapeutic process is feeling that sense of attunement from your therapist. Feeling understood, heard, and validated. This can be extremely difficult to feel and perceive when half of yours and the therapist's face is hidden. There is the added inconvenience of having to speak up and repeat oneself because of the barrier that the mask creates. I've learned that therapy can be of much better quality online being able to clearly see each other without barriers.
3. Virtual therapy can remove barriers
While avoidance is not a healthy approach to anxiety, we must acknowledge that we are currently facing some valid concerns regarding leaving the house and mitigating risk. Perhaps you have an elderly or otherwise at-risk loved-one at home or perhaps you are at-risk yourself. Therapy allows you to have access to support from the safety of your home. The benefit of virtual therapy extends beyond this current pandemic also; it allows you to find the right therapist for you, even if they are not in your town or city.
4. Virtual therapy can be draining for the therapist
Full disclosure here, virtual therapy takes a lot of work and energy for the therapist. The therapist must ensure they are taking the space to replenish themselves between sessions and set boundaries around their working hours as they are now working from home. This applies to anyone working from home, as the usual natural breaks such as travel time and lunch time are no longer a given and you must now self-monitor and regulate your day. Extended screen time can also be taxing when you're used to working with people face-to-face. I've learned that creating firm boundaries around my schedule and taking space for myself allows me to be the best that I can be for my clients. This is also something I encourage my clients to do so it is important that I lead by example.
5. Technical difficulties do happen
It's the nature of the beast. Sometimes the WiFi is slow, or the audio doesn't want to work. I've learned to be flexible and creative. If we can see each other but not hear each other, sometimes we will keep the video running on the app and will conduct the session on the phone for audio. Or sometimes we will just have a phone session while the client goes for a walk for some privacy. It is important to be willing to go with the flow to ensure we gain the most out of the session.
6. Your privacy is important
The ethical therapist will ensure your privacy is maintained, but you have to do your part as well. Many therapist colleagues of mine have children and have used creative scheduling and other techniques to ensure they will not be disturbed or overheard during your private session. We use locked doors, private rooms, and sound machines to ensure your confidentiality. You must also do your part to ensure a family member is not listening in on your sessions, so that you feel comfortable and free to be open. I use a virtual platform that is compatible with laptops and smartphones to make it easier to be portable and find a private spot.
7. Virtual therapy is not for everyone
Depending on your unique circumstances, virtual therapy may not feel like a good fit for you. That's fair and understandable. As I am following CRPO guidelines, I am only offering virtual therapy at this time except under very unique circumstances. I still have offices in both Barrie and Alliston, On and hope to re-unite with people in person soon. If you feel that virtual therapy is not preferred, I would encourage you to give it a try with the plan of returning to in-person as soon as is possible.
We are all learning and adapting as we go. This world is filled with challenges new and old, and if you're feeling overwhelmed, don't hesitate to reach out.