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Therapy

How to Prepare for Your First Virtual Therapy Session

Understand the risks and benefits of online therapy.

Key points

  • Virtual therapy can be a beneficial option for many.
  • Understanding the limits of confidentiality and protection of your privacy is just as important in an online setting.
  • Prepare for sessions by establishing a safe place and a reliable internet connection.
  • Not all clinicians are equally comfortable working virtually; do not hesitate to ask questions to ensure you receive the best possible treatment.
Jess Bailey/Unsplash
Your computer may not initially seem like the most inviting therapy office, but with preparation, it may be even better.
Source: Jess Bailey/Unsplash

Today, we have gotten used to replacing many in-person meetings with video calls, and mental health care is one of many fields that have been changed by this shift. People are drawn to teletherapy not just for the convenience but also for the added comfort of doing therapy from their own homes. Being in a safe and familiar place may be less intimidating than venturing out to an office, and it removes the discomfort of potentially running into other patients in a waiting room. Virtual visits remove the hassle of driving to see a clinician, which may especially be a barrier for those in more rural areas, where treatment options are more sparse.

Yet, health care remains a complicated topic for virtual interactions for many reasons, and plenty of individuals may be hesitant to see a therapist in this setting. If you are considering seeing a therapist virtually, here are some pointers to make sure that you make the most of your virtual therapy sessions. Refer to this post for more general considerations before beginning therapy in any format.

1. Find a quiet, safe, and private location where you can have your therapy sessions.

It may be difficult to focus if you are distracted by other people or noises nearby. You do not want to worry that you may be overheard when talking about personal topics, particularly if the subjects of therapy are related to the people in your home (they usually are!). Get creative to find the right place—I have worked with several clients who have done sessions from the privacy of their cars.

2. As much as possible, try to ensure that you have a reliable internet connection.

Spending your sessions dealing with a poor connection wastes precious time and detracts from the continuity of the conversation. In the midst of discussing your most vulnerable concerns, you do not want to be interrupted by a lost connection. Come to your first sessions prepared with backup communication methods and a plan for how to reconnect with your therapist if the call does drop.

3. Create a plan for how to handle emergencies with your therapist.

If you become highly triggered or emotionally activated in session and then lose connection, what will be your plan of action? Your emergency plan can include backup phone numbers to call or text, or you can allow your therapist to reach out to your family or friends to support you.

4. Familiarize yourself with the informed consent policies of the clinician or organization you are working with.

Confidentiality is a critical element in the counseling relationship; it means you can trust that the information divulged within sessions will not be shared anywhere else. In virtual therapy settings, these policies are all the more important so that you know that you can trust the process.

5. Take time to learn the policies of the app you are using for sessions.

Virtual therapy often takes place via third-party applications used by the organization or the therapist you are seeing. When you sign your initial intake paperwork, you should be given access to the policies of this app, which should detail how your individual information is protected. If you have questions about the app your therapist uses, do not hesitate to ask.

6. Do not hesitate to ask your therapist about their own competency with virtual therapy.

Not all clinicians are equally comfortable with this format, and it can significantly impact their ability to work effectively with you. Your therapist should have previous experience providing services virtually and should be able to speak knowledgeably about the ways they tailor their sessions to teletherapy, and they should be familiar with the ethics and guidelines of telepsychology.

7. As you begin your first sessions, allow yourself some time to become comfortable with the format.

It may not feel immediately safe to open up and disclose personal details via video chat, but with some time, you are likely to get more used to it. Ultimately, if you do not enjoy therapy in a virtual setting, it is an entirely valid decision to choose to seek in-person sessions instead.

References

Fenichel M., Suler J., Barak A., Zelvin, E., Jones, G., Munro, K., Meunier, V., & Walker-Schmucker, W. (2002). Myths and realities of online clinical work. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5(5), 481–497.

Reynolds, D. J., Stiles, W. B., Bailer, A. J., & Hughes, M. R. (2013). Impact of exchanges and client–therapist alliance in online-text psychotherapy. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(5), 370-377.

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