5 Top Tips for a better online counselling experience
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many to seek support remotely even if the move towards online therapy had started much earlier. Indeed the value of telephone and chat-based counselling has long been established but the advent of reliable broadband and user-friendly video-conferencing software has opened up new possibilities. My experience over these past five years working with individuals and couples using various video-conferencing software and supervising many other professionals providing these services, suggest that there are few simple things that can make the experience much more valuable.
These are my five top tips to enhance your experience and maximise the benefits of online counselling:
1. Secure your Privacy
Counselling often involved talk around sensitive life experiences, behaviour or beliefs. When you see a therapist online you will need to ensure that the space is not within earshot of anyone else within your home or office. Remember that even if you wear headphones you can still be overheard. Additionally, keep your meeting links safe and your system secure from spyware using adequate security software. If your online space is not safe enough the process will be inhibited.
2. Ensure you have a good-enough Connection
Talking therapies by definition depend on the quality of the exchange between practitioner and client. If this is interrupted or poor whether the process cannot start to take off. Prior to starting your session check that your broadband speed is adequate. Your therapist should be able to let you know the minimum speed required by the software they are using. Run a speed test with www.speedtest.net or similar. If the connection is poor get closer to your modem, use an ethernet cable or install powerline adaptors.
3. Get your Setting right
When you visit a therapist's clinic they provide you with a setting conducive to thoughtful reflection. When you see a professional online you need to provide that comfortable, distraction-free setting for yourself. Make sure you sit comfortably, the room is warm enough and that your phone, dog, cat, toddler and partner are unlikely to intrude into your space - unless, of course they are joining you for the session! Make sure your therapist is able to see you with sufficient light allowing a decent quality image not marred by blinding reflections or strong backlighting.
4. Consider Visual Perspective
If the camera is set right you should not be looking down at the screen (and your therapist) and the vertical edges of the screen will appear to run parallel to any vertical lines within the image (such as the side of a bookcase or wall corner). The walls will not appear to be leaning in or out around you. This will facilitate direct eye-contact when you need it and avoid the discomfort created when we perceive other talking down at us. If using a tablet, it is best to set it up in portrait so that the camera is on top - otherwise you will provide your therapist with a disorientating side-view of your face.
5. Select the most suitable Video Layout
Zoom and other software allow for different screen layouts to be chosen. It is probably best to use a ‘speaker view’ setting so that you have a larger image of the therapist and a small image of yourself just beneath the camera. When you look at yourself, as we all inevitably end up doing, you will be gazing at the camera so that everything appears nicely centred. You can also choose to hide your image if you find this distracting.
If seeing your therapist as part of couple the same applies unless you are having a 3-way conference call, in which case it would be best to ensure that the couple appear side-by-side with the therapist located centrally either above or below. Some platforms are more versatile than others, but the trick is to learn what suits you best. Zoom, Skype and other platforms provide detailed guidance.
Finally, give yourself some time to get use to the experience of seeing your therapist online. All therapy requires a period of adjustment and the online experience is no different.