Tips to prepare for your first online therapy session
Did you know that after the pandemic "online therapy" has increased its search on the internet by more than 40%? So, starting an online therapy process is as easy as a click.
In the wake of the pandemic, more and more therapists are opting for online therapy as a unique or complementary alternative to face-to-face therapy. It is a very attractive modality because, in addition to saving costs and travel time, it offers the possibility of making a therapeutic process accessible to many more people from anywhere in the world.
However, although online therapy has many points in common with a face-to-face consultation, the truth is that leaping this modality can generate some insecurity at the beginning, especially when it is the first session. If this is the case, preparing for that first meeting will allow you to gain the necessary confidence and carry out the therapeutic process in the most natural and efficient way possible.
Everything you need to take into account before the first online therapy session
Online therapy has some peculiarities that distinguish it from face-to-face therapy and that need to be taken into account. Unlike a face-to-face consultation with the patient in which physical space is available, previously decorated and organised, in online therapy, it is essential to recreate this therapeutic space before each meeting. Here are some keys to this:
1. Create a suitable therapeutic environment
Having a suitable therapeutic environment facilitates communication and helps to reinforce the patient's trust in the process, which contributes to creating the rapport necessary for the therapy. Therefore, it is essential that during the session preparation, special attention is paid to the environment that is perceived through the screen. In this regard, it is necessary to make sure that the lighting is adequate. It is advisable to use natural light whenever possible and to be in a position where the light falls in front of you to avoid backlighting.
Another aspect to take into account is the background to be used. The ideal is to stand in front of a simple background with light tones that provides naturalness and invites relaxation, for example, a white wall with a decorative plant, a minimalist lamp or a bookshelf with a few books. It is recommended to avoid monochromatic backgrounds as they can be too impersonal, as well as backgrounds that are too heavy or flashy as they can be distracting.
2. Check all technical aspects
It is advisable to make sure that the internet connection is working correctly and to set up the camera and microphone permissions. In addition, it is advisable to do some sound tests to check that the microphone is working correctly and to adjust the volume to allow for optimal listening.
If the acoustics of the room are not good enough, using headphones may help to maintain a smoother conversation. In this case, it is also advisable to test them beforehand. Also, if an external webcam is used, it is advisable to do some tests so that it is positioned at the most suitable angle.
In any case, unforeseen events may occur, so it would be advisable to have a "plan b" to be able to deal with possible setbacks.
3. Avoid all distractions
Sometimes it is straightforward to overlook this aspect during the preparation of an online therapy session. However, not controlling distractions can make it easy to lose concentration. To prevent this from happening, the ideal is to have a space where nothing and no one can interfere, taking advantage of the privacy and anonymity that online therapy offers.
Disconnecting all devices not being used at the time is also advisable to prevent calls or alerts from coming in. It is also recommended to block all notifications on the device in use and avoid having other programmes or applications open other than the video call support used at the time.
5 things not to leave out during the first online therapy session
Online therapy requires some particular skills and actions that are advisable to practice to ensure an excellent therapeutic process. Here are some of the critical things to keep in mind:
1. Make sure that the first contact call.
To ensure a good first session, the first thing to do when opening the camera and the microphone of the device is to check that the other person hears and sees us well. In addition, it is recommended that from the beginning of the process, the person should be told that if at any moment they perceive that the connection is lost or they need to comment on some aspect again because some interference has arisen, they should feel confident and free to communicate it.
Another recommendation for good framing is to be positioned at a medium distance from the device so that the face and shoulders are in the centre of the screen. To maintain this framing throughout the session, it is advisable to avoid changing position abruptly.
2. Pay special attention to the patient's non-verbal language.
According to a study by the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid, one of the main disadvantages of online therapy lies in its limitations in capturing non-verbal information from the patient. Perhaps that is why it is so important to focus on analysing every detail of the non-verbal language transmitted by the other person from the moment the camera is opened: What was their greeting like? What expressions did they make? Any detail taken into account will favour the therapeutic process.
3. Pay attention to the details of the environment
Here the environment is also important and can offer a lot of information: Is the background chosen entirely white? Where is he sitting? What objects are around him? Where is he speaking from?
4. Take care of non-verbal language
Just as the patient's non-verbal language reveals information, what you say through your gestures can impact the person on the other side of the camera. Therefore, avoid gesturing in a way that exaggerates what the patient is saying and appears natural.
5. Create an atmosphere of trust
As in face-to-face therapy, in online therapy, it is essential to create an atmosphere of trust in which the other person feels comfortable and safe. The fact that you are talking through a screen can make this task more complex, so in addition to trying to be as friendly and empathic as possible, you should also consider other details that can make a difference. For example, try to have a gentle and friendly expression at all times, as well as maintain eye contact with the camera throughout the session. Also, be an active listener at all times. As mentioned above, it is also crucial in these cases to make the other person feel confident enough to communicate any interference or improvements they may detect that can help them in the process.
What should be taken into account after a first online therapy session? After a session, especially if it is the first one, it is advisable to spend some time reflecting on possible improvements and positive points that may have occurred: did the patient feel comfortable? Did they manage to feel the closeness through the screens? Did the technologies work correctly? Did they maintain the suitable framing throughout the session? Did they know how to capture information from the environment and non-verbal language?
Finally, it is essential not to forget that it is normal to feel a certain degree of insecurity when faced with something we do not know. However, acting naturally and giving confidence and warmth to the patient not only benefits the other person but also brings self-confidence and helps to guide the therapeutic process. Preparing the session in advance and following these tips will also facilitate good results.