How to Get the Most from Teletherapy

Anyone who’s ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition knows how vital therapy can be. And even if you don’t currently see a therapist, you may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or other emotions that would be beneficial to work through with a professional. What do you do when you can’t make an in-person appointment? Use telemedicine.

Teletherapy allows you to connect with a licensed mental health professional over a video call and receive the same care you would in person. But since this is new for a lot of people—including providers—consider the following techniques to make the most of your remote therapy sessions.

Be sure you’re safe. Some therapists, but not all, use a HIPAA-compliant platform, rather than a public service like Zoom. This keeps your information private and safe, explains clinical psychologist Merva Gur, PhD. So ask what your provider uses, and be flexible. “If a patient’s internet service drops, we’ll speak on the phone until they’re back online,” she adds.

Give yourself a “commute.” If you see a therapist in person, you have the time to drive or commute there to allow your brain to shift from what you had been focusing on to what you want to work on in therapy. But when you’re working from home, it can be tempting to jump straight from a work call to therapy. Don’t. Take five or 10 minutes to get your laptop or phone set up for the session and also think about what’s happened since your last session. What challenges arose? How has your mood been? Gur tries to ask these kinds of questions at the beginning of a session to help patients transition, but not all providers do this. And even if yours does, it can help to first think these things through alone so you know what you hope to get from your meeting.

Strive for privacy. If you live in a tiny apartment with roommates or family, it may seem impossible to find seclusion for therapy. Do your best. Tell whomever you live with when you will need privacy. Consider asking your roommate to take a walk during that time, or if you have children and a partner, can they keep the kids busy so you don’t have to worry about them? If you don’t have a partner, or they aren’t available, can the baby’s nap time work? You can also see if anyone has noise-canceling headphones they can wear while you’re on the video call in the other room. And talk to your therapist, as most will be accommodating to your schedule.

Expect a change. Remote therapy will not be the same experience as therapy in an office. Your provider may ask more questions since they can’t tell, for instance, if you’ve lost or gained weight, which could be signs of depression or anxiety. If, however, any of their questions or comments discomfort you, bring it up, Gur says. “This is not the time to worry about hurting my feelings, and it’s a really good practice in asserting yourself.” You can gently ask something like, “Hmm, I’ve never heard you ask that before. I’m curious why you’d like to know that?”

Be open. Honesty is already important with therapy, as it leads to the most benefit. Now is the time to be even more open, because meeting over a video can ironically feel a bit disconnecting. “Talk about it,” Gur says. Working through these feelings may help you identify patterns in your life and then, with your therapist, you can develop tools to cope.

If you’re new, share all. “It can be difficult to start with a new therapist if you haven’t met them before,” Gur acknowledges. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start therapy for the first time by using teletherapy. Consider a site like Psychology Today or Good Therapy to search for providers, and check out their websites to learn how they work with clients. Many will offer a short, free phone call before your first appointment to be sure you feel they’re right for you.

Once you find the one, most will have an intake form. Be as detailed as possible. “Mine is 10 pages, and it really helps you to think about what’s going on in your life,” Gur says. “It’s super helpful right now to give me some sort of background so I can identify what would be most helpful to work on with a patient.”

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