Quick guide to online therapy for clients

Jules Haley online counselling

It seems that we are all having to be flexible, adaptable and creative due to this dreaded Coronavirus, and online therapy is one example. I’m thankful now that as a qualified online therapist I am comfortable in continuing to support my clients online, and yesterday I made the difficult decision to move all my practice online for now. It feels like the safest and most responsible option for me as someone with a chronic health condition. Since Johnson announced the move towards self-isolating and social distancing in London and across the UK, I have been busy reassuring clients and supporting other therapists with online working. I will be writing more blogs over the coming weeks to support clients, offering to continue to work online, and also letting people  know that it is of course ok to not work online too or to change your mind if things change in a week or too. And that when this has all passed, which it will, we will work together again.

It occurred to me today that, as we are all in this together, I would share my experiences and learning around online working more widely. This may be supportive for everyone, but it is mainly for my clients – current ones and new ones. I hope this will be helpful.

So here are some thoughts that are emerging for me around my experience of offering online therapy:

Online therapy just it isn’t for everyone. Not all clients, and not all therapists, want to work online especially on webcam/video. You may not want to be seen or to see yourself on screen – I know that I didn’t when I first started, but I did get used to it and now it feels fairly normal (if normal exists in these crazy-making times). If you live in a house share or a small flat, you may not have a safe and confidential space. I have worked with clients who were sitting in their cars as it was the only space available to them. You may not be confident using technology. You may just really want to work face-to-face and feel like online therapy is second rate. There are many reasons you might not want to work online; I really get that. But these days we bank online, shop online, date online, read our newspapers online, now more than ever we have to work online… why not try doing therapy online too?

Yes, it is different – there is less body language to read, and fewer personal cues and you may feel less connected at first. You might find it a bit surreal – as is the whole situation we are facing right now. Webcam is more like face-to-face working than any of the other online options, such as email, instant messenger and voice. But like all new things, with a little time and practice you can get used to it and stop noticing the distance. And after all, at the moment it is all we’ve got.

If you do decide to work online as a client there are a few things to consider:

Space – make sure you have a safe, confidential space where you will not be disturbed, and you may want to use headphones with a microphone to keep the conversation private. The therapist usually sets up their therapy room – I check that I have a bin, tissues and water, but this is different online. As a client you will have to prepare your own room –  make sure you still have tissues and a drink, that you are warm enough, and that the lasagne you just put in the oven is going to be ok for an hour. Therapists may not be able to use their therapy room at the moment and may need to relocate to new spaces, and you may not have any space in your house other than your bedroom so you may also want to check what is on display in the background – your washing up or toothbrush!

The relationship – it may feel odd working online, whether we have worked together for a while or only just started. It can be valuable to talk about how we are both finding the online experience. It’s important to just acknowledge that working online is different, and not seeing each other face-to-face may feel like a loss – that something is missing. It may not feel as real to meet online as it would if you were in person. But again, we can all get used to this with some time and practice.

Now let’s look at technology. Zoom is a popular choice at the moment, it is secure and safe for online therapy. How it works is that I send a link via email so all you do is click on it or cut and paste to your browser a couple of minutes before the session start time. I send out guidelines and details about a plan B if technology fails which given the high demand now is more likely. There are a few options for online therapy, not just webcam if this isn’t for you. If you don’t have a confidential space, then Instant Messenger / chat could be an option, as well as email or voice which is when we speak through Zoom but switch off the webcam. Traditional telephone calls work too of course.

If you would like to try online and you think that you may benefit from some counselling at this stressful time, drop me an email: jules@juleshaleycounselling.com

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