I exclusively provide counseling via telehealth. Though COVID prompted transitioning online in 2020, telehealth has significant benefits beyond preventing the spread of communicable diseases, including convenience and access to care. Thanks to telehealth, my clientele live all over Michigan and I’ve developed a niche in providing IFS care to mental health professionals throughout the state.
As with all change, gains come alongside losses. Losing the safe container of the therapy office can have a significant impact on the work. Below are some guidelines to follow in order to create your own safe container at home and make the most of our sessions.
How to Make the Most of Your Telehealth Session
Creating privacy within shared spaces
Questions to ask: Am I able to be somewhere alone? Do I feel safe to speak openly about personal information?
Steps to take: If you live in a shared space, consider asking loved ones if they can be elsewhere during your hour-long sessions. Sometimes that isn’t possible. Using headphones and placing a sound machine by the door can help increase privacy.
Where to set up the session
Questions: Where can I place my electronic device and sit with comfort? How’s the temperature in the room? The ambient noise?
Steps: Desks and tables are the most successful place to set up therapy. Find a stable spot for your computer or device, and a comfortable seat for your body. Notice if your body has any additional needs around temperature and comfort, and if the noise and lighting are conducive to focused work.
Strong internet connection
Question: What do I need to do to ensure a strong internet connection?
Steps: Consider buying an ethernet cable and an adapter, so you can plug your laptop directly into the internet. This creates a stronger, more stable connection than using Wi-Fi.
Restart computers and devices
Question: When is the last time I restarted the device that I plan to do therapy on?
Steps: Restart your device prior to session. Restarting electronics improves their functioning.
Use a separate browser
Question: What can I see on the screen while I’m in session?
Steps: Open the telehealth session on a separate browser, so you cannot see tabs for email or other websites. Maximize the image so that it fills the entire screen.
Turn off notifications
Question: What push notifications might come in while I’m in session?
Steps: Disable email and app notifications on the device you’re using for the session.
Turn phones and smart watches to airplane mode or do not disturb
Question: What other devices on my body or around my space might alert me to notifications while in session?
Steps: Best practice is to turn these devices to airplane mode or do not disturb and set them on the other side of the room. Parts of us are trained to check our devices, so even having them on our body can be a distraction. I personally plug my phone into an outlet across the room and treat it like a (silenced) landline while at work.
Keep your phone nearby
Questions: If our connection drops, how will my therapist contact me? If we’re having audio issues, what’s an alternate way to connect?
Steps: While phones are a distraction, they’re also an incredible tool. Please keep your phone charged and nearby. If our connection drops, I will first attempt to call you before sending an email. If for some reason our audio isn’t strong, we’ll use the telehealth platform for video and supplement audio through our phones.
Creating space from pets
Question: In addition to human interruptions, are there any pets in my space who might seek attention during session?
Steps: As an animal lover, I totally get wanting to have your cat or dog in the room during counseling. With that said, pets can sometimes create more distraction than benefit, and it may be best to be in a space separate from pets during the hour-long session.
Give buffer time before and after session
Question: What do I do right before and after session?
Steps: Back when people drove to attend in-person sessions, the car ride to and from counseling provided a natural buffer time for transition. Now clients can pop into session in an instant and have lost the built-in time to mentally prepare for session. Plan to create a routine of spending ten minutes settling in and getting ready for counseling before our meeting. That might mean taking deep breaths, reviewing any notes you have from last week, getting a glass of water and having a snack, or stretching your body to relax and create comfort. After the session, I encourage you to take ten minutes to journal about your experience. What stood out to you about counseling that day? What do you want to remember from the session?
Speak for your emotions
Questions: Am I experiencing emotions in my body that my therapist seems to miss? Am I ever hoping my therapist might not notice that I’m feeling sad or upset while we’re talking?
Steps: Another loss with telehealth is that I cannot see your whole body and will have a harder time reading your body language. In order to stay attuned, it’s really important for you to speak for your emotions, letting me know when sadness or other quiet feelings of vulnerability come in. Telehealth requires a lot of good, explicit communication.