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What Therapists Want You To Know Before Your First Socially Distanced Session

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If there ever was a time for therapy, it’s now. Social distancing — not to mention general coronavirus anxiety — has many people needing more mental health support than ever. But what can you expect from doing therapy from home during coronavirus social distancing? If your therapist is offering it, teletherapy — therapy sessions conducted virtually — can help you get through this tough time, as long as you keep a few key things in mind.

While teletherapy isn’t new, even people who normally have virtual therapy sessions might be finding it a little tricky now that their roommates and partners are also stuck at home with them. How do you talk about your significant other when you’re holed up together? What do you do after a session? How do you even find a therapist when it seems like everyone person on earth is anxious right now? We asked two therapists who offer virtual sessions what to know.

What To Expect From Teletherapy

For your first video teletherapy session, set up like you would for any other video chat: Grab a comfy seat, make sure you're not backlit, and hide your face on the screen, if you find it distracting. If your wi-fi is acting up, you can also ask your therapist if they're up for a phone session instead. Some forms of virtual therapy can also be conducted via text-based chat, but if you're transitioning from IRL therapy to online, your therapist will likely ask you to make a video call work.

While doing therapy from your couch instead of from your therapist’s is obviously different, therapist Dominique Apollon, M.Ed, LPC, says that it’s important to treat an at-home session just as you would an in-person session. “Be sure to come to session with goals or points to discuss in order to get the most out of your time," Apollon tells Bustle.

Elana Cairo, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Alma, finds that some of her clients thrive with teletherapy versus traditional talk therapy.

“With some of my patients, having the screen almost feels like a level of anonymity, where sometimes they feel more comfortable sharing,” Cairo tells Bustle. "They're just comfortable in their home as opposed to in a more sterile therapy. So sometimes that actually allows for more vulnerability.”

But there are also downsides, no matter how comfortable you are doing therapy from home. Cairo points out that “all of the environmental factors” — kids, roommates, delivery people ringing your doorbells, bad internet, and any of the other million things that can come up at home — can be major distractions. So as much as you can, make a plan to control for those things before your session even starts.

How To Get Some Privacy When Doing Therapy At Home

Probably the biggest challenge when doing therapy during coronavirus social distancing is finding some privacy to conduct your sessions. This is an even bigger problem if you live in a small space with other people.

“In order to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to ensure progress throughout the experience, it is important to find a space where you can be alone with limited distractions,” Apollon says. “Whether that means going into your room with headphones, or in your car, it’s important to remember that this is time for you and only you.”

Cairo suggests asking roommates to take a walk, if that’s an option, or even going for a walk yourself and conducting your sessions over the phone. She also suggests creating “therapy space” that’s separate from your day-to-day space, even if it’s more conceptual than physical — so doing therapy from a chair in your room, rather than on your bed, for example. Try creating routines for before and after your session, to help delineate "therapy time" from "regular time."

What To Expect With Couples Teletherapy

Couples therapy comes with its own set of challenges, starting with the session itself. Apollon says that “couples can expect sessions to feel more structured [in teletherapy] than it may be in person.”

“This may be because, as a therapist, we are working more at directing the conversation or asking the couple to speak to each other rather than speaking at the camera,” Apollon says. “In person, it may feel more cohesive and flow more productively because of the shared safe space.”

Cairo suggests really doubling down on the "therapy space/day-to-day space" for couples therapy and scheduling a nice activity to do together after — even if it’s just watching your favorite show together.

How To Find A Teletherapist & What It Will Cost

If you're already set up with a therapist and they've transitioned to teletherapy during this time, then they'll let you know how the process will work. It will also likely cost the same amount as in-person therapy, though if your income has been impacted by coronavirus-related closures, it's worth asking if your therapist would consider temporarily adjusting their rates, if they use a sliding scale.

For those who need to start therapy for the first time, there are a couple of options. First, you can search in your area for therapists who might be offering teletherapy during the crisis, but who can switch to in-person once social-distancing mandates are relaxed. A great place to look is Psychology Today, which lets you search by area code. If your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you can connect with a therapist through there (and some of the sessions may be covered). Sites like TalkSpace (from $65 a week) and BetterHelp ($40 to $70 per week) will connect you with licensed teletherapists, with whom you can have sessions over video, phone, or via chat.

Taking care of your mental health is as important as ever — if not more so. Take a deep breath, schedule a video session, and be thankful for one big advantage of teletherapy: You don't have to put on "outside clothes" to do it.

If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take, or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

Experts cited:

Dominique Apollon, M.Ed, LPC

Elana Cairo, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Alma