Thinking of Starting Online Therapy?
Why I absolutely love online therapy, and a few things to consider
Admittedly, I was slow to warm up to the idea of online therapy. Until the COVID19 pandemic, I had exclusively provided in-person therapy for a variety of settings; from a general counselling agency, to specialized treatment clinics, to an inpatient unit in hospital. When I made the shift to seeing clients virtually, I was hesitant. What if our connection cuts out? Do clients feel comfortable with me having glimpses into their homes? How will I be able to pick up body language cues?
Turns out these are all legitimate issues that can and do arise with online therapy. I, along with many other therapists, have discovered some significant benefits with practicing online. Here are my top 3 reasons why I love providing online therapy, 3 things to consider, and a few tips on how to make the most of your experience if you think online therapy might be for you.
The College of Alberta Psychologists allows its members to provide psychological services virtually, across the province of Alberta. If you live in a rural area it may be difficult to find a therapist that meets your specific needs. Alternatively, you may have to travel a long distance to attend therapy. With many therapists having transitioned to offering virtual service, there is a wide variety of competent therapists to choose from, without having to factor in travel. If you have a disability or any physical limitations, online therapy can be a more accessible choice. No steep staircases to navigate or calling ahead to make sure that a therapy space is wheelchair accessible.
Logging on to a therapy session from your home can allow you to be as comfortable as possible. By all means wear your fuzzy socks, grab a blanket, and put on your favourite scented
candle (practicing fire safety, of course!). After logging out of your session, you can transition directly into your post-session self care. Perhaps you even make a ritual of it! Take a reflective walk, eat, hydrate, nap, watch a favourite TV series. Therapy is hard work and it can feel supportive to have a wind-down routine. However! If you are not at your home address when you log into your appointment, please let me know. This way if there is an emergency of any kind, I can respond.
Your time is precious. Cutting down on the amount of time that attending therapy takes out of your day can make a real difference. Many employers will allow time to attend medical appointments during the work day (yes, an appointment with your psychologist, should count!). Logging in and out of your appointment, with no commute necessary can free up valuable time in your day.
And now for the cons.
There are risks and benefits to entering into therapy regardless of whether you're seeing a psychologist in person or virtually. Here are some things to consider:
1. Tech issues
Ah, the dreaded tech issues. This is the challenge that comes up frequently in online therapy.
Even if you have an excellent internet connection, there can be interruptions. These interruptions can lead to miscommunication, or having to repeat yourself. In a virtual session, we are typically lacking all of the visual cues that would be available in an in-person session such as being able to see all around the office and to see your therapists whole body language. If you ever have questions about what is in and around my environment, please ask! It is very important to me to be as transparent as possible and to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. If tech fails entirely during an online session, I always follow up with a phone call to ensure that everything is ok.
It's also important to take into consideration distractions in your environment. Since the COVID19 pandemic began, most of us are spending much more time at home; with spouses, roommates, kids, and fur babies. You may need to take some extra steps to minimize distractions in your home environment in order to get the most from your therapy session.
2. Confidentiality and privacy
It is true that attending therapy in an online appointment is not quite as secure as being in-office. For the privacy and security of your personal information, clinics in Alberta must follow legislation set out by the Health Information Act (HIA) and the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). I use an online platform that keeps your personal and health information secure. This greatly minimizes the risk that your personal and health information could be breached. Psychological services are strictly confidential. The only circumstances in which I would be required to breach this confidentiality is if there is imminent and grave risk of harm to self or others; if information is disclosed about a vulnerable person (child, person with disability) being abused or neglected, I am required to report this to the appropriate authorities. The courts also have power to subpoena a psychologist's records.
3. Online therapy may not be appropriate for all mental health concerns
There is an emerging base of research that indicates online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, mood concerns, and traumatic stress. Of course, these are not the only issues that folks seek therapy for. If you have a mental health concern such as an eating disorder, personality disorder, or addiction, you can absolutely seek virtual service. If it turns out that a higher level of care is needed, I can assist with referrals to a variety of resources including residential treatment, inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment programs, or help with finding a psychiatrist. Nothing is more important to me than making sure you get the best treatment possible.
What about emergencies and virtual service?
As part of the informed consent process when you first start therapy, we will go over plans for in case of emergency. Before I meet with anyone virtually, I make sure I have emergency contact information. My psychology license allows me to treat patients within the province of Alberta. If we are not located in the same city, please be familiar with emergency resources in your area such as your nearest emergency room or urgent care facility and mental health help lines. I am typically not available between sessions, so it is especially important that there is a plan in place to address any mental health emergencies that may arise.
Here are some resources to be aware of:
Alberta Mental Health Help Line - 24 hour access to Albertans. Staffed by nurses, psychiatric nurses, psychologists and social workers (877) 303-2642
Distress Centre Calgary -(403) 266- 4357 (HELP) 24 hour support and free crisis counselling
CMHA Distress Line Edmonton - (780) 482-4357 (HELP) 24 hour mental health crisis support
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