Getting the most from your telehealth appointment

March 31, 2020 | By More

Lisa Healy

Accredited Psychotherapist

We’ve been so impressed by the people we serve here in Evidence-Based Therapy Centre over the past few weeks, as they have made the transition to telehealth appointments. These are scary and uncertain times, and having your routines be disrupted and change can be unsettling. We are so proud of our clients for showing us again and again that they have the courage, capacity and skills to manage whatever challenges life throws their way.  

To all of you who have supported us to get our clinic up and running so that we can continue to support you remotely, we want you to know that you have been instrumental in helping us to feel more at ease and empowered in providing our service. Thank you all for your patience and willingness to stick with us as we evolve to meet your needs.

As we settle in to our new reality, we have been reflecting on how we can continue to provide a robust and effective service for you, and we realise that once again, we need to request your collaboration and support. In our clinic, we have the privilege of hosting you in what we hope is a safe and welcoming space. For now, while we close our doors to help to keep you and those who are vulnerable in our community safe, we would like to invite you to consider making some little changes that can help you to make the most of your time in therapy online.

We recognise that there is more to your session than just the time you spend with your therapist, and there’s more to the therapeutic space than just a chair. As we begin working together online, we would request that you take a little time to reflect on what the ingredients of a good therapy session are for you. We invite you to consult your own experience to check if there are any little choices you can make that will help you to engage as fully as possible with your session. 

Committing time to your well-being

When you attend your sessions in person rather than online, you’ll have had to spend time making your way to our clinic space. Whether by walking here, getting in the car or on public transport, there have been a set of actions that you’ve committed to that enable you to show up and do the work to care for your well-being. You’ll also have a set of actions again at the end of your session that help you return to your daily life, including the steps it takes to get home or back to work.

It’s important not to underestimate the impact of these little weekly rituals in helping you to establish a workable therapy routine. Maybe this is time you usually spend reflecting on the week since we’ve last spoken, or maybe it’s time you dedicate to checking what you most need to get from this session. Maybe that time at the end as you leave your session is time spent gathering your thoughts or caring for the parts of you that need it. It may even be that this is just time to switch off, listen to music or a podcast, and just take a break.

Now, many of us are working from home, or we are busy with childcare or housework (or being multitasking heroes!) right up to the moment we answer the call from our therapist. This can mean that we attend our sessions swept up in the details of whatever the most recent task was on our to-do list. We’re still getting our time with our therapists, but we are losing out on those vital moments of pre- and post-therapy engagement. 

This is an invitation to create a therapy routine that works for you. We’ve put together some tips on what might be helpful for you to try out. We’d love to hear from you about anything that you’ve tried that’s been helpful, so please make sure you take time to discuss this with your therapist. 

Getting set up

Contracting with the people sharing your space

It can feel very strange and vulnerable to make this transition to working online with your therapist. Maybe you’re living with family, or sharing space with housemates or friends, and you may be worried about being interrupted or being overheard. It can be helpful to sit down with the people you’re sharing your space with to discuss how you can navigate this, and agree on some workable solutions. It may be that you can reach some agreements and compromises that allow for reciprocal respect and care in your household.

Do you need your partner to take charge of childcare? Do you need an agreement from others that they allow you an hour of uninterrupted time? Do you need people to allow you some extra space to ensure you can speak freely without fear of being overheard? Do you need someone to keep your pets occupied?

If you are unsure how best to have these conversations, maybe this is something you can work on with your therapist in your next session. 

If you cannot reach a compromise, and you don’t feel you can get the privacy you need in your living space, can you get creative about where your online sessions take place? In the car; in a shed? Although these spaces are not ideal, it may temporarily facilitate you receiving the care you need.

Prepare your mind for the switch in gears

It’s important to avoid multitasking during your session. If you’ve moved over to telehealth, it means that you are dedicating an hour each week to therapy, so you’ll need to protect this time for yourself to ensure it is as helpful as possible. During your session, practice mindful attention to just your experience of the session itself.

If you’ve been working from home on your computer all day, it can be helpful to take some time to get up, stretch, and maybe even restart your computer (or at the very least close all unnecessary tabs) before your therapist calls you. It may even be helpful to change your clothes to reflect the end of your working day. You could try to engage in a brief activity that allows you to feel cared for, such as making yourself your favourite hot drink to sip during your session, or washing your hands and gently massaging them using your favourite hand cream.

This can help to give your mind the signal to switch motives from “busy, productive, do more and be more” mode, to your soothing, caring, compassionate mode. 

Comfort and Protection

This is an invitation to take some time to reflect on what will help you to feel comfortable and safe throughout your session. 

  • Having a warm, comfortable, quiet space to settle in for an hour is the ideal. It can also be helpful to have access to anything that you may find comforting and reassuring if any big emotions show up in session. Having soft cushions on hand to hold close to you or pile on top of you is a nice example. You can also try having a throw blanket or a wrap scarf to pull around your shoulders, and draw it more closely to you when you feel vulnerable. 
  • Take some time to reflect on what objects or items its helpful for you to have in view during your call, and see if you can remove anything that might be distracting or disruptive to your work. This may even include changing the wallpaper on your laptop, or decluttering your desktop screen. 
  • Consider your lighting. If your session is during the day, can you find a space to talk with your therapist where you have access to nice, natural sunlight? If you have an evening appointment, will it be more comfortable for you to have a lamp nearby than to use the overhead lighting? Would it be helpful to light your favourite scented candle in your line of vision?

During the session

Dealing with technical issues with compassion

Your therapist will do their best to minimize any potential issues with their connection and with the audio and video during your session. Even so, technical difficulties during telehealth appointments are not uncommon. It can be disruptive and distressing when these issues interrupt your session, and it’s so important to consider how we would like to respond in these moments as they arise. Offer the parts of you that are struggling some acknowledgement and care, and think about what might be helpful to do next.

On a practical level, if your call connection is lost, please wait and your therapist will do their best to reconnect with you by calling you back. If this is not possible for any reason, your therapist will attempt to call you by phone to discuss options. Please be aware that this call will likely come from a private number and be displayed on your screen as an unknown call. 

Closing the session

Take time to debrief with your therapist

This is unfamiliar territory for many of us, and it offers opportunities for development and growth. Your therapist will offer you time to reflect on how the session has been for you, and they will be open to any feedback or suggestions you may have. We will do our best to make as many reasonable adjustments as we can. If there is something that has worked well for you, please tell us that too! It’s important in life and in therapy to water the things we want to grow.

After the session

Honour your time and healing

When your call has ended, we invite you to consider taking a few moments to yourself, even just the duration of a few slow, steady breathes, before returning to your day. Therapy is hard work, and that work continues for you in the hours and days after your session. Its normal to feel tired, or to feel more connected to your emotions and so more vulnerable than you may have been before your session. 

Take some time to care for those parts of yourself before moving on with your day. Maybe that will look like writing down some reflections on your session, or it may just be smiling warmly at yourself in the mirror. Its best to think about what is most workable for you, given the context you find yourself in. 

Appreciation and sharing gratitude

If members of your household have helped to facilitate your therapy today by staying out of the way, or taking on additional responsibilities, consider taking the time to share your appreciation for those actions. Saying thank you can help us to feel more connected to the people around us, and it helps them to feel valued and cared for too.

About the author

Lisa Healy is a psychotherapist at Evidence-Based Therapy Centre with expertise in helping adults overcome psychological difficulties. You can read more about her background, experience and approach to therapy here

If you would like to book an appointment, you can call the clinic on 091 727777 or get in touch via the contact page

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