Kristen Roman, Psy.D. | Director of the Young Adult Program
Whether you started therapy recently, or have been meeting with your therapist for years, transitioning to teletherapy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has likely shaken things up in terms of how you typically experience and participate in therapy. Therapists and clients alike have been navigating this transition over the past few weeks, and I decided to put together some tips based on what our team has learned so far. Below are some ideas for getting prepared for your online therapy sessions, as well as coping in general with this transition.
1. Spend time thinking about setup and location: Just like you may be figuring out your ideal working-from-home situation, take some time to consider a place in your living space that will be comfortable, private, and non-distracting to have your sessions. If possible, choose a place other than your bed to prompt a more active mindset than our bed typically does. Before your session, move work or other items that are likely to distract you out of the space. Most importantly, keep your phone and to-do lists out of sight during your session. Inform the people you live with that you’ll need uninterrupted time during the scheduled session.
2. Practice getting centered and resisting distractions: Most of us typically rely on the commute from work or home to help us transition from one environment to the therapy environment. In lieu of this, you might practice a mindfulness or grounding exercise that you’ve learned in therapy a few minutes before starting your session. For example, you might observe your breath or the sounds in the room for a few minutes before the session starts. You could also ask your therapist to start with an exercise like this if you have back-to-back calls leading up to your appointment. Then there’s the issue of resisting distractions during the session. Start by removing prompts for distraction by closing mail applications or turning off notifications on the device you’re using for the session. Try and steady your device on a sturdy surface, as moving the device around can be very distracting for the other person.
3. Get creative if needed: We have been blown away by some of our clients’ creative and flexible solutions to create privacy such as having sessions in their car or in a quiet place outside on the street. Others are making use of headphones and white noise to make their sessions as private as possible. We have discovered creative ways for submitting therapy homework electronically and have used virtual “white boards” to replace the usual in-person white boards that CBT therapists are known for. While we all can recognize these are not ideal circumstances, we’re finding that with a little creativity, most clients are getting the same benefits of therapy as they usually do. What an excellent practice of flexibility and embracing change!
4. Notice your thoughts: You may be focusing on the frustrating aspects of teletherapy or what’s missed when you can’t meet in-person with your therapist. Personally, I am trying to remind myself of how much harder this pandemic would be if we did not have the technology to facilitate teletherapy, and practice gratitude for the fact that we do have this option. I’m focusing on how it’s comforting to have continuity of therapy during a time of such change and loss, even if it may look different than our usual setup. Try and notice thoughts of rejecting reality (e.g., “This isn’t fair”) and replace them with radical acceptance of the facts (e.g., “I don’t like it. I can’t change it. I can accept it.”) I’ve learned that the Internet cutting out is a great time to practice my DBT reality acceptance skills like half-smile 🙂