I enjoy collaborating with other providers, since I think we learn so much through meaningful connection. I co-wrote this post with the wonderful Dr. Christine Chang. Learn more about her below.
The impact of the pandemic has been very palpable. During this stressful time, we may realize we need support and also notice that there might be barriers and ambivalence to getting and maintaining professional help. For example, we might have concerns about using online therapy when we might be more comfortable with the idea of meeting a therapist in person. We might also have increased worries about finances that may make us want to “put off” therapy, especially if it’s in a format that may make us uncomfortable.
While some people like online therapy as much as or more than in-person therapy, many people understandably have reservations about it. It is important to notice our discomfort about online therapy. What great self-awareness! By exploring and addressing this discomfort, we could have an opportunity to learn what may bring us a greater sense of safety, understanding, connection, and healing while maintaining social distance. As psychologists, we would like you to get the support and care you need, especially during and after the global pandemic crisis.
There are ways to make the most of your online therapy experience and to look for affordable care. Here are some suggestions that you could try, so that way you can take care of yourself even in these difficult circumstances.
Talk with your therapist about the options they offer to help maintain care while practicing social distance. Video therapy has numerous benefits, such as non-verbal communication, sense of closeness, and flexible hours and locations. For some people though, video therapy is not a convenient option because it requires devices (e.g., a computer, internet, a camera), software, and the account set-up process (e.g., passwords). For some people, a phone therapy session could be more straightforward. Using technology can bring up uncomfortableness and different emotions for different people. We encourage you to talk to your therapist because therapy is a space for your healing and growth. We can choose the medium that makes the most sense to our pace at the point. We don’t need to use new technology just because we have it.
Navigating Financial Safety
During these times, you may be more concerned about your finances than usual. There might be ways for you to still get care that fits your financial needs. For example, some therapists might offer sliding scale or reduced fee slots, to new as well as existing clients. If you have insurance that covers mental health, it might be helpful to learn more about your coverage to help you make decisions – for example, some plans may cover a large percentage of your session costs even if your provider is not affiliated with their panel), while some plans may offer coverage only if you work with a provider on their panel. In addition, many training institutes and university mental health graduate programs offer lower cost sessions. It can be helpful to consider the frequency of care, length of care, and your goals to help you budget for therapy. The pandemic crisis and shelter-in-place order urge us to take extra care of our health, and our mental health can help us make decisions that enhance our physical health and even our financial well-being. We encourage you to discuss your needs and options with therapists to see what might work for you.
Co-Creating Emotional Safety
Safety is always the most fundamental element in therapy. Safety includes physical, emotional, relational, and even technological aspects. Some people gain a sense of safety from being together and present with each other and some people experience it from having more space and structures. In therapy, it is most effective to maintain and deepen the sense of safety through having clarity about expectations and strategies to help create the right kind of environment.
It is important to have ongoing communication about how these expectations and strategies impact your experience in therapy. For example, in conversation with your therapist, you might realize you prefer phone sessions to video because it is easier to talk about your experience this way. As a way to create a helpful environment, you and your therapist may make a plan in case the call drops in the middle of the session (eg., texting your therapist to let them know, calling them back). Similarly, you might look for a private place to speak to your therapist before your session and pay attention to how you feel at different levels of privacy.
Honoring the Mental Commute
Sometimes therapy can be intense. Therefore, we need some time before entering the therapeutic work and after leaving it, just like the “old” commute time to the therapy office.
Creating a “mental commute time” may help ground with our present. In the “old” days, whether it’s driving or being on a bus or subway, our commute forces us to be slightly more present than our laptops do. Changes in the visual horizons and physical movements allow us to recognize that we’re moving literally and figuratively, even when what comes up in a session is tough. That our past is a part of us, not all of us. A commute time also serves as a space of mindfulness to recalibrate from our work in therapy to what we need and want to do next. While you may not have a literal commute anymore, you could consider other strategies that might help, for example, going for a short walk or even looking out of your window.
We hope these suggestions help you in your journey towards growth and healing during this difficult time. The absence of in-person presence can be a loss to both the client and therapist, and it takes courage for us to receive and offer help using a new medium. We encourage you to share your concerns and worries about technology and how it may impact the therapy relationship and quality with your therapist, because your input is so helpful in collaboratively crafting a meaningful experience for you.
Co-author details! Dr. Christine Chang is a licensed psychologist practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She specializes in working with individuals dealing with stress, grief and loss, relationship difficulties, attachment trauma, existential/spiritual issues, and minority/immigrant experiences. Visit her website at https://www.