A Therapist’s Guide to Making Virtual Therapy Work for You

Jen McCurdy
photo of woman sitting on bed with laptop and camera

I thrive on human connection. I love to feel the room. Hearing footsteps, smelling fragrances and scents, and even simply feeling the presence of another person ignites my curiosity and invites connection.

I am a talk therapist; I study the tiny movements and shifts of body and space and use that to interpret the conversation, sometimes even more than the spoken word. Oftentimes, I’m able to name the emotion of another without even hearing their words. Spoken word always matters, but our body brings the story to life.

Just a few months ago, I would not have expected my in-person psychotherapy practice to become exclusively virtual overnight. However, our recent global pandemic created the opportunity to try it out, like it or not!

I was skeptical at first, and a little scared, to be honest. I created a home office to appear as cozy as my office suite, including my diffuser, sound machine and soft lighting. The only visual difference in my space were my two dogs at my feet (the biggest supporters of quarantine-life ever).

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The first few weeks felt like a blur. I feel like it was a mixture between myself accepting and adapting to the collective trauma of a pandemic that both my clients and I were experiencing, as well as allowing my eyes to adjust to being on a screen all day. But then something clicked … I began to like and appreciate the virtual meetings and instant connection.

I’ve taken quite the journey with my clients these past few months. I’ve met their pets and partners, played trains and shared artwork. I’ve heard washing machines, dishwashers and toilets. And then I began to see something magical … my people are showing up as their true selves. They’re inviting me into their homes, asking to be a part of mine and to share this global experience while they continue to work on their own selves.

Therapy takes work. It’s a simple equation … the amount of time you’re willing to put into the therapeutic relationship directly impacts the success you will experience in therapy, and thereby transferring to life outside the sessions. We’ve been able to creatively embrace in-person therapy and design expectations and learn helpful skills. But in the land of virtual space, adaptation is key.

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Adjusting to the new platform is important to continue experiencing therapeutic success. Life was happening before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, and we’re now being asked to manage a global crisis while also navigating our own stuff. Finding the best way for this platform to work for you will give you the most optimal results.

Here are some tips to help you navigate your virtual therapy experience:

1. Create a healing space and make time for therapy.

Make a space in your home or office where you feel safe to explore your thoughts. Keep it quiet (if possible) and without unnecessary disruptions. If possible, pick a time that works well with your schedule and that of your household. While in session, silence your phone and all the other devices where people can reach you. It’s OK to be unreachable for a few moments. If you were originally a part of an in-person therapeutic relationship, what was it about that space that felt safe and cozy? A pillow, candle, scent, candy, sounds, window open or shut? Consider bringing something of that space into your own.

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2. Communicate.

Communicate your needs with your therapist, both in the moment and your overall goals. Life looks different now; we’re living and working in ways different than ever before. Come to therapy with some thoughts you wish to explore. Be mindful and keep track of your progress. Work on naming your emotions and bring them into the therapeutic dialogue, as conversing on screen or by voice is different than in person. A journal can be helpful to keep track of your thoughts and coping skills on a daily basis.

3. Life happens, even in therapy.

Be flexible. Sometimes the dog will bark, and the phone will ding. It’s all OK! Let life come, prepare for what you can and try not to stress over things you cannot control. Give yourself some grace (and your therapist, too).

4. Commit to your plan.

Therapy takes work. You are more likely to experience success in therapy if you are willing to put in the work. Make a plan to be proactive with your mental health between your sessions. Be proactive with your mental health. You are worth it!

Keep things in perspective as we all navigate this more innovative way of therapeutically working together. It takes everyone to work as a team to make this platform work. The therapeutic relationship can be nourished on any communication platform simply by both the therapist and the client bringing their full selves to the experience.

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