Teletherapy Tips for Therapists who never thought they would be Teletherapists

COVID-19 has given many therapists who never thought they would become teletherapists the opportunity to practice their craft. While students and therapists are learning to do teletherapy, there are opportunities for us to learn together.

You know more about technology than you think you do

Have you ever noticed you make more typos when someone else is watching you type? Have you ever felt like the way you’re doing something online is inefficient but been too embarrassed to ask someone else how they do it? Do your eyes glaze over when someone who knows more about technology than you do starts talking about operating systems or browsers or internet security? 

The way we use technology is personal. Suddenly as a teletherapist, you are giving someone insight into your technical capabilities (or lack thereof), while also trying to change your client’s life. Holy moly, that is exhausting!

Before becoming a therapist, I worked in digital communications for 20+ years. I have trained at least a hundred people to do things they did not think they had the technical chops to do. In almost every scenario, the person who was going to be doing something “technical” thought there was someone more qualified than they were to accomplish the task. I can tell you, without a doubt, that insecurity you feel about technology? Everyone feels it. 

Almost all of us are self-taught when it comes to technology, so we have varying levels of skill. It is important to remember that someone who is an expert in one software is a rube in another.

As therapists, we are used to being the expert, with a plan. On 3/15/20 every plan and measurement methodology you were meticulously following went right out the window and you had to start over. As a brand new teletherapist, you were suddenly the tech expert on the session. You likely felt ill-equipped to answer questions and certainly weren’t expecting that you would be guiding someone through technical challenges. 

As someone who has been the “technology expert” in the room for her entire adult life, I can say this: no one has all of the answers when it comes to how technology works (or doesn’t work). 

If something doesn’t work the way you’re expecting it to, try to take the anxiety you are feeling out of the situation so that you can think more clearly. If you don’t know what to do to solve a problem, hit refresh or stop/restart the session. These are the teletherapy equivalents of turning off a machine when it is misbehaving. 

If that simple solution doesn’t work, you may want to call it a day and try it again another day. Technology issues often have a way of working themself out on their own. 

(We’re putting together a troubleshooting guide to help all of our teletherapists solve technical issues.)  

This isn’t just teletherapy, it's teletherapy in a crisis.

Right now, you and your families are learning new skills while going through a constantly evolving crisis. The person they received comfort from through high fives and the occasional hug during therapy is suddenly a flat image on a computer screen. That transition is easier for some kids than others. I know I have experienced a lot of sessions that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I have been trying to give myself a break if the session doesn’t go well knowing that I’ll get the opportunity to try again tomorrow. 

To get the most out of my teletherapy, I try to find out what the kid likes to do online and try to recreate that. You can use that as a tool to introduce new therapy opportunities. 

For instance, I work with a child who was initially having a hard time with the stay at home orders. Our initial therapy sessions looked just like our in-person therapy sessions. I used all of the same props I did in the room, even though they didn’t make sense in teletherapy. For instance, I was the only one with a whiteboard and a yoga ball, but it comforted him to see me with the objects I had in the therapy room. As he got more comfortable with teletherapy, I observed he liked to watch unboxing videos. For a while, every activity was “unboxed” (with the music and everything). This child has always been fascinated with household chores so, currently, our therapy sessions are focused around what I am doing around the house. Teletherapy has allowed me to see a window into his life, but, more importantly, it has allowed him to see a window into mine. He sees that I do many of the things at home that his mom does (loading the dishwasher or washing machine), and it gives him comfort to ask me to do an activity that he knows I can do. 

I have prioritized his comfort in our therapy sessions, knowing that I can turn anything into a therapy tool.  

(And there is a whole group of therapists who are embracing green screen therapy. With green screen therapy, you can make your therapy room ANY environment you need it to be.)

Although a transition from a therapist to a teletherapist was not expected, as you deliver therapy to your clients, I hope you see that embracing this new way of working will make you more confident in all of your digital interactions.

Virginia Ingram, M.S., CCC-SLP