This global pandemic has forced many of us to be creative and flexible with the way in which we complete our work. With most of us being asked to work from home, we are experiencing the challenges and conveniences of technology on a full-time basis – teleconferences, online training sessions, and, in my case, telemedicine or telehealth. Don’t get me wrong – this is not the first time that I have done online counselling. I’ve been doing video and telephone sessions for a while now, but it has not been a predominant aspect of my services. I consider myself grateful for being able to still provide support to my clients during this time, even if it is not the most ideal way of connecting with people.
After completing a little over two weeks doing video and telephone sessions, I thought it would be helpful to review the good and the not-so-good aspects of these methods, as well as, strategies that may help make this process less uncomfortable.
When you think about online sessions, I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is, “You can do a session in your pajamas”, which, of course, appears to be some people’s covid-19 pandemic uniform, right? This is very true (for both of us, actually!).
There is a certain degree of convenience to online sessions. There is no travel or commuting (no gas, yes!), basic grooming is required, and a comfortable section of your house or car will do, as long as you have a good pair of earbuds or headphones and some privacy.
There is no waiting room that may or may not be filled with other people. For my services, I also charge a reduced rate, which could be considered to be a financial benefit. And during a time when geographic mobility is limited and anxiety levels are inevitably increasing, being able to support someone therapeutically in this manner is better than nothing, especially for clients who feel they need it.
Even for people who are not that tech-savvy, I have received positive feedback from my clients that connecting to the platform that I use is relatively easy. There is no need to create a profile or account. You simply use the link that I provide and check-in by typing your name. I will do the rest of the work to connect us. Also, the platform that I use can be accessed on different forms of electronics – phones, laptops, tablets – anything that has internet connection compatibility.
Online sessions are definitely not for everyone. Certain things that I have found with this service that have been frustrating include interrupted sessions due to poor reception or wifi connection. In other words, some of the sessions have been interrupted with, “Can you still hear me? Can you hear me now? I’m going to try and reconnect”. This does not happen in all sessions and really depends on internet connectivity in certain areas. Solution? In these situations, I have tried to have a “back up” method of communicating if it does not work out smoothly, such as changing to a telephone call or using chat windows provided. If the interruptions take too much time, I will extend sessions to ensure that the client receives sufficient therapeutic time.
Some people feel uncomfortable with video sessions. Seeing ourselves on the screen can be difficult and very different from an in-person session, unless there are a LOT of close-up mirrors in the office, which is definitely not the case in my offices! This can increase our anxiety and insecurities. Solution? If you do not want to do a video session, you can turn the camera off. You will still be able to see me, but you won’t be visible to either of us. There is also an option of a telephone call or chat/instant messaging if these work better for you.
Clients may not be in a financial position to have unlimited data or internet. They may not have a laptop or computer or tablet. In these cases, video sessions may not be an option. Solution? Let’s hope that phone sessions are more accessible.
Additionally, some of my clients are children and may not be able to maintain attention for a full hour in a virtual setting. One hour in an in-person setting is easier to engage a child with various activities, such as play therapy exercises. I understand that this may not be an effective way to connect with some children and I would never recommend this type of counselling if the child or parent feels uncomfortable. Possible solutions for those who choose to go forward with virtual sessions for young ones? I now offer half an hour sessions for young children who may not have the attention span to sit through a full hour of talk therapy. I can also format the session so the remaining half of the session occurs with the parent to discuss possible ways to support them.
So am I for or against online counselling?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Objectively, I think it depends on the person. There are definitely advantages of online counselling but there are also aspects of the process that need to be considered. I refer to the goods and the not-so-goods so you can make an informed decision. Ultimately, it’s always up to you.