Navigating online therapy sessions


The joy of being a therapist has always been about meeting clients in person, being aware of their pauses, silences. Since the sessions would always be spaced out, with a 20-minute gap, what they did while they were waiting said so much. Once a client brought their pet turtle with them. Another time, a kitten who was struggling with separation anxiety and couldn’t be left at home was part of our session. I have missed all of these experiences, and the intimacy that came with them, and yet found that online therapy sessions have now provided a new lens into people’s life and a novel way of establishing rapport and trust.

Most of my clients have worked with me over the years, and that made the transition from in-person work to online therapy sessions much easier. A client who for years has wanted to show me their ‘writing space’ said during our first online session in March: “I can finally show you the space where I write, and the beautiful view that surrounds it.” We both smiled and, in that moment, I realised: maybe online therapy requires a new frame of reference and in some ways starting all over again as a therapist.

Vulnerability has assumed a new form as clients have begun to do sessions from their terrace, car, even wardrobe closet. Others have sent me a list of codewords they will use, since they don’t have an option to close the room door or can’t stop their parents from entering their room. The task of holding a safe space has become more and more important, whether it’s through patience, humour or sometimes even sharing one’s own vulnerability. I have begun to realise that the gentleness and the authenticity with which we can address some of the tricky scenarios is what would decide how therapy sessions progress.

A client’s three-year-old daughter likes to end our session by saying hello to me and would knock on the door exactly when the hour is up. I have also had unplanned interactions with clients’ parents, partners, roommates and even seen their pets. In those moments, I have realised how the energy changes and this can be felt even via a screen.

It has been hard to watch clients cry and it is harder to not be able to offer a tissue. As a client once mentioned, “Maybe tissue boxes are a therapist’s best friend.” At the same time, when clients are entering a state of freeze response or experiencing dissociation, I have read and found new ways which can help them come back to the room and feel more in charge.

A lot of clients feel that the pandemic has allowed them to be vulnerable and deal with concerns that were never acknowledged. The themes of anticipatory grief, mortality and trauma have possibly put people in a space where they want to re-examine relationships either with the desire to repair or let go and then even understand what it means to forgive or surrender. Couple work during the pandemic has assumed a new dimension.

The clients have had a glimpse into my vulnerable moments too. When I was in the midst of a session, my 11-year-old daughter ended up in tears as her online exam paper didn’t get uploaded. I told my clients and took a moment to soothe her and then resumed the session. In that moment I realised, this is a strange time where both my clients and I are united by our shared fears and anxieties.



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