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Online Therapy: 10 Telehealth tips from an Online Psychologist

Lady talking to her psychologist online

As a result of COVID-19 and physical distancing measures, many people are now using telehealth or video conferencing to see their psychologist. As a team we have been fortunate in this transition as our psychologists are familiar with online therapy and from a technical perspective it was a smooth transition. However, we have noticed that online psychology has been different in the past month for clients transitioning online for the first time, versus what online therapy was like for our clients prior to COVID-19. 

As a team we recently reflected on this change. We recognise that previously our clients chose online psychology appointments over face-to-face therapy, whereas this recent change has for the most part been thrust on many people. There are also a number of unique challenges in COVID-19, one of the biggest being that our household is at home- partners, children, parents, housemates.. 

We want to make sure you get the most out of your online psychology appointments so we have identified 10 tips we want to share with you to ensure you make the most of your online therapy sessions. . 

1. Prepare for your online psychology appointment

Take 15 minutes the day before or the day of your online psychology appointment to reflect- what do you want to talk about? What do you want to get out of your online psychology appointment? One of the things we also reflected on this week was the overall reduced ability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions, and increased feelings of overwhelm. Allow yourself a little time to gather your thoughts and prepare for your session.

2. Get ready and go to your appointment with your psychologist online

For many of you it is not possible or safe to attend a face-to-face appointment- so no this doesn’t mean getting in the car and driving away (although we have had some sessions in parked cars in driveways). We suggest you go through the same process that you normally would for your psychology session. Have a shower, get dressed, get prepared and leave for your online psychology appointment (whether that means leaving to go to the next room). This process helps you get mentally and emotionally prepared for your online psychology session. 

3. Choose a time that works for your online psychology session

This will be different for everyone. Maybe you are finding that by the end of the day you are tired after a day of online work meetings, it may be better to move your online psychology appointment to earlier in the day. If you have small children maybe have your online therapy session during nap time, or choose a time when they are happy to settle with a show. Or perhaps the best time to speak to your online psychologist is when your household is out for their daily walk. 

4. Choose the right space for your online psychology session

One of the most important aspects of therapy is it provides a safe space for you to share your feelings, thoughts and experiences. It is important to create a space at home that offers a similar feeling of safety for your telehealth appointment. 

Ensure you are out of earshot from other household members. This may require some creativity. Choose a room at the other end of the house and if possible ask household members to stay at the opposite end. If your housemates don’t know you are seeing an online psychologist you could tell them it’s a telehealth doctor appointment, a work meeting, or a personal conversation with a friend. Some other tips for sound proofing- seal your door (e.g., draft stoppers) or place a speaker outside your door and play some calming music or white noise. 

5. Set yourself up with the right equipment for online psychology

Ideally, if you have a laptop use your laptop. Set it up so the camera is well placed at eye level. Even if you are using a phone or tablet, set them up on a desk, table or side table the same way you would a laptop. This way you don't have to hold the device during session. Make sure there is enough lighting and there is no outside glare. Use ear phones to reduce background noise and decrease the likelihood others will hear the content of your online psychology session.

home office setup online psychologist

6. Reduce distractions so you can focus on your session with your psychologist online

Before you begin your telehealth session , close all the apps and email accounts on your devices. Turn off notifications so that reminders and messages are not popping up during your online psychology appointment. If you have children and no one is able to watch them try and set them up with a favourite movie or some other safe distraction. 

7. Re-create your therapy room for your online psychology session

Give yourself the creature comforts offered at a psychology appointment. Set yourself up in a comfortable chair, maybe with a cushion Make sure you have a box of tissues and glass of water. 

Make yourself a nice warm cup of tea in preparation for your online psychology session. Where possible sit still, as opposed to walking around the house. A therapy session is different to a facetime call with friends and requires your full attention. Of course it is absolutely fine to go check on children, but where possible try and allow yourself the same stillness you would access in a  therapy room.

8. Transition from your online psychology appointment to home

Normally when you attend an appointment there is a transition into and out of therapy. You may use the time waiting in reception to reflect on what you want to discuss in the appointment. On the drive home you may let out emotion, put some music on to lift your mood, or stop by the beach to reflect. Allow yourself this same transition time following your online psychology session. Go for a walk after your telehealth session, lay on the floor and listen to some music, or take a moment to write down thoughts. Allow yourself the time and space to transition.

9. Online psychology isn’t for everyone

Online therapy is a great medium for lots of people to access the support they need both within the current environment and outside of it. BUT please know online psychology sessions are not the right therapy for everyone. For some people it is not safe to talk to an online psychologist from home.  For others it may be too overwhelming to talk about traumatic experiences without having their therapist in the room. 

Seeing your psychologist online will be a transition for most people and it will take a little getting to. However, if it is not working for you please talk to your online psychologist. They will support you to get the help you need. We, like most practices have some psychologists who are offering face-to-face appointments in these instances. Your safety and well-being is our priority so please share your experience with your online psychologist and they will support you to access appropriate face-to-face support. 

10. Prioritise your mental health

You will have heard much discussion from our leaders and in the media about the importance of mental health. When we experience stressful events we quite often go into coping modes. For example we know in a disaster people are focused on their basic safety needs e.g., when the bushfires occurred the immediate need was physical safety and basic needs such as food, finances, shelter. 

As these physiological needs are met and the immediate risk passes then people begin to seek mental health support. As psychologists we know that quite often people will not seek our support during the days of the disaster but in the weeks and months to come.

COVID-19 is different. We know that the stressful event (e.g., job loss, financial stressors, isolation, grief, health fears) and the threat itself may last for months. It is important that you don’t put your current therapy on hold or hold off accessing support. Prevention and early intervention is our best weapon not only in fighting COVID-19 through physical distancing but also in mental health prevention by accessing the emotional support we need now so that when the restrictions are lifted we are all able to return to life mentally well. 

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Prioritise your mental health and general wellbeing.
We hope this helps you to get the most out of your appointments with your online psychologist.
Remember you may be physically alone but we are all in this together. Help is only a few clicks away.

Mental health: people watching sunset