Honest Reflections on The Pandemic & Online Therapy: A Therapist's Perspective
Life was simple and running unaffected in its due course as millions around the globe felt threatened by COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020. A few articles here and there, some checking up on what WHO had to say but that was about it. Little did I know that the pandemic that the crisis would soon hit home and we would be no different than the rest of the world. As the lockdown was announced, it soon became the need of the hour to shift all operations to the base front and overnight we found ourselves working from home. While the nature & dynamics of work from home could differ for each individual, for just therapists it’s a tough one to decode. Given the extremely complex and versatile style of each therapist and therapy itself, it can be challenging to objectively comment on clout of the online therapeutic process. While therapy and counselling are only about a century old making it a relatively new field in itself, its online aspects is only about a decade old. Therefore when given the idea of switching all of the in-person clientele to an out-and-out online platform, I must admit I'd few of my qualms surfacing. The body of my work has helped me take on both online and in-person clientele over the years but it's only in rare occasions that we've made a complete switch. My colleagues and a few friends from the industry also found themselves with similar questions as the sudden change of mode was novel to all of us. It would be highly unfair to say one mode of therapy is finer than the other. They both have their distinctive place and a different form & level of human connection. Especially in these unprecedented times, it is imperative to know that social distancing doesn’t translate into socially and emotionally distant but rather the emphasis is on physical distancing. In fact social connections are what we need all the more. Another observation that is indispensable to share here given the premise of the lockdown, a few existing clients also found their privacy compromised in the confines of their home since now families/partners/ flat mates were mandated to be home at all times. It was definitely anomalous to see my client invest in her mental health from the back of her residential parking lot but also commendable at the same time to see her commitment to the therapy. With all these diverse factors put together what truly worked for me is the openness to endeavor these unusual circumstances with my clients and extend myself in empathy and availability to them. Over the decades online mode of therapy and counselling has made investing in our mental health much easier. You don't have to cancel appointments because you're travelling or don't have to settle for a therapist you may not be comfortable with just because there are none other available in your close proximity. It wouldn't then be inaccurate to say that internet based therapy has reformed the face of mental health and its accessibility. At this point I'm reminded about a client who was studying at a university in Europe and had started her therapy with me in India during her summer internship. After 3 months of rigorous labor, it was time for her to return. We discussed our range of options and agreed upon continuing our therapeutic work online. The next few months then involved a lot of coordination of time zones but it did pay off in a successful completion and a subsequent termination. Each client may come into therapy to work on different goals. However, a common thread to what each individual coming to therapy is seeking and each professional is attempting to provide is a non-judgmental safe space and a deep sense of affiliation. This sense of interconnectedness is what binds each therapeutic relationship and proves to be the core of therapy. Hence what better than being able to access exactly that in these distressful times where the world stands united in the face of this catastrophe. If you're a therapist with similar conundrum, here are a few recommendations that might resonate with you: 1) Try and understand your goals and limitations about working from home or the online mode of therapy itself. It may be absolutely new to you, take your time to gauge well as to what would work for you and what may not. 2) Seek Flexibility: Allow some flexibility to your clients and yourself. These are difficult times and there could be struggles that you may not have anticipated. From a decline in clientele to last minute cancellation, ensure that you aren't too hard on yourself or your clients. 3) Schedule wisely and ensure good internet connectivity: It's not just about switching to online therapy sessions but also about working from home amidst a global pandemic! Ensure you don't over work yourself and weigh in the factors of working from home and your availability both personally and professionally. Communicate to your family the nature of your work, and need for a quite space ensuring that the client's confidentiality isn’t compromised. Needless to say, ascertain that your internet is smooth and running much in advance to your sessions. 4) Work on your own mental health: The pandemic & the quarantine itself may be an absolute unique situation for many of us. No schooling or parenting prepared any of us for something like this. Just like any other individual under a lockdown the discomfort, the paucity of resources & the precariousness of the future may be putting an adverse pressure on your mental health as well. Make sure you check in with your own therapist, have frequent supervision, invest well in your own hobbies and recreational activities, nourish & hydrate your body well and reach out for help whenever needed. You're not alone in this. 5) Balance well: Work from home is also a time when you'll be in close proximity with your loved ones. You could also utilize this time to dedicate to improving your relationships and invest more in quality time than quantity. Quarantine can bring people closer if you approach it positively. While these extraordinary times are upon us, and the future may feel ambivalent, it is paramount to know we’re all in this together!