Most psychotherapists now have telepractices and conduct video and phone therapy sessions instead of face-to-face ones in an office because the majority of mental health providers switched to all, or primarily, Teletherapy sessions as a result of stay at home orders. While these types of online video or phone services are not for every client or practitioner, many therapists are reporting that, after moving their practices online and doing therapy with clients over several months, they find video or phone telesessions not only effective but convenient—and plan to keep offering some form of Teletherapy along with in-person sessions when they’re once again feasible.
However, clinicians are also reporting that when some new prospective clients find out in-person sessions are not an option they seem reluctant, resistant or unsure about beginning or making the switch to virtual therapy.
When this type of client reaction occurs, it causes psychotherapists to feel conflicted because client consent is needed in order to work virtually—and in-office sessions aren’t an option. Therapists also then wonder if it’s okay to influence a client towards Teletherapy when the client doesn’t seem to want it or is less than comfortable with it. Should therapists address the issue further when this happens or just refer? What's a therapist to do?
While there are many good reasons that people are reluctant to do teletherapy—no private place, no equipment but their phone, etc., it’s important to remember that when in-person services are not available some individuals may initially find it hard to switch to or commit to therapy that’s different from what they’ve thought about, imagined or come to expect. Teletherapy is that kind of different. No couch, just a screen.
While clinicians know that some reluctance or resistance to beginning therapy is usually present in any intake, and are used to addressing that, what counselors aren’t used to is handling intakes where the reluctance is around Teleservices--video or phone--when it's the only option available.
The truth is that many of the issues that are initially expressed as client reluctance about Teletherapy, they aren’t actually about the telesessions at all but are really just another manifestation of the client’s issues that are inherent to therapy—and these same types of objections or complaints would come up even if the therapy was face-to-face.
While it's important to keep in mind that online services are not right for every client or practitioner, a client’s reluctance, discomfort, and resistance is most often not about Teleservices, but about entering a new world where they are moving from a familiar way of operating to the therapy context where different rules apply. Our job as therapists begins with helping clients enter, become familiar with, and safely navigate the therapeutic context. We are, and need to be, their guide.
As you read the following information, be sure to remember:
What’s the best way to respond to a potential client who seems reluctant or resistant to engage in video or phone therapy when a therapist isn’t seeing clients in person in the office?
Teletherapy reticence, reluctance, discomfort, and resistance are clinical issues. The therapist needs to take charge of any conversations regarding teletherapy issues. Yes, it’s part of therapy and it’s the therapist’s job to aid-educate-facilitate pre-therapy (intake) or Teletherapy resistance conversations
New clients don’t really know what teletherapy is or what it’s like if they’ve never had therapy or online therapy before. They only have an idea of what it’s like or the description of what someone else told them.
Teletherapy with a clinician who is a good match can be a great option when in-person therapy is not available and many clients are great candidates for video or phone therapy.
Use your clinical skills to address and respond to a client or prospective client’s Teletherapy issues when they come up—just like you would address anything else. Treat the issues that come up about teletherapy sessions the same way you’d treat any other client issue.
Taking it personally = Countertransference!
Don’t take a client’s Teletherapy reluctance and resistance talk personally when clients demonstrate their issues and skill level in dealing with them—take or use a therapeutic stance just like you would about any other topic or issue. Under your guidance clients can then make an informed decision about beginning, continuing or ending Teletherapy.
Teletherapy is definitely here to stay. Its effectiveness is equivalent to face-to-face sessions and the flexible nature of video and phone sessions benefit both clients and clinicians. Add in the ease and convenience of scheduling a video or phone therapy session and talking with a mental health practitioner from the privacy of your home or another convenient location, and you find that these virtual services are a huge draw, especially for many people who are seeking therapy for the first time.
Telepsychiatry, teletherapy, telepsychology, and video therapy are more than just trends. In fact, a good number of mental health professionals are finding they prefer working with clients using teletherapy video and or phone sessions and will not be returning to in-office sessions. Yes, these therapists are reporting that they plan to keep their therapy practices solely virtual when in-office services become available again on a large scale.
Both in-person therapy and Teletherapy have advantages. Some view office sessions as a way to get some distance from problems at home and find it easier to see and deal with challenges objectively. Some clients prefer phone therapy, which works fine in many situations.
While Teletherapy and online services are not for every client or practitioner, online therapy is here to stay, like it or not. Consumers are changing, and so are therapists and their practices. Teletherapy has become another viable option for clients and mental health practitioners. It may not be the best option for everyone but the good news is that it is just as important and effective as the traditional therapist’s couch.
Lynne Azpeitia, LMFT
For 10+ years Lynne Azpeitia has helped therapists to live richer and happier lives through her workshops, private practice and career coaching, and her practice consultation groups which train, support, and coach licensed therapists, interns & students how to create and maintain a successful, thriving clinical practice and a profitable career