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What to know for your first online therapy session

Transitioning to virtual therapy can be difficult, but with the right preparations it can be the positive change you need

Psychotherapy is a safe and confidential space to work through difficult issues, behaviours or emotions you have been experiencing. Since therapy has shifted to accomodate a virtual, socially distant world, online services such as therapy apps, counselling phone lines and video call platforms have become more common.

Transitioning online can feel strange with the lack of visual cues that comes with in person therapy. However, research has shown that virtual therapy can be just as beneficial. It can be convenient for individuals who cannot leave their home due to personal issues, have busy schedules or live far away.

From speech jitters to processing trauma, online therapy can guide you in the comfort of your own home. Here are some tips to make the transition online easier.

Outline clear goals

If this is your first time, the simple question “what brings you to therapy?” can be daunting. To start, it can be helpful to set some goals you would like to achieve because it means you are taking the first active steps towards positive change. Remember that therapy is a form of guidance, but it is not a permanent fix—all the work comes from yourself.

Everyone’s goals will be different, but consider the original reason why you are choosing therapy and what behaviours or thought processes you want to fix down the road. You can do this by answering some questions, such as:

  • What do you hope to get out of the process of therapy?
  • Why do you want to be successful in this process?
  • What is stopping you from going through this process?

If you are stressed about setting goals, let your therapist know. The purpose of therapy is to help sort out your personal problems while gaining skills for self improvement, so your therapist will be there to guide you from the beginning.

 Set realistic expectations

Change is gradual and cannot be rushed. It may take months or years to start seeing progress. There are different types of psychotherapy, so research which type you think is best to get an idea of the method your therapist may be using.

If you create high expectations before your first session, such as expecting a permanent solution for all your problems, you may set yourself up for disappointment. Start small, like understanding that you’re in a safe and private space that is judgement-free.

Furthermore, your therapist is not perfect and is human too. It may be awkward to meet at first, especially if you are both still adjusting to the switch online. Your therapist will do what they can to make you feel as comfortable as possible within a digital space, so let them know if you have any feedback.

But if you are still finding it difficult, or discover that you dislike your therapist over time, that is OK too. Your mental health journey will take work and sometimes that means finding what you like in a therapist. 

Find a quiet, organized space

Since online therapy will most likely begin in your home, it’s important that you are in a comfortable space. The environment you’re in has been shown to affect mood, physical health and overall life satisfaction. When your space is too cluttered it can be distracting. If your mind is distracted, you can get preoccupied and not focus on the therapy session to the best of your ability.

Clutter includes too much memorabilia on tables, clothes scattered around the room, an unmade bed or messy drawers. If doing a deep clean is difficult then try to start in small steps before your session, like clearing one table. Try to keep your space as organized as you can to ensure you have a clean space to focus on therapy. 

 Express yourself open and honestly

Emotional bodily cues can be lost in online therapy, which can be difficult for therapists. A study by Wright State University found non-verbal communication observed by therapists and psychiatrists are essential in sessions to understand their patient’s physical habits and help treat them. To make up for this loss, be prepared to be as honest as possible about your physical and mental sensations. You can do this by being descriptive. List feelings or reactions you have when you consider your current situation or a trigger that has impacted you in the past. If you are unsure and are feeling overwhelmed by a handful of mixed emotions, it’s OK to say that too.

According to Mindful Communications, practicing awareness of your physical and mental state can allow you to take some control in future stressful situations. Over time, this can teach you different ways to respond to your triggers.

Be proud of yourself

Signing up for any form of counselling, even online, is no small feat. You are taking the first step towards growth and healthy development. Each session is a small achievement—make sure to keep some form of celebration in mind afterwards. The first session can be a lot to process, so take time to relax and treat yourself with your favourite comfort food or a facial.

Growth is not linear and you don’t have to do it alone. Whether you take a big step forward or another step backwards, continuing your journey is always a challenge worth being proud of.

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Rebecca Benitez-Berona is a reporter at Youth Mind. She is passionate about social justice, creative writing, reading poetry and youth mental health. When she is not writing, she is exploring nature or trying out yet another new bubble tea shop.

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