self-love

Transitioning to Teletherapy: The Pros and Cons of Virtual Counseling

When the coronavirus outbreak first hit the U.S., I braced myself for my classes and my job to move online, for the endless video chat meetings, the increased amount of emails, and the time spent cooped up in my house going stir-crazy. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was virtual therapy.

Like so many other things during this pandemic, therapy now takes place online for millions of people across the country. I’ve been going to therapy for over a year now, and even though I only meet with my therapist every three weeks, it’s been quite the adjustment. I wanted to break down the pros and cons of teletherapy and offer some advice to those who might be in the same boat.

 

Pros

You’re still going to therapy. Obviously, this is the biggest pro. For me, one of the most comforting things about therapy is the consistency of my sessions; I know that every three weeks I have a chance to vent my anxiety and work through the things that are bothering me, and I’m glad the dependability of that fact still stands. And, like my therapist said in our last session, almost everyone could use a little consistency and routine these days to help stay sane.

Regular check-ins to help deal with coronavirus-related anxiety. Do I actually have shortness of breath due to the virus, or is that just my anxiety from worrying about the virus? Mental health is hard during normal times and even harder during a global pandemic. My therapist and I now spend a good majority of our sessions talking about COVID-19. Therapy provides a regular place to discuss your fears and how you are (or aren’t) adjusting as the virus turns your life upside-down. Or, if you’ve had enough of hearing about the virus on the news and social media, therapy can be the place to escape from that and talk about other things. That’s the great thing about therapy – what you talk about is all up to you.

Cons

It’s hard to find a private space for sessions. This one is especially difficult for college students. No matter where I go in my shoebox apartment, it’s never far enough away so that my roommate can’t hear me spill my most private thoughts and feelings. Unlike my therapist’s office, there’s no sound machines to stop my voice from drifting through my apartment’s paper-thin walls. It makes it hard to be open in a way that I haven’t struggled with since I first started attending therapy.

The atmosphere just isn’t the same. Aside from being less private, my bedroom just isn’t the same as my therapist’s office. I miss all the random objects around her office that I stare at while I try to figure out how to untangle my complex emotions into words. Something about letting her see into my home and seeing into hers feels weirdly like a violation of privacy, even though she knows more about me than I’ve told anyone else. The comforting neutrality of her cluttered office is no longer there, that safe bubble of middle ground missing.

 

My Advice to Anyone Who is Attending Virtual Therapy

With all that being said, just like in regular therapy, there is a way to make the most of it. I'm no therapist, but here are the things I've found most helpful:

Make your space your own. Your bedroom may not be the same as the consoling privacy of your therapist's office, but do the best you can to make it a place that you feel comfortable in. Lower the lights (for some reason the dim lighting in therapists' office always seems comforting). Curl up in a comfy place, even if that's your bed. Use headphones so that even if nosy roommates or family members are eavesdropping, they can only hear your side of the conversation. 

Continue your usual pre-therapy routine. Following the same pattern/routine you did before your in-person sessions can help put you in that familiar frame of mind before your virtual sessions. Get dressed for your appointment like you normally would, even if that means changing out of your pajamas to hop right back in bed. I used to stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way to my sessions to grab a bagel and an iced coffee. I don't drive all the way to Dunkin anymore, but it's oddly comforting to continue to attend my sessions with a bagel and homemade coffee by my side. 

Continue to be as honest as possible in your sessions. Despite the new circumstances, it's still your same therapist. As tempting as it is during times of stress and vulnerability, don't put up walls to help cope, especially between you and your therapist. As with all counseling, you get out of it what you put into it. 

Although much of this article directly relates to my experiences with teletherapy, the purpose of this article is not for me to vent. I outlined all these things with the hope that others could relate and find comfort knowing they weren’t the only ones who felt this way.  And at the end of the day, though it may look and feel a little different than in-person counseling, online therapy is better than no therapy at all.