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Overcoming the Awkwardness of Receiving Telehealth Services For Clients

Dr. Kari Leavell, Grapevine Psychology

Let’s talk about overcoming the initial awkwardness of having a telehealth session with your therapist and removing that specific barrier from receiving support and continuity of care for your mental wellbeing during this time.

In bizarre situations such as the one in which we find ourselves, it is normal to abandon our healthy routines and fall (back) into unhealthy patterns…uncertainty and fear tend to do that to all of us. It is in times like this that we need our healthy strategies and sources of strength for managing the world the most, and that means continuing to engage in your treatment, even with things shifting to telehealth. Let your therapist support you in maintaining your gains through this mess!

First, this is totally your choice. If you don’t want to meet this way, you get to make that call. I will ask you to keep this mind, though…the shifting to telehealth is happening for many reasons:

  • Therapists have a responsibility to model healthy social responsibility by heeding state and national recommendations for social distancing and self-quarantines.
  • Meeting virtually helps to reduce the risk for both therapists and clients of being unknowingly exposed to COVID-19 from an asymptomatic carrier… who knows, anyone could be one!
  • It becomes a confidentiality issue because if therapists are exposed or come up positive for the virus, therapists may have to release names of other clients who could also have been exposed to the health department to protect against continued spread.

So, let’s talk about how you can adjust to this (hopefully) temporary shift to telehealth at this time. It is expected that it may be awkward at first. Believe me, that goes for both sides. At first thought, it seems impossible to feel connected over a screen. I agree…at first thought...

As a psychologist previously resistant to this telehealth “stuff” myself, I have been pleasantly surprised and even pleased by how quickly the screen seems to fade away (in as soon as 5-10 minutes). With any amount of rapport and connection, it will naturally fall into place and become less about the screen, and more about your emotional needs and the support and skills therapists provide, just like any other session.

There will inevitably be technology failures such as lost connections, fuzzy video, or staticky audio. However, challenges often happen during in-person sessions, too…the mowing outside flinging rocks against the door or window, the weather outside is distracting, or mandatory fire drills occur in buildings. What gets you through those in-person oddities is the trust and safety that you have with your therapist. Remember: Just because the way your service is provided has changed during this time, it doesn’t mean anything about the strength and depth of therapeutic relationship that existed before COVID-19.

Quick Tips for Engaging Telehealth Sessions:

  • Use a Bluetooth headset or headphones with a microphone to increase privacy and improve audio.
  • Prop up your device up (i.e., phone, tablet, or computer) so that you don’t have to constantly hold it.
  • Get creative about how to carve out privacy for your session. Ideas that others have shared include sitting in a parked car, in a closet, or outside on a lawn chair or patio furniture.
  • Give an extra moment before speaking. Delays and lags in audio and video will occur, and you may jump in before the other person has completed their thought.
  • Get comfortable remembering that your therapist is also human and embrace the reality of informality that might accompany telehealth amidst this current public health crisis. Perhaps after getting through this in your treatment, the therapeutic relationship can further deepen. Maybe it is actually easier to discuss difficult things in the comfort and safety of your own home, sweatpants, and shoeless-ness.

If you are one of those for whom telehealth isn’t “your thing,” understand that it’s not always your therapist’s thing either. I encourage you to consider trying it once, and if it lives up to your expectations (i.e., that it really isn’t your thing), then you can be satisfied with your openness in trying it. If it goes better than what you were expecting, then give yourself a pat on the back because you challenged yourself to be flexible in this trying time!

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