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Online Therapy - busting the myths!

Well I had planned to write a blog about therapy online. I had it all planned out - as you know, I aim to demystify therapy to make it more accessible for people. I know some feel uncomfortable with online therapy and I wanted to let people know what it was really like.

However, after this evening's announcement about another national lockdown, I feel the need to change the tone of this blog. I, like many of us, feel deflated. I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs, who should have done what and when as I feel it is not appropriate for me to discuss this and also, it probably isn't really important. What is important is all our mental health through this difficult time.

I guess it makes it even more important to share this blog about online therapy. This blog is not a sales pitch - it really is about opening up the opportunity for people to get support. If you are struggling, I really hope that this blog will help you find the confidence to reach out and find that therapist for you. Despite lockdowns, online therapy really can help you.

So I guess this is where I continue with where I had intended to start with this blog. At the start of the year, it felt like a very ordinary year. I was seeing clients face to face in my newly built therapy room that I put lots of love into (especially the colour scheme!). Things were good! We heard about some weird virus far far away and felt lucky that we weren't affected by it and weren't in a 'lockdown' whatever that was.

Then in March (or maybe even sooner), Covid arrived at our shores. That is when everything changed and we went into a full lockdown. It is a strange and anxious time for everyone, but as a therapist, I worried about the impact it would have on my clients. How would we continue the sessions? How could we continue the good work we had done? I could no longer see anyone face to face and this saddened me immensely.

Then I heard about online therapy and it was the first time I had ever heard of Zoom (which resulted in me singing the 'Zoom' song for weeks, showing my age, I know). I was not sure about this. You have heard me talk about how important the relationship is. How can that still continue through the barrier of a screen? How can we feel the energy in the room? Human contact is so important and I genuinely worried about what would happen.

So, grudgingly, I looked into Zoom. I didn't know how the bloody thing worked and I didnt know how capable I was. Slowly but surely, I began to learn about Zoom. I reached out to my fellow counsellors to learn more. I followed guidance from my membership body. I started completing courses that taught me all about online working. How to adapt my contract, how to ensure the privacy of my clients, internet security, the differences between face to face and online.

And then I practiced - I had actually anticipated the lockdown before it happened. I asked a family member to also download Zoom so we could try it out. This did not go well (family member you know who you are!!) but after some frustrations, we finally got there. I also asked my supervisor if we could do our supervision session on Zoom. This actually went really well! We practiced switching on the camera, the microphone, the waiting room function as well as sharing screens. My confidence level started to pick up.

I was so pleased that I did this, because not long after we went into full on lockdown. I was no longer able to see my clients face to face. So we had no option but to move online. I will be honest with you, I was still a little wary and worried about not having the connection.

But you know what, I actually grew to start liking it. The connection was still there (well the human connection, the wifi wasn't quite there until I got a booster box). I found that my clients were actually really comfortable as they were in their home environment. There is sometimes a concern around privacy and clients finding a space where they feel that they won't be overheard. But once that location is found (even in cars), that worry quickly fades away.

It also increases flexibility. Clients didn't have to factor in travel time. All they had to do was grab their phone. They didn't have to step out in the rainy grey days. In the hot summer months, they didn't have to jump in their car and spend an hour in someone else's hot room.

It meant that for some, they could attend sessions after their kids were in bed, without the worry of their partner not getting back from work on time.

Online therapy can also help clients to find the right therapist for them - location is no longer an issue. So clients are no longer restricted to a therapist within a certain distance. If you are looking for a therapist with a particular specialism, it doesn't matter if that therapist is 100 miles away! You may have heard a friend recommend a therapist who may be the other end of the country - you can now access them! Also some clients may have physical limitations which means travelling to a therapist is near on impossible. So online therapy suddenly opens up a whole new world to them.

I actually really started to enjoy the benefits that online therapy would bring. I have done some fantastic work with clients online. We still have those emotional sessions, and I am still able to pick up on those emotions despite being across a screen. I also think that we have all really moved on from a year ago. We are all connecting with our loved ones in different ways. We are even having birthday parties on Zoom or Facetime. So actually we are all becoming more adept at this online stuff.

I know many of you will be feeling anxious about this new lockdown. You will wonder how it will impact on your job. Maybe how it will impact on your family and friendships. It has been a really tough year and you may not have been able to see much of your family so this new lockdown is particularly hard to take. Maybe you are just left with that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach and you are struggling to process those feelings.

I would say to you, please do reach out. The support is there. There are many of us therapists working online. If you are wary about online work, let me reassure you - I will be doing my absolute best to make sure that you get the most out of therapy that you would from face to face therapy. I would suggest that you just give it a try - you don't have to commit to months on online work. Just have a couple of sessions and see how you go. You may end up like me and actually be pleasantly surprised.

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