Going to therapy online isn’t quite the same as going in person, but just like with in-person therapy, you get out of it what you put in. If you have limited access to psychotherapy in your area, online therapy options can put a range of effective therapies in your reach. And, with some online therapy providers offering access to psychiatrists as well as psychologists, so if your therapist thinks you might benefit from medication, you can get a prescription.
Before you start online therapy, you should know what to look for in a therapist and what to expect from the medium. Let’s take a look at some ways to make sure you’re getting what you need out of online therapy.
Choose a Reputable Provider
Therapists are just like any other group of people — some are extremely skilled and competent, while others are…not so much. It’s definitely helpful to know how to recognize when a therapist is bad at his or her job, but you can lower your chances of getting a dud by making sure you choose a reputable provider.
Whether you get a referral to a therapist from your doctor, pick out one from Yelp, or go through an online therapy provider, make sure the therapist you choose is licensed. Look for a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed professional counselor (LPC), psychologist, or psychiatric nurse.
Prepare Your Devices and Your Space
Your therapist may decide to conduct webcam sessions using a popular platform that most patients already know how to use, like Teams or Skype. However, many online therapy providers use proprietary apps, and some therapists with brick-and-mortar offices or private practices prefer to use a more secure platform for sessions. Know which apps you need to download ahead of time and how to use them. Check your devices before each session to make sure everything is working properly.
If you’re doing webcam sessions, you need to find a comfortable, calm, and above all, private space in your home to conduct them. Don’t have any personal space at home where you won’t be interrupted? Sit in your car or commandeer a study pod at your local university library (most are open to the public, even if you can’t check out books). Your public library may also offer private rooms that can be booked for free or for a small fee. But ideally, you’ll find a comfortable, quiet corner at home where you can feel and process emotions freely.
Be Intentional About Your Commitment to Growth
It’s always important to take therapy seriously, do your therapy homework, and be intentional about what you need from the therapist and your commitment to growth. Set aside time to prepare for your session by thinking over what you want to discuss and even writing down what you want to address. Evaluate your goals for therapy and write down any progress you’ve made, or setbacks you’ve experienced, since your last session, so you can keep them in mind when speaking to your therapist. After the session, give yourself 20 or 30 minutes to process the session and slowly bring yourself back to the present and the daily tasks ahead of you.
Practice Emoting Verbally in Your Sessions
One big drawback of getting therapy online is that you don’t get to see all of your therapist’s body language, and they don’t get to see all of yours. Without access to your nonverbal communication, your therapist will struggle to guess what you’re feeling, so practice expressing your feelings verbally during therapy. This will help make up for the nonverbal cues your therapist isn’t getting, and it’ll make you a better communicator in other relationships, too.
Ask for What You Need
The affordances of online therapy mean that you don’t have to limit yourself to a weekly, 50-minute webcam session. In fact, if you can’t find a private spot for therapy and don’t want to be overheard, maybe you need to ask your therapist if you can conduct sessions via text or instant messaging chat. Maybe you need additional support throughout the week, in the form of text check-ins or brief phone calls for guidance when you’re facing something rough or struggling with one of your goals.
Online therapy can work for just about anyone, as long as you approach it with the right attitude. If you’re determined to grow and begin thriving, not just surviving, online therapy could be the step you need to take to change your life.