I had my first Zoom psychologist appointment the other day. In a long (and illustrious?) mental health “career”, this was a first. While I went into it kind of nervous, it actually wasn’t such a huge departure from the way our face-to-face sessions normally go. In the age of corona we do what we have to do: improvise, adapt, overcome.
It’s been well documented that the coronavirus pandemic and extended periods of social isolation are having a significant impact on people’s mental health. For some, it’s an increase in a low-level hum of anxiety: maybe you’re suddenly really agitated despite usually being a v chill person. For others, coronavirus exacerbates existing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders and eating disorders.
Syrup has written a couple of guides around managing your anxiety under coronavirus and about dealing with eating disorders during isolation, and both we suggest checking in with the professionals. Complex mental health requires thoughtful treatment, informed exploration and management plans that are practical and safe. As aesthetically pleasing as they are, beautifully designed inspirational quotes don’t quite cut it. Whether you’ve been rollerblading into your therapist’s office for years, or are in the tentative steps of seeking some extra help, these are few bit of advice that will hopefully make your first online therapy session a lil less daunting.
Prepare how you normally would
If you’re been seeing your therapist/counsellor/psychologist for a while, try to “prepare” as you normally would for your online therapy session. That’s going to look different for different people. If you’ve been working on a certain register of feelings or a particular issue, maybe give yourself ten minutes of quiet contemplation or journaling about how that’s been feeling lately.
If you normally have a regular appointment after work or uni, giving yourself the same time to “switch modes” can help you settle in. For example, that could look like taking 15 minutes to make a tea and sit outside in the sun or going for a quick walk to simulate the time spent on the bus you’d normally take there. While it’s not always possible, trying to give yourself a bit of space between finishing your work for the day and jumping into the depths of your psyche will help you go into it a bit more settled.
Understand it won’t be the same, but that isn’t a bad thing
Whether you’ve done therapy for a while or this is early days, go into online therapy with an open mind. Something that in-person therapy does–that we often forget about–is delineating a physical time and space that makes having sometimes difficult conversations a little easier. I’m a big believer in the idea that dedicated spaces help us access certain energies/modes–it’s also why tonnes of WFH guides tell you not to work from bed. (Bed is a sacred space for sleeping, sex, reading and crying while watching Normal People, imo, but you do you, this is a pandemic there are no rules.)
While we don’t have that with a Zoom therapy session, it still provides a window and time for thinking about and assessing how you’re doing. In my recent session, something that came up was how not being in-person kind of brought up topics we hadn’t necessarily touched on before. Online therapy can open up a different kind of psychological register, you might be surprised where your brain takes you when your body isn’t going anywhere.
There are even some benefits unique to online therapy
If you were putting off seeing a psychologist because of time commitments, an online therapy sesh might actually be an easier way to integrate therapy into your self care practice. Dr. Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, explained to TZR that reduced social activity (RIP our former lives) also removes some time barriers to therapy: “People who were considering therapy and may be putting it off because of scheduling or weekly commitments are finding they now have more time and can start seeing a therapist virtually.”
If you’ve never seen a psych before, a Zoom might also actually be a less daunting entry point. For some people, online therapy can, “remove some of the emotional, mental, and physical barriers towards seeking out therapy,” Valentina Zuric, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York, explained.”There’s a low barrier to entry by being in the comfort of your own home, snuggled with your pet, or drinking from your special coffee mug.”
In response to coronavirus, many practitioners and practices have added the option for Zoom therapy sessions and online psychologist appointments. While you might previously have had to schlep your trauma around the city to a bunch of different psychs before finding the person who was the right fit, trying a few different people over Zoom could be a way less time consuming/tiring way of doing it. While the mental health plan offered by Medicare can be a little opaque as to whether it covers the cost of an online therapy session, most psychs are happy to field a quick phone call or email about their fee structure and bulk billing options.
The practical things
For some final online therapy suggestions, there are also some practical and logistical things you can do to make this a little smoother. First, situation yourself somewhere comfortable–you don’t do your therapy on a milk crate in the backyard normally so uh, don’t start now. If you’ve got a desk in your bedroom or can use the couch in the living room, set up there. I’d probably caution against doing it in bed, just because you want to be relaxed but not falling asleep.
If you’re isolating with your family or housemates, do what you can to give yourself a little privacy. Consider using headphones, and asking your housemates/siblings to take the dog for a walk for a bit or put their own headphones in.
Zoom fatigue is real, and keeping up attention and eye contact through a screen is a lot more tiring than in person. One thing that can help distraction and self-consciousness is turning off your own image of yourself. There’s an option to do that in Zoom, and it’ll help you not be concerned about how you’re appearing to your psych.
Just as you’d prepare for a therapy sesh, try and pick something relaxing to do afterwards to decompress. Hug your dog, play some Animal Crossing, watch some soothing Bon Appétit. Directly after some emotional digging may not be the best time for Zoom trivia or charades with loads of people, ya know?
Most importantly, make sure your vaporwave Zoom background is off.