Starting mental health teletherapy is a new step that many people are taking right now for the first time, given the pandemic’s effects on traditional, in-person counseling. Although you might feel alone in beginning teletherapy while you’re socially distanced at home, know that you’re not the only one starting online counseling. That’s why we’ve taken the time to outline exactly how to prepare for your first mental health online counseling session.
What to know about online mental health counseling beforehand
Mental health teletherapy might feel totally new, but once you are familiar with the virtual medium of online sessions it’ll be a walk in the park. Teletherapy comes in many forms, with some companies offering video conferencing, text messaging-based therapy, audio-only sessions or some combination. Before you begin any of these services, consider the pros and cons to each and fit your expectations to the mode you’ve signed up for.
Speaking of expectations, one of the most important things to know before beginning online counseling is that progress won’t happen immediately. Both you and your therapist will need a few sessions to build up rapport and become comfortable with each other. Be patient with yourself if you don’t see results right away.
How to get started with mental health teletherapy
If you already have a mental health provider, it’s likely you’ve made arrangements to meet via online counseling or over the phone. If you do not have a provider, a quick internet search should give you some options. Feel free to ask around for recommendations, and browse counselor availability before making a decision.
Making your first appointment is as simple as calling the phone number listed and answering some general questions. Make sure you have insurance information handy, and feel free to ask any questions you have while you’re making that first call. Give a little overview of what you’re looking for in a therapist so you can be matched with the best fit. Once you schedule your first appointment, make sure to write it down and set a reminder notification in your phone.
Maybe the most important thing to do beforehand is to get familiar with your provider’s online platform. The best way to access all the benefits of online counseling is through a secure connection that encrypts your personal information. You’ll get the info you need over the phone or emailed to you, but make sure you download any software and test your webcam days before you begin. Fiddle around with the platform so you’re comfortable logging on by the time your first session rolls around.
For setup, make sure you have a private place to communicate with your counselor, complete with sufficient lighting, so your therapist can pick up on any non-verbal communication. If you’re participating in teletherapy from a shared home, consider a noisemaker or white noise app so that roommates won’t overhear your conversations. Since therapy is generally talk-based, find a spot you can sit comfortably for the duration of the session where you won’t need to move around.
The day of your first mental health teletherapy session
As your session approaches, it’s completely normal to feel some mixed emotions. Teletherapy can be intimidating, just like in-person therapy. You may be anxious or feeling uneasy with the looming thought of sharing the most personal parts of your life.
Know that the nerves won’t last forever, and sometimes the hardest step is simply getting started. Schedule time before your first session to take deep breaths, or just watch a television show and relax. Online mental health counseling is going to be a good thing for you, even if it feels difficult at first. Once you meet your counselor, you’ll feel much more at ease.
What the session will look like
Your first online mental health counseling session will involve both you and your therapist in your respective places, in front of your computers. You’ll log on around the same time and your session will look almost identical to an in-office therapy session from then on out.
In your first session, your therapist will be getting to know you, probably asking about work, school, family and other relationships and specific stressors in your life. As sessions progress, you can expect conversations to go deeper into specific subjects and you’ll be able to collaborate to come up with goals for your mental health.
What to do after your mental health teletherapy session concludes
Carving out time before and after online counseling is important for rest and reflection. Consider blocking out a period of personal time after the first few sessions (or every session indefinitely) to collect your thoughts, journal or use strategies to calm your mind.
Therapy can bring some intense emotions to the surface, and you should feel at liberty to sit with those emotions uninterrupted. Think about how you’ll get the most out of online counseling, and try to work that into your day. Here are some ideas for that post-counseling reflection time:
- Write down anything you or your counselor said that felt important
- Journal about how you feel for five minutes before counseling, and five minutes after
- Take a bath
- Light a candle and pray or meditate
- Do light stretches and deep breathing exercises
Overall, the steps in beginning teletherapy may feel new and strange, but after the first few sessions you’ll be ready to commit to therapy. Any trepidation or nervousness can be talked about with your counselor, too, and he or she will ease you into teletherapy.
If you’re ready to take advantage of the numerous benefits of online mental health counseling, The Light Program’s teletherapy programs are a great place to start. The Light Program offers outpatient mental health treatment for both in-person and virtual services, and caters to both adults and teens. Call (610) 644-6464 to experience your first online mental health counseling session today!