by Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.
Many psychotherapists have moved their practices online, either partially or completely. Aside from the obvious advantage that disease cannot be spread through video, what are the pros and cons of this relatively new way of conducting counseling sessions? Here are some professional observations that may be helpful to those considering working online with a therapist.
Experience Greater Convenience and Access Online
Clear advantages of video sessions include the convenience of accessing therapy from home. Reduced travel costs and time savings for clients may be important benefits. Increased access to mental health care from distant providers is an advantage, especially for clients living in remote areas.
Clients may be able to work with a therapist who has particular expertise or perspective, though travel to the office would not be practical. Catholics looking for a therapist who shares their faith as well as expertise in a particular area may be particularly satisfied with the ability to broaden their search to a wider area than they can reach by car.
Several states relaxed their licensing laws to allow providers licensed in other states to provide care across state lines during the state of emergency, further opening access to clients in need of specialized care.
Secure Privacy and Greater Intimacy in Person
Some advantages of in-office mental health care are the therapeutic atmosphere cultivated in a psychotherapy office, the greater assurance of privacy during the session, and the ease of sharing resources. The personal contact, including the ability to observe body language, is another advantage of in-person sessions.
Individuals who are isolated especially value the personal contact with a therapist. Parents with children at home value the privacy and quiet.
Teens and young adults who are at home with their parents much more than usual also desire the designated space to work on their issues without the chance of family members overhearing or interrupting our work. Though they have grown up with the internet and use it frequently and easily, young adults may be particularly aware of what this type of connection lacks.
Though less vital, the physical presence of a caring therapist with a person who is suffering emotionally is a value that must be weighed with an individual’s safety considerations.
Consider Logistical Factors
Before embarking on a video therapy relationship, be sure to explore whether both parties have the right setting and technology to facilitate video therapy. At a minimum, the client needs to have a strong WiFi signal in a private room. A drop or freeze of the video or audio connection can interfere with rapport and, ultimately, the effectiveness of psychotherapy.
The therapist’s video platform may require a particular browser, and the device a client uses for the session may also affect the comfort level with this mode of therapy. Clients working from a laptop or desktop have a more relaxed interaction with the therapist, while those using a phone will likely have an inferior experience.
Address Other Considerations
Special considerations include the client’s age and unique needs. Children generally benefit from being in the playroom and interacting with the therapist in the context of a game or unstructured play. However, with careful planning to have appropriate props at hand to hold the child’s attention, video sessions can be helpful for children, with proper parental support in setting up the child’s environment.
For clients struggling with pornography or other internet addictions, the use of video may not be appropriate. Clients in marital therapy may find it easier to find a mutually convenient time to meet via video. However, they may not be comfortable working in their homes while children are present.
Engaging in psychotherapy, regardless of the format, requires courage. A quote from Pope St. John Paul II may be particularly encouraging to us at this time: “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore, no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
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by Bridget Hannahan, Ph.D.
Seeking mental health care is an important decision involving an investment of time and money. Looking at our weaknesses and seeking help to meet our personal goals requires courage, humility, and fortitude. As Catholics, we believe that “the road that leads to life is narrow, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14)
Psychotherapy is often depicted in the media as endless talking about problems with little or no observable change. Before seeking therapy, potential clients will benefit from knowing a few principles about the process.
Understand the Therapy Process
Although psychotherapy often starts by telling the therapist your difficulties, it is not the same as talking to a friend. While it is important for your therapist to empathize with your feelings, the expertise and objectivity of a mental health professional will provide an opportunity for you to learn new approaches in dealing with your issues.
Effective therapy is usually more than “just talk.” Taking notes in and between sessions, reading material recommended by your therapist, and other homework assignments will help you progress more quickly toward your goals.
It’s important to understand that your therapist will not tell you what to do. Ideally, the process of psychotherapy is collaborative. Clients who work with their therapist to decide goals and give feedback on methods will gain the most from therapy. Just as Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:35-43), a therapist will ask questions to help facilitate the relationship and healing.
Beginning therapy can be intimidating, but your therapist’s job is to make you feel as comfortable as possible. Location, furnishings and amenities are carefully chosen to enhance your comfort and emotional safety as you approach difficult issues. Most clients do not remain in therapy long-term but participate in several sessions to address a particular issue or goal, sometimes returning to therapy later to address a new issue.
Consider Therapy in These Situations
Although most people may be able to benefit from therapy at different points in their life, there are a few signs that can point to a more immediate need to pursue professional help sooner rather than later.
Unhealthy Life Patterns. When you see an unhealthy pattern in your life that you have been unable to change, engaging a therapist may provide the support, insight, and structure you need to follow through with more healthy behaviors. Unhealthy relationships, habits and addictions, procrastination, negative self-talk and other recurrent difficulties can all be addressed with a caring and competent professional.
Urging From Family or Friends. If someone in your life has asked you to consider “seeing someone,” the suggestion is important to consider prayerfully. While you may feel better after talking to a friend, spouse, or priest, these trusted confidants are not equipped to handle every issue. Even a gentle inquiry about mental health care is an indication that problems require further assistance. It is often because of the deep care for us that our friends and family are unable to provide what we need to address our problems; they simply are too involved to offer new insights. Priests are uniquely equipped to absolve our sins, and clergy can provide wise counsel. They are also trained to recognize when a person needs mental health care.
Obvious Impairments. Impairments in relationship or work can be a sign that you need to consult a mental health professional. Recurrent conflicts at home or in the workplace suggest the need for a different perspective. Feeling Good Together, by Dr. David Burns, is a useful resource for those wanting to improve relationships. As parents, we each have stages of development we prefer and handle better than others. When one of our children reaches a certain stage or encounters a particular difficulty that results in feelings of anger and frustration, it is wise to seek help. As noted in Ephesians 6:4, “Parents, never drive your children to resentment but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord.”
Suicidal Thoughts. Thoughts of death or suicide, however fleeting, are an indication of distress that requires mental health care. If immediate help is needed, text TALK to 741741 or call 1-800-273-8255.