When I first heard about the idea of online counseling, I was skeptical. Talk therapy has a well-known reputation for being an in-person experience. You call and search for a therapist, and anxiously wait to meet with them in their office waiting room for the first session.
Their voice sounded nice on the phone, but you still aren’t sure what to make of them. Are they genuine? Are they the right match for you?
With online counseling you might also wonder: Could this be as effective as in-person therapy?
I’ve been a provider on the Talkspace platform for almost two years now and I admit I came in with a lot of trepidation about meeting clients on the platform. Could I be effective in this medium?
After seeing an ad for Talkspace on my subway ride, I took some time to research the company and its key stakeholders. Once I came across the mission of Talkspace, to provide access to therapy to people who may not otherwise get it, I knew it was something special.
Being a part of a bigger cause in the mental health field spoke to my desire to meet clients who otherwise would not have been reached. In my career, I’ve worked with a variety of clients, many of them underserved populations in New York City. I had become jaded with a system in which clients had to wait for months at a time for an initial appointment.
With long wait times, mobility and financial issues, I thought there had to be a better way to meet clients right where they are. What better way than on their smartphones?
Now that my concern and anxiety was in tow, I reached out to the company and expressed my interest in becoming a provider. Worst case scenario, I thought, it’s that I’d try it for a little while and then focus back on seeing clients in an in-person basis.
When I received my first client on the platform, I thought we were a good match and I was excited to help. I introduced myself via text and realized I had made a typing error.
I was mortified. How can I be seen as a good therapist if my client thinks I can’t even spell right? I then read my introduction back to myself. It felt cold. I didn’t realize how differently my voice came across via text. I had taken for granted that my tone and steady cadence did a lot of the heavy lifting for me.
I had to slow down. I had to be mindful about my words.
After a few missteps in our initial talks, my first client and I got to know each other well. We were able to trust that when typos happen we would try to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I became aware of how my question, “What about trying it this way?” could come off as patronizing in a way I hadn’t intended.
I’ve been a provider on the platform for a while now and feel more comfortable with the way I work with clients. I’m conscious of how my word choice and voice come across via text and make sure to use video or audio messages to supplement my conversations with clients.
This strategy is particularly helpful when I realize my words can be interpreted several different ways without the added benefit of tone or facial expressions. I’ve learned there are challenges to online therapy, but there are some big benefits, too.
What I didn’t realize is when you are a part of your clients’ everyday lives, you can build a strong therapeutic alliance quickly. Some clients feel comfortable sharing pictures of their pets, favorite places in their homes and even their vacations.
I also get to see and hear how they get along with homework and pace themselves with my questions and thoughts. There isn’t the pressure to respond immediately in coherent responses. We both have time to process without feeling pressure to sound or seem brilliant. It’s not about that. It’s only about showing up and doing the work.
Another great benefit I have seen is the ability to be with my client in the moment. There are times when live chat (or calls) can be helpful to walk a client through an experience in real life. While I’m not there physically, I am there in their pocket.
Online therapy offers me the ability to coach my socially anxious client who is at a party and doesn’t know what to do. I can also help my client cope during a marathon argument with their partner in a quicker way than in-person therapy might allow.
There are challenges to consider with online counseling and therapy. Yet, the proof is in the pudding. No matter the medium, speaking with a licensed therapist about your concerns and hopes for the future is a good idea. I have seen the growth in my clients and the growth in myself as an online provider.