Starting Online Therapy: What You Need to Know for Meeting with Your Therapist Online

That worn couch is a place of safety for many of us. It’s where some of our most buried secrets and biggest revelations have been shared. It’s a place removed from our daily existence and where we feel secure and seen in a way that’s hard to describe. 

If you’ve been engaged in therapy in person and recent developments mean you’ll be shifting your self-work online, you might be wondering what the experience will be like. Will it still feel comfortable? Will virtual therapy allow me to actually open up? Can therapy online really be that confidential? Should I just wait until I can go back in person? 

Here’s what will be helpful to know as you navigate making the shift online:

Telehealth has been demonstrated in research to be a reliable, safe, and effective modality for therapy. While it might seem new, telehealth has actually been around — in various forms — for about a century. Tele-mental health has been tested in various trials and results indicate similar positive outcomes to in-person treatment. 

Most people who engage in teletherapy are highly satisfied with the experience and find it helpful and engaging. Before trying online therapy, folks often express concern that it will feel a bit weird trying to open up to someone over the internet. And that makes sense — we’ve often seen online relationships as more superficial and removed. But once people talk to a therapist online, they usually realize how easy it can actually be to feel connected. In studies I’ve helped run, we saw that almost everyone – therapists and clients — were surprised at how close they felt the connection was with the other. 

Privacy is still an important staple of therapy, so finding a space where you can be free from others and distractions is needed. That might feel challenging if you live with a lot of people, but consider that this is generally just an hour a week. If the only private spot you can find is in your car, that works! Just make sure you have a good signal there!

Therapy can bring up some difficult emotions, and sometimes we’re pulled to distract ourselves from those. When you’re not sitting in the therapist’s office, it can be easier to try to avoid or lessen emotions by looking at other tabs on your computer or picking at your skin without being seen. Be aware of your tendency to engage in this kind of distraction and bring it up to the therapist if you notice something happening like your leg shaking or urges to check your email. It’s great data to better understand yourself. 

Make sure you have the basics covered — like a stable internet connection and working video and speakers. Teletherapy can technically be conducted with just audio, but the quality of the experience can really impacted without the benefit of video. Most teletherapy platforms can be used on a phone, tablet, or computer and don’t require you install anything complicated, but you’ll want to try it out ahead of your appointment time so you don’t miss out on a portion of the session. 

Consider that teletherapy can actually have some really great benefits, even beyond keeping the consistency of your mental health appointments. It can allow for couples or family sessions that might have otherwise been geographically impossible; it can be used for live “exposure” to feared situations with a therapist’s support; it can offer your provider an opportunity to see things that you might feel are important in understanding you that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. 

If you have questions about what to expect or concerns about how to handle if you lose a connection or get interrupted, ask your therapist about their practices to handle different scenarios. [And if you are a therapist and interested in more information about how to offer online therapy securely and effectively, check out this post.]

In a world of uncertainty and constantly changing circumstances, it’s great to have the option to connect with your support team in a way that works for your life.

Dr. Ashley Solomon is the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization dedicated to helping women heal, thrive, and lead. She works with individuals, teams, and companies to empower women with modern mental healthcare and the tools they need to amplify their impact in a messy world.

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