Virtual counseling sessions are just like in-person sessions in so many ways – what you’ll talk about, how your therapist will work with you and engage you, etc. But remote counseling has some nuances that can really disrupt the work and are different than in-person counseling. Sometimes they’re more subtle and we almost don’t notice until it’s too late, and other times the differences are glaringly obvious.
It’s been over three years now since COVID started, which means it’s been more than three years of entirely virtual counseling sessions and then 50/50 in person and virtual. Over that time, I’ve come up with a few tips for remote counseling sessions that I like all my virtual clients to think about:
1. Get comfy and be somewhere that you can relax! I’ve noticed that when clients take our sessions from, say, their car in a parking lot, our conversations are different. There’s a sense of wanting to hurry and jump off and get to the next thing. I suspect this is because when we’re in the car we feel liek we’re ready to move on to what’s next and get driving. Also, if we’re less cozy and comfy, we want to wrap up and go somewhere that we can be more relaxed.
I always recommend perching on a cozy couch with your computer on the coffee table, or sitting on your bed or something equally comfortable. Move away from spaces that already have a different energy – say, your work desk.
2. Minimize distractions. Of course sometimes we have our pets (I’m guilty of this too!) but the more we can minimize our distractions – people coming in out of the space, being loud outside the door, work computer notifications, etc. – the more we can focus. These distractions tend to not enter the in-person therapy room, and it’s helpful to eliminate them for telehealth sessions too.
3. Give yourself 5-10 minutes before and after session. In person sessions have a waiting room, which serves as a liminal space in which you can mentally prepare for the change in energy and focus. If you’re already on your computer, you may be switching immediately from work, email, etc. without giving your mind and your body time to “switch” to therapy.
4. Tech problems happen, so rather than saying “make sure you have a good internet connection” I’ll say – *have a backup plan*. Even when we have good internet, it sometimes gets choppy or drops for a minute or more. A great backup plan could be tethering to your phone or using your phone and the Simple Practice video app to continue our session. If issues arise and you’re not popping back into our room (or I’m not!), I’ll text or email you, depending on the contact permissions in your file.
5. Hide your self-view. (I often do this too.) Watching yourself on camera for an hour – especially as you talk about difficult topics or share personal info and feelings – is distracting. We get bothered by the hairs that are out of place or how red our nose looks today. Watching ourselves could also make us feel more self conscious and thus less likely to actually share candidly or honestly. I promise I’m less concerned about your skin and more concerned about the facial expressions and body language I see – just like in person.
6. Think about the lighting + environment. If it’s hard to see your screen or the lighting makes it difficult to see your face, we’ll both be struggling to communicate effectively. We’ll probably also be distracted. Same goes if you’re outside and it’s windy, for example. I’ll make sure that you can see me well, and it’s helpful if I can see you well too.
7. It’s okay when these things go awry! We can’t necessarily do all these things every session – sometimes it’s more important to have therapy at all than to have a “perfect” remote therapy setting. We can be kind to ourselves and know we did our best.
I’ve seen many other tips out there as well but I find that many of the recommendations for virtual sessions actually apply to in-person sessions too. Check out my thoughts on why you’re not getting enough out of therapy.
Questions? Ideas? Feedback? I want to hear from you – let’s chat.