Like so many of my fellow therapists, I had heard great things about online therapy, but until Coronavirus hit, I had never tried it out. In order to continue providing care for my clients, I had to figure out all of the logistics of online therapy in a jiffy. There are different forms that need to be signed, choosing the right program that provides encrypted confidentiality for the clients and teaching the clients how to use it. After a few days of research and getting set up, meeting online turned out to be a pretty simple process both for my clients and myself. I see individuals, couples and also provide group therapy. How, I wondered, would the computer screen affect all of these relationships?
The first challenge was seeing my own face on the screen. Oh, my gosh. My hair looks so much better in the mirror than it looks on screen. Ordinarily, most of us don’t see ourselves when we talk. So it can be quite distracting to see yourself at first. When I figured out how to change the setting so that my client’s face filled the screen instead of mine, it was much better. And then there’s the problem of the light reflecting off my reading glasses! I worried that my clients wouldn’t be able to see my eyes when I was talking to them. My greatest concern was that the online therapy would feel cold and distant instead of the warm connection that I aspire to create when talking with clients. But I have found that it is possible to have an intimate conversation online.
In addition to the concerns about personal disconnection, online therapy provides the opportunity to experience technical disconnection. When the internet goes out and a screen goes blank it can stir real feelings of abandonment or distrust of attachment. Amazingly, though, this has led to deep and intimate conversations about those very issues. Thankfully, technical disruptions are infrequent.
The greatest opportunity that online therapy provides is the opportunity to maintain the relationship throughout this period of social distancing and disconnection. For many of my clients, the consistency of this connection is a cornerstone of their week, giving them an opportunity to sort through their feelings and experiences of this unprecedented time.
In addition to individual and couple’s therapy, I also facilitate a therapy group online. This has been a wonderful experience for the group members to be able to continue to meet with each other and go through this pandemic experience together.
In some circumstances, online therapy might be a safer space for communication than an in-person session. In relationships where there’s a high degree of tension or anxiety about the other’s reactions, the physical distance might give the participants more freedom to risk saying the unpleasant truths they might ordinarily suppress.
Another interesting aspect of online therapy is that my clients and I have been able to learn a little more about each other by seeing a bit of each other’s living spaces. I’ve met client’s pets, gotten a tour of their work space and shared the art work on my wall.
Would I choose online therapy over face-to-face therapy ongoing?
Probably not. I like to see my clients in person in the same way that I like to see my friends and family in person. But I also feel this more keenly now when I can’t see anyone but my immediate family in person. When we are back to getting our need for physical proximity to others met in daily life, then perhaps it would be satisfying to have some relationships be solely online. And for some, due to physical limitations, work schedules, or geographic limitations, online therapy may be the only way to do this work. I’m happy to report after a month of doing online therapy, that it’s a pretty darn good option.
If you’re interested in counseling, contact Rena Pollak, LMFT for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I have a private practice in Encino where I see individuals, couples and also provide group therapy.
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