Building Counselors' Resilience to Zoom Fatigue
Practical steps to reduce the strain of online counseling.
Posted April 19, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
- In the past year, both the benefits and disadvantages of using online tools for counseling have become apparent.
- To reduce strain from online counseling, it can be helpful to adapt one's workspace to improve the work experience and reduce distractions.
- Throughout the workday, monitoring one's environment, taking steps to reduce physical and mental strain, and building-in breaks are important.
- At the end of the day, it can also be helpful to take the time to transition one's body and mind out of work.
For many counselors, the use of technology has become central to how we do our work over this past year. Because of this, I have become increasingly aware of the reality of Zoom fatigue , which can be applied to any type of technology. In addition to so much change while navigating the pandemic, it’s also useful to focus on the specific effects of the added time in front of a computer screen. Part of this process is weighing the rewards against the costs of doing online counseling.
We assess rewards both externally – in terms of time management, income, and opportunities – and internally – in our nervous system, body, and emotional well-being. When the scales tip toward more costs, we feel more fatigue. If the costs lessen and the rewards increase, the challenges can be invigorating and help us feel more alert, interested, and satisfied.
When I first shifted to providing online counseling sessions, I attributed a lot of the extra stress and how tired I felt to the number of external changes in my life overall. There were a lot of “costs,” but the reward was contributing to a collective effort of surviving the pandemic.
As time goes on, I’m realizing there is a specific layer of internal stress connected to the use of technology itself. However, I’m also starting to appreciate the benefits of this way of working more. This got me curious about tangible ways I can reduce stress and increase well-being and resilience through my telehealth work – how can I tip the scale so that the rewards of working with technology outweigh the costs?
The benefits or rewards of using online or telehealth platforms for counseling continue to be clear:
- Increased ease of accessibility for many people; bypassing mobility, geographical, and transportation barriers
- Increased flexibility for scheduling without the need for commuting
- Novel opportunities for client’s comfort in their own environment and giving them more choice
- Variety and flexibility in my own workday
The costs or challenges specific to using technology for this work have also become more apparent:
- Clinically, assessment and support of some mental health vulnerability is harder without as much access to body language or subtle shifts in voice tone and energy
- Technology glitches such as an unstable internet connection or the normal delays in communication can add to a feeling of disconnection
- Communication rhythms are slightly different, making it harder to understand and form responses; with more lag between people speaking, this can unconsciously add to a feeling of disconnection or result in interruptions and talking over each other; less mutual eye contact can also add to a feeling of disconnection
- Physical strain increases from sitting or being in one spot; strain on eyes from looking at a screen for so long; strain from trying to hear and listen well when navigating fluctuating sound levels and the shifts in the rhythm of the conversation
What are small, tangible steps that can make technology more user-friendly? How can we use it to support our work rather than wrestling with it while we try to support others? How can we reduce some of the felt costs of using technology to capitalize on the positive opportunities it can offer? How can we increase work satisfaction and overall well-being? I’ve started to think about this in three different stages of a workday.
Stage 1: Going to Work
Taking some steps to prepare myself, my environment, and my processes helps lessen fatigue and promote ease.
A workspace that supports you and the work
- This includes the physical layout of the space, such as good lighting that shows your face but doesn’t shine in your eyes. This also supports clients to be able to better read your facial expressions and body language. Having pleasant surroundings such as plants, pictures, and colors that you like, along with a generally orderly space, can also improve you and your client’s online counseling experience.
Managing potential distractions
- This includes turning off your other devices so you can focus on your clients. Communicating with your family so they know when you need privacy and no interruptions also allows you to feel more focused.
- Arranging your screen so it is eye level and allows eye contact to be more possible without leaning forward will help you engage with the client more fully. Good support for your back and the option to stand or sit allows physical flexibility.
Adapting informed consent forms
- Orienting clients to consider similar steps for their own environment and contribute to a private, focused space sets the stage for more successful and satisfying sessions.
- Thinking through and articulating a plan for crisis support when you are meeting online is helpful to discuss ahead of time.
Stage 2: Doing the Work
Practical steps for using technology to support the clinical work can greatly ease the fatigue.
Collaboratively monitor your environment
- Together discuss distance from the camera, privacy, and troubleshoot challenges such as managing pets or other needs that might arise from being in one’s home.
- If counseling children or youth, include conversations with other family members to help with setting up their environment and to check in on technical challenges.
Reduce physical and mental strain
- Some prefer to turn their video off so it is less distracting, while others find it useful to use the video of themselves to deepen their awareness of presence and facial expressions. Choosing what fits for you can make this more of a tool rather than an assumed part of the technology.
- Consider using headphones if that helps you hear more clearly. It can also free up energy lost from straining to hear or managing fluctuating audio levels.
- Schedule time to move during the day. This might be between sessions or meetings when you go up and down some stairs, or even during sessions by doing some stretching, movement, and physical grounding.
- Ensuring there is time to unwind, shift your attention, and absorb your day is key to building resilience.
- Consider the weight of your work – some sessions are more emotionally taxing, and you may need time to process them.
- During sessions, use your environment to look out a window occasionally or reflect on a painting. This is consistent with how we would be in person – we look around occasionally to orient ourselves within our environment. This helps us reflect, integrate, and regulate.
Stage 3: Leaving Work
Even though I am working in my home, I have come to realize the importance of the transition out of work and the impact of technology.
- Do eye care. Close your eyes and slowly rotate your gaze like a clock. Slowly continue until your eyes can make a fluid circular motion. This is very relaxing for the inner eye muscles.
- Place your palms over your closed eyes and lean forward. Imagine you are allowing your eyes to relax. This supports the deep eye muscles.
- Exercise in a way you enjoy. Move your body and open up your posture.
- Practice keeping your attention in the present and over the short term to manage external stress. Each day identify what you can be grateful for and something tech-free to look forward to, such as food you’ll eat, a conversation with a friend, or a creative hobby. Considering and limiting your overall screen time, including social media, television, and using your smartphone, can also help.
- Have a clear end to the workday. Working from home can make it too easy to answer one more email or do a few more tasks. Give yourself a clear sense of being “off.”
Social and Emotional
- Tap into your own support. Talking to others who will listen to you whether in a formal or informal way is so important. Give yourself a chance to empty out what you’ve absorbed from the day. It may be helpful to do this using a different modality. If you are using a video platform all day, pick up the phone or go for a walk and talk.
As technology becomes more central in my counseling practice, learning small steps to shift it to be a positive tool as part of my workflow can help the work feel more rewarding overall. Shifting to a proactive stance of managing how I use technology makes it feel more like an asset to my practice rather than something I tolerate. These small steps are important contributors to my overall resilience as a counselor.