Has your therapist recently taken your sessions online? While many people choose to do therapy online, being asked to switch from in-person to online might bring up some disappointment or uncertainty. You might feel reluctant or uneasy about the impact this change might have on your therapy.

These concerns make sense.

In an abundance of caution, our practice has decided to temporarily move all sessions to teletherapy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

I am equal parts grieved and grateful for this significant change. Grieved over the loss of my shared space with the incredible people I get to meet with every week. Grateful that these meetings can still take place.

Grief and loss will undoubtedly be markers of this unprecedented time. The sudden loss of our shared spaces like concert halls, workplaces, public transportation, restaurants, and classrooms, etc. carries a weight of grief and unfamiliarity with this new kind of daily life. Everywhere we look, the entire world is experiencing this abrupt disruption.

Therapy spaces are uniquely created for experiences that are private, meaningful, and sacred. So, what exactly happens when we try to move these experiences to a shared screen?

As much as I look forward to the day where I’ll be back in my office, and as much as I value physical space, when it comes to the power of therapy, I’m actually more inclined to believe that this interaction is less about the physical space and more about what you and your therapist bring to the session.

Much like a healthy relationship, the therapeutic process is grounded in reliability and presence. A good therapist models reliable presence to us as we, the client, learn to show up—to be increasingly present for ourselves—for the parts of us that are struggling and in need of care. A good physical space can facilitate this work, but reliability and presence are truly non-negotiable.

If this is true, how can we help ourselves show up? How can we create our own reliable space? Through tending to your body, mind, and heart, below are a few simple ways to bring these qualities with you in your transition to therapy through a screen or over the phone.

For your body:

Our bodies respond to cues in our environment for emotional and physical safety. Prepare your space with white noise. Improvise with an app, a fan, a space heater, or headphones to help block out other noise. Engage your sense of smell; light a candle, put on some hand lotion or essential oils to help signal that you are entering an intentional time. Find a supportive seat where you can relax and shift as needed. Take the time to set up your device in a way where you’re not craning your neck or having to hold it upright. Let’s face it, a lot of us are going to be doing therapy in the seat of our cars, and that’s great—that might be the perfect space for you.

For your mind:

If using a computer screen, make sure to expand to a full screen to block out any distractions. If using a screen on a smart device, go into your settings and turn off ALL notifications. (Trust this. You really won’t want texts or updates from the BBC while you’re in your session) Keep your device plugged in or charged fully. Check the settings for the platform your therapist is using with you. Certain settings can be changed, for example; if you don’t want to see your face during the session, many have the option of hiding it. Move your pile of whatever else you need to get done that day out of sight so that you’re not staring at it throughout the session.

For your heart:

Prepare whomever you’re living with by letting them know ahead of time that this hour will need to be uninterrupted. Offering to help your partner, family members, older children, or roommates initiate their own uninterrupted quiet times during the week might be a helpful way to secure this time.

Younger children: You know what will help them stay occupied; i.e. crafts, a movie, naptime, your partner, etc. Advocate as needed. Ask your therapist if you need a new meeting time to accommodate childcare needs when a partner or family member can care for them.

Pets can provide that extra sense of comfort and grounding—two great things for a therapy session. Journaling before and/or after a session is a great way to promote a grounded self-presence and solidify your connections.

Lastly, give yourself 5 minutes to try out this guided imagery to prepare for a session. What did going to therapy feel like before it went online?

See if you can use your mind’s eye to imagine your commute to the office. Remember the turns, and landmarks you’d pass by. See what it’s like to imagine yourself walking through the door, into that familiar waiting room where you used to check your phone or look out of a window. Now see if you can imagine being greeted by your therapist, and settling into that familiar space. Settle into the feeling of showing up for yourself. Take a few relaxed breaths. Arrive.

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