scorecardHow to get the most out of long-term virtual therapy when you're living and working from home
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How to get the most out of long-term virtual therapy when you're living and working from home

Julia Naftulin   

How to get the most out of long-term virtual therapy when you're living and working from home
LifeScience5 min read
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  • Virtual therapy has become the new normal of counseling as people continue to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Although virtual therapy can't replace an in-person session, therapists said there are ways to make a phone or video appointment effective.
  • Being patient, using physical cues, finding a safe space alone, and telling your therapist your needs can help make remote therapy a productive experience.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When coronavirus-related lockdowns began to hit the US in mid-March, therapists and their patients turned to remote therapy using phones and web cams to continue their sessions as nationwide anxiety mounted.

But that temporary virtual fix is now a long-term solution as doctor's offices, restaurants, and other businesses that house groups of visitors remain closed.

Although virtual therapy can't replace the feel of being in a psychologist's office, having regular check-ins remotely has helped many people cope with loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression as they navigate home schooling their children, job loss, and rarely leaving the house.

Matt Lundquist, the founder of Tribeca Therapy in New York City, said he was surprised yet pleased when nearly all of his patients, both individuals and couples, said they wanted to continue with virtual therapy for the duration of the pandemic.

"It's not as good as in-person, that is for sure. But I think in terms of the medium [of virtual therapy] being an obstacle, I think nobody that I can think has objected to that or found that to be a challenge," Lundquist told Insider of his patients.

Lundquist said that using body-language gestures, being patient, and expressing your needs to your therapist can all help as you continue with virtual therapy in the months ahead.

Don't be shy about speaking up to move the conversation along

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Lundquist said the most difficult part virtual therapy is the lack of body language cues between patients and therapists.

During a typical in-person session, a body language can signal the appropriate time for a patient or therapist to speak or respond, Lundquist said, but those cues don't register on a webcam.

To work around this problem, Lundquist said he and his patients have been using more on-screen hand gestures. He also said the mute and unmute features on video services have been helpful for couple and family therapy.

"[That] feature is kind of helpful because you can see visually when somebody's using that, [it's their way] of subtly and politely acknowledging that they'd like to talk, that they're gearing up to speak," he said, adding that being patient and giving time for everyone in the session to adjust yields helpful results.

Lundquist also said that you shouldn't be shy about cutting your therapist off if you have something you want to say or add to the conversation.

"Folks who might in different circumstances be offended by interrupting are becoming more appreciative of the fact that interruption is tricky to navigate," but sometimes necessary, he said.

If you're living with others, find a safe space where you can be alone during therapy

If you're staying with your family or live with roommates or a partner, finding a quiet space where you can be alone is an essential part of productive virtual therapy, Linda Snell, a therapist at New Method Wellness, told Insider.

"You want to make sure that wherever you are having your session you are free to emote and express your authentic emotions and feelings, so limit being seen and heard if it's going to squelch your reaction and response during your session," Snell said.

She suggested using your bedroom, walk-in closet, backyard, or balcony as private virtual therapy locations. If you still feel like those won't offer you the privacy you need, she said sitting alone in your car or going for a walk alone could work.

If you want to keep your therapy under-the-radar, tell your roommates you have a weekly meeting

If the people you live with don't know you go to therapy and want to keep it private, Snell suggested telling everyone under your roof that you have a meeting at a certain time every week, and that you would appreciate alone time and privacy then.

"Get your roommates in the habit of you disappearing for needed quiet time so they won't notice if you are in a session," Snell said. "If you create a private space, sell the idea to each of your roommates to take turns using the quiet space daily so as not to attract attention to your sessions."

You can also play white noise or music in the background and put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door for added privacy, Snell said.

Feel free to discuss whatever you feel is most important, coronavirus-related or not

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When stay-at-home orders and job layoffs began, many people's therapy sessions focused on how to cope with uncertainty and instability.

But now that we've been living in isolation for some time, some people want to revisit other topics they were working on before the pandemic, while others want to continue focusing on pandemic-related concerns. Lundquist said either approach is perfectly OK, and he and his colleagues have been improvising more than ever as patients' new needs arise.

"What I'm saying to folks is, 'Listen, if you're well-situated and we've been doing important work, let's get back to that work.' I think there was a little bit of guilt around that, but I think that recognizing that lots of people are experiencing this in different ways," can help relieve that guilt of wanting to move forward, Lundquist said.

The most important thing, wherever you are right now, is communicating your needs to your therapist, whether that means finding a new time for your session that better fits your schedule, upping or decreasing the number of sessions you have, or switching up what you discuss.

If you need something your therapist isn't providing, tell them

Though it seems the majority of therapists have moved their practices to a virtual model, some less tech-savvy ones may be relying on phone calls or have poor etiquette on video chat.

If you catch yourself in this situation, Lundquist said you should bring up your concerns with your therapist and suggest a new approach that could meet your needs.

"I think that there is a way to politely say, 'Hey, I wonder if you're open to it. I think it might be richer work if we did a video conference,'" instead of a phone call, Lundquist said.

"This is a good moment to bring it up," he said. "I think in general, the community of therapists haven't necessarily done a great job of really empowering patients to take ownership of like, 'This is your therapy and if you're not getting what you need, you should speak up about it.'"

But in the age of coronavirus, when people's needs are changing daily, being explicit will help you make the most out of therapy now and when you get back to your therapist's office, Lundquist said.

Read the original article on Insider