How do I Prepare for a Telehealth Session?
In the beginning of 2020, many of us were scrambling to move our practices online and figure out this whole virtual telehealth therapy thing. Previously to this transition, I honestly wasn’t a fan of telehealth. I worried that it would be too impersonal or that I wouldn’t be able to connect or read the body language of my clients over a screen. I jumped into online training, downloaded zoom, and hoped for the best. Now, over a year later, I'm happy to say I have been pleasantly surprised at how effective and useful telehealth therapy is. I have far less cancellations, more accessibility, and I feel as connected to my clients as ever. Telehealth offers a unique solution to many barriers of coming into therapy.
Driving in LA traffic, managing social anxiety to sit in a waiting room with strangers, wondering who you may have to compromise your confidentiality to if you run into someone you know... can all prevent folks from coming in. I’ve had clients who feel so overwhelmed with their depression that they call in from bed. Or folks whose lives are full of work and family responsibilities, they call in to a session from their lunch hour from work. Families who live in different households with various schedules can jump onto a zoom call and meet together.
My fear about not being able to connect over a computer turned out to not be true, and I see how much the accessibility has improved my client’s ability to not only show up, but actively engage and progress in therapy online. Telehealth is a wonderful tool that is here to stay but it’s worth exploring if it’s the right fit for you.
To help figure out if telehealth is a good fit for you, We’ve asked 5 therapists: How do I prepare for a telehealth session?
1. Prioritize which topics need to be addressed immediately and which topics could potentially wait until another session. We add these topics to the chat feature (Zoom) and use it as an agenda for session. This has been a game changer for my clients.
For many of us, teletherapy may be an entirely new experience that can come with many challenges and a steep learning curve. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, confused or even nervous when one is beginning their teletherapy journey. Should you decide to begin working with a therapist virtually, there are a few simple steps that one can take in order to allow the process to be less painful and far more effective.
First and foremost, make sure that your virtual platform (Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype, etc.) is downloaded, your account is set up, and that you have access to WIFI prior to your first session. This may seem obvious, but there have been countless times that I have witnessed clients coming to session feeling frustrated and overwhelmed due to technical difficulties that caused them to be late or to have a hard time hearing or understanding what I’m saying. Part of this preparation is also coming prepared with any materials that you may need- paper, pen, diary card, journal, workbook, etc.
Additionally, it is common to take a teletherapy call from an environment filled with distractions, so pre-determining a space that will be quiet, confidential, and comfortable is of the utmost importance- turn off email and text notifications, silence your cell phone, and do your best to keep your children/dogs/partners in another space for your allotted session time.
Next, cope ahead for session by jotting down thoughts, emotions, or events that take place between sessions that you would like to address with your therapist. I ask my clients to share these notes with me at the beginning of session and have them prioritize which topics need to be addressed immediately and which topics could potentially wait until another session. We add these topics to the chat feature (Zoom) and use it as an agenda for session. This has been a game changer for my clients, as I notice that it can be difficult for them to remember all of the items that they wanted to discuss when they are only just beginning to think about topics at the start of session. These agendas allow clients to get their needs met and gives me, the therapist, a good idea of what is coming up for them each week even if we don’t end up getting to all of the topics on the agenda.
Finally, create a plan to self-soothe following your session. Therapy can be uncomfortable and bring up a lot, which makes it hard to jump right back into work or home life as usual. Breathing, meditating, going for a walk, or taking a shower are a few of my favorite ways to do this. This will allow you a bit of time to process the session and take a moment to decompress before going back to your daily schedule.
Meghan Schafer, LMFT
2. Treat it as if they’re going into an office, choose session times around who is in the home to ensure privacy and attention.
I tell all my clients to be mindful of the time and space in their home that they’re going to be having therapy. I encourage them to treat it as if they’re going into an office. For most of my clients who live with other family members, we choose session times around who is in the home to ensure privacy and attention.
In order to help my clients get into the mindset of setting up intentional space for their session, I start my sessions with a mindfulness activity to let go of some of the thoughts about housework that needs to be done, or spouses or children and transition into therapy. Another great tip is double checking internet connection before session, we want to do our best to avoid disruptions in session.
Wendy Esparza, LMFT
3. Although we’re all in separate places, at the other end of the other computer screen is another human being.
When first starting telehealth, it can feel a bit intimidating. It may feel like you're telling your deepest darkest secrets to a computer. Believe me, as a therapist I was nervous as well. Making the transition from in person therapy to virtual therapy had its challenges. Something I had to remind myself was, although we’re all in separate places, at the other end of the other computer screen is another human being. So reminding ourselves that we can still hold a safe place and do great therapy, even if we’re separated, is a great thing to keep in mind when starting telehealth.
Also, another thing I recommend to clients is to find a safe place where they have the privacy to feel comfortable speaking about sensitive topics. Using headphones or putting on a fan in the room can help to add a barrier of privacy if clients are at home with others. Additionally, another noticeable challenge telehealth has presented is having access to technology to make sessions go smoothly. I feel that most of us have been kicked out of a zoom meeting or two in our COVID life times. So I recommend having a back up plan for if things do go awry such as having your cell phone handy in case we need to shift gears and speak over the phone or touch base about the internet. Lastly, typically in my office I would supply clients with water and tissues, so I always recommend clients have those supplies nearby just in case they need it so they can feel as comfortable in their session as possible.
Rachel Ryan, LCSW
4. Let the therapist know what your concerns are and they will work together with you to make sure you are getting what you need from therapy.
You can prepare for a telehealth session by finding a private and comfortable place to have the session in beforehand. Double check that you have a good internet connection where you are, maybe even have a practice zoom call with a friend to ensure the quality of the wifi. You can brainstorm ahead of time and write down any questions you may have for the therapists so you don’t forget anything you wanted to bring up.
If this is your first experience with telehealth or if you are unsure if this will be a good fit for you, let the therapist know what your concerns are and they will work together with you to make sure you are getting what you need from therapy. I would also prepare with some tissues and a glass of water nearby!
Allison Alvarez-Lara, LMFT
5. Be in a private place to speak your mind. Since we aren’t in an office, we want to protect safety. Come with an open mind, and know that it’s work.
First of all, be in a private place to speak your mind. Since we aren’t in an office, we want to protect safety. Come with an open mind, and know that it’s work. It’s not just what happens in session, but the homework outside as well. So be willing to put in the work.
We start slowly and simply. Does anything stand out about your week? People are coming for a session because someone is experiencing something challenging. You’re going to be more open when you choose to let therapy help your life. If you’re being manipulated into going into session, that doesn’t really work.
It’s not a one size fits all session. Every patient has a different reason for coming to session, and that’s what we hope to explore. It’s a partnership between therapist and client, but we’re both going to put in the work.
I don’t have a magic wand. I can’t tell you what to do. Manipulating my words and shaping your life because “my therapist said I could do this” is a recipe for a disaster. My role as a therapist is to listen and support you to manage better coping skills. Not to judge you. Just to offer a different perspective.
Cecilia Navarro, LMFT