by Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C and Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D.
Many people feel uncertain about teletherapy, including worries about what this process will be like. Yet the COVID-19 situation has elevated stress levels with a need for increased emotional support and a way to build effective coping strategies. Here are some ideas to help make teletherapy effective for you, whether you are currently in therapy, are returning to therapy, or are seeking treatment for the first time.
1. Talk with your therapist. Speak up. Your therapist understands teletherapy is a different experience from in-office meetings. Discussing questions and concerns with your therapist allows you to become more comfortable with the new format and helps make the most of treatment.
2. Set up a private therapy space. Take the time to envision where you want to have teletherapy appointments. Priority should be given to finding a space that allows speaking privately and undisturbed. This might be a relaxing space in your home or a peaceful place in your car.
3. Re-evaluate your therapy goals. COVID-19 has created a temporary shift from speaking about longer-term goals to working on more immediate challenges of adjusting to the current crisis. Anxiety, boredom, agitation, and disappointment are just some of the feeling states people experience when faced with a sudden and on-going cataclysmic event. Managing and learning to tolerate these feelings becomes the focus of clinical work.
Betty*, a 50-year-old mother of two, began therapy last year as her youngest child was leaving for college. About to become an “empty nester,” anticipating it brought up feelings of sadness and mourning about the change, but also excitement for new freedom and personal opportunities. Over the course of treatment, Betty became increasingly comfortable with the long separations from her child. In therapy, she began exploring possibilities that would come along with the shift in her role, including new and improved ways to connect with her husband.
All this changed with the pandemic. Betty’s focus in therapy abruptly shifted to the immediate readjustment of her children returning home. Re-establishing living together with her children, while trying to maintain some of her new-found freedoms, became the area of clinical focus in what was now, her teletherapy. This transition provided Betty with the continued emotional support she needed to manage all of the feelings associated with the pandemic, including learning how to find a balance between renewed family life and her own personal space.
4. Collaborate with your therapist. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Active and ongoing participation in your teletherapy is essential. From bringing up topics in the moment to establishing the goals of your treatment, you and your therapist are working in partnership. The therapist’s expertise will serve as a guide to tailoring the treatment to best suit your personal interests.
5. Prioritize YOU. Take advantage of the current stay-at-home status and teletherapy’s flexibility to prioritize your emotional needs. If you have been thinking about starting therapy or increasing the frequency of sessions, consider doing so now. Discuss with your therapist the potential gains of each. We are living under a great deal of stress at the moment and access to mental health treatment is more accessible. Carpe Diem!
6. Tune in. Teletherapy provides opportunities to “tune in” to your emotional life in ways you may not have thought of before. For example, dreams, said by Freud to be the royal road to the unconscious, are rich with meaning and can serve as a springboard to a better self-understanding. Feeling shy about discussing your dreams? Good news: One advantage of teletherapy is turning off the video to avoid visual distractions, including looking at your therapist. This option may allow for greater freedom to say what you want to say in the moment, which is always important. Alternatively, seeing your therapist can also be comforting and create a feeling of safety to share more openly. Either way, teletherapy offers enhanced versatility, allowing tailoring of treatment in a manner that feels best to you.
Benefits of Teletherapy
- Improved stress management
- Enhanced mood
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Strengthened coping skills
- Greater confidence in decision making
- Increased support in relationships
Check Psychology Today’s directory of therapists for a professional near you.
*This example is a fictional character and is not based on any real individuals but does represent struggles common to many.
Mary FitzGerald, LCSW-C, is a licensed clinical social worker and psychoanalyst with a private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland where she provides both in-office and teletherapy services. Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland who works with adults in individual and couples therapy, and with parents and children.
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