1 – Find a private, quiet space for your online therapy session
Whether you live alone or with other people, finding a private, quiet space is sometimes the hardest (but also the most important) part of having a successful online therapy session. This is because it’s difficult to be fully open or present if we feel as though someone might be listening nearby. And it’s important for your therapy sessions to be private, confidential conversations. Even if you’re totally comfortable & open with the people you live with, you may subconsciously filter yourself or hold back from discussing certain topics if you know someone might be listening.
If you are doing online therapy sessions with people at home, set boundaries and make explicit requests while you’re in session. For example, you can request that they wear headphones, stay in a specific room or go for a walk during your appointment time. Additionally, you can get a white noise machine to put outside the room you’re in. And finally, you can wear headphones during session so only you can hear your therapist’s responses.
If having privacy at home is not an option, you can always take a walk or sit in a nearby park during your session. Additionally, you can do the session from your work office or conference room if you have more privacy there. Lastly, you can even have your online therapy session from your parked car. Get creative, but don’t compromise on your privacy if you want to get the most out of online therapy.
2 – Unplug from other apps, websites, work email and your phone during your online therapy session
We live in a culture that’s conditioned to multi-task and many of us are constantly trying to be in two places at once. In fact, many people seek out therapy for this exact reason — difficulty being present, anxiety about an endless to-do list, trying to keep up with ‘hustle culture’, etc. That being said, it can be tempting to keep an eye on work emails, quickly respond to slack messages or read a quick text during your online therapy session. And while it’s certainly possible to do this, it’s counterproductive to getting the most out of your appointment.
The effort and energy you put toward your therapy session is reflective of what you’ll get out of it. So if you want to get the most out of the process, it needs and deserves your undivided attention. Being fully present and focused also helps you to better connect with your therapist, which leads to more helpful insights and an overall better experience during it.
Turn off notifications during your therapy sessions so you aren’t distracted. Put an ‘unavailable’ note on your calendar or an ‘out of office’ reply for the duration of your session if it will alleviate some worry. You owe it to yourself – and your therapist – to show up fully for each session.
3 – Turn off self-view during your online therapy session
It can be distracting to see ourselves on camera during our online therapy session, which can take away from us being fully present with our therapist. Instead of listening intently and engaging fully, we might be distracted (even unconsciously) by the tiny image of ourselves in the corner of the screen.
While the ways this impacts us are subtle, it can contribute to more self-assessment or self-criticism. This can lead to less vulnerability, which can result in a much less effective session. If you were in-person with a therapist, it is unlikely you would even have the option to look at yourself during it. Hiding your self-view makes for a more intimate, connected experience that more closely resembles in-person therapy.
On Zoom, you can click the three dots in the upper corner of your self-view box to eliminate self-view. If your therapist uses another platform for sessions you can ask them if this feature exists. If not, you may want to consider putting a post-it note over that part of your computer screen during the session.
4 – Take notes during your online therapy session
In most therapy sessions you will cover a lot of ground. And if you’re present, you’ll get caught up in moments of vulnerability that might make it hard to fully remember the details and insights afterward. Because the work that you do outside of therapy is where the most change typically takes place, taking notes can help you to make sure you’re addressing things in real-time, too.
Have a journal or place nearby that you can write notes throughout your session. If your therapist makes a suggestion – whether it be an activity to try, a book to read or a thought exercise to do – make note of it. It’s okay to ask for the time to do this rather than trying to write and listen at the same time.
It’s unlikely that you’ll resolve every issue you present in the 45-minute session. However if you are actively putting in self-work outside of the session by using the notes you took during it, you’ll have a much more effective experience overall. Taking notes also helps you track and better assess your progress.
5 – Treat your online therapy session like any other important meeting you attend
Yes, online therapy is a vulnerable space where you can show up as your full self – however messy that might look some days. However it’s helpful to treat therapy like an important work or business meeting. It sends a message to yourself that you are showing up for yourself with the same energy and intent that you show up for other things or people in your life. And it will help you to take it more seriously as a result.
While it can be tempting to stay in bed for your online therapy session, try sitting upright at a desk, table or couch. Give your session and your therapist your undivided attention, just like you would for your boss, colleagues or customers. Finally, come prepared with things you’d like to discuss and some thoughts about what you’d like to get out of the session. This doesn’t mean over-planning or structuring your session, which can sometimes be unhelpful, but it means being intentional about how you’d like to spend the time.