Since Washington State announced Stay-at-Home orders in mid-March, I have been holding appointments through secure online video chat. When I began, I feared that the loss of face-to-face interaction put a drag on the therapy process. I worried that clients might not be as engaged, or that I myself might find it harder to connect. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
“In a world without boundaries, how do you dedicate yourself fully to one thing, like a therapy session?”
Sure, there are real costs. I do miss the handshake. I miss welcoming people into a physical space separated from the rest of life’s stressors. I miss having a conversation that can’t be interrupted by a bad WiFi connection. However, given the importance of having support when it’s most needed, there are some small steps you can take to make the best of the therapy in the pandemic age.
Mental health professionals have been begging us for years to keep our work separate from our personal life. ‘Never take your work to bed,’ ‘keep all screens out of the bedroom,’ ‘don’t check email before bed.’ This is how we keep our brains from getting overwhelmed and overburdened.
Whelp, those boundaries are gone. Now you’re working from your kids’ bedroom, and taking Zoom meetings in your sweatpants (on a good day). In a world without boundaries, how do you dedicate yourself fully to one thing, like a therapy session?
Create a new ritual
In the magical world before COVID-19, it took time for us to physically get somewhere. Clients would arrive at my office, having come miles from home or work, listening to their favorite podcast or radio station on the way. They would sit in the waiting area, and perhaps peruse the selection of magazines about mental health. Then I’d welcome them into a space where they can hang up their coat, grab a cup of tea, settle into a couch, and look out the window towards Thea Foss.
Each of these steps is part of an unscripted ritual that helped clients establish some distance from the rest of life. This ritual no longer happens on its own. We have to create it.
“If we can’t make the space different, we can at least make the time different. Consider how you might set aside this hour, and make it unique among the other twenty three hours in your day.”
Choose your space
The first thing to consider is where you’ll choose to be when we meet. Your options will be limited of course, but consider what will work best given what you’ve got. You’re looking for that rare combination of a strong internet signal and privacy. That might mean the basement or a spare bedroom.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for inside, consider your yard or your car — maybe hang in the hammock if you’ve got one. Your imagination can take you as for as your router will allow you to go. If you have an unlimited data plan, you might even consider driving somewhere like the waterfront or a greenspace. If all else fails, we can meet over the phone, and you can be free to wander wherever you’ve got a phone signal.
Make your space
Wherever you choose to be, you’re likely going to be in one of the very few spaces that you now do everything. If we can’t make the space different, we can at least make the time different. Consider how you might set aside this hour, and make it unique among the other twenty three hours in your day. Bring some art, light a candle, gather photos of family and friends, grab all the succulents you’ve got. Choose calm and comfortable lighting. Pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Don that extra cozy sweatshirt.
And if at all possible, enjoy your space for at least a few minutes before your session begins. Take some deep breaths, log on when you’re ready.