We work hard to make the in-person Two Chairs therapy experience peaceful and easy so that coming in for therapy can be a break from the bustle of daily stressors, and a time to focus on personal goals. Our clients should be able to concentrate on the work that is important to them in session, rather than the place the work is happening in, or other distractions that can get in the way.
“With this in mind, our clinics are designed to feel welcoming, warm, and familiar, like the living room of a beloved family member: elevated enough to feel slightly aspirational, but never out of reach. A place of sanctuary and retreat, but still real enough that you could project yourself onto it on a regular afternoon, on a regular work day.”
—Alex Maceda, Clinic Design
However, since we are still living out much of our social and professional lives virtually, clients can’t come into our clinics for this natural segue into the therapeutic space.
My fellow therapist Alicia Eggen, LMFT, noted, “It seems that prior to shelter-in-place, a lot of my clients used their commute to therapy as a period of transition and reflection before their session. The commute was a time many clients used to think about what happened over the week and what they wanted to talk about. Some of my clients and I have been discussing how to take a few minutes before teletherapy to get out of work mode.”
While our daily activities are often located within the same house, apartment, or room, creative solutions can replicate the transitions mentally, or in small ways within our physical environment.
If you’re participating in teletherapy, we encourage you to build your own helpful ritual before and after session to transition in and out of therapy. Two Chairs Therapist Lindsey Luebe, LCSW, shares why: “It can be challenging to create a sanctuary when we are living, working, playing and participating in therapy all from the same location, at the same time it might be more necessary than ever to create a healing and calming space for ourselves, which is what rituals help us do.”
Why are rituals so important?
The Scientific American shared the following about the effectiveness of rituals:
“Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
With the understanding that rituals or habits can positively and powerfully facilitate our desired outcomes, we’ve compiled the following list of tips for preparing for your next remote therapy session.
Creating Your Therapy Rituals
First, make sure you have privacy
Find a place where you feel comfortable and safe talking about confidential material and sharing openly with your therapist. We recommend sitting in a separate room from others in your home, using sound buffering from sound machines or apps on your phone, and to use headphones if possible to reduce sound travel.
If limited privacy and/or space is an issue inside your home, consider sitting in your parked car, or going for a walk around the block during your therapy session. Feel free to talk with your therapist about other options as well, as they’ve likely had to get creative too.
Next, put together your at-home “therapy space”
My colleague Lindsey Luebe, LCSW, shared, “surrounding yourself with items that both stimulate and ground your five senses can be helpful in connecting yourself to the present moment and cultivating relaxation. Try using soothing music or sounds, pleasant smelling candles or room sprays, a soft blanket, an alluring piece of art, a poetry book, or a box of tissues. And while connection looks different in these times sharing your space with another living being can be transformative, even if it's a small house plant.”
No matter what these items are, they should be meaningful to you. Determine if they’re comforting to you and whether they will help you on your journey toward your therapy goals.
Before your session
If possible, plan to change your location for your teletherapy session. You can sit in a different room, a different part of the room you’re in, or a different chair to achieve this.
Allow yourself 10-15 minutes before your session to mentally prepare for therapy. Block your calendar for this extra time, especially if it’s during your work day, and turn off notifications on your device at the beginning of this time.
Use these valuable 10-15 minutes before your session to do any of the following, and be careful not to over-commit. Try incorporating just one at a time to experiment with what works for you:
- If you aren’t able to hold your therapy session in a different place from where you work, use this time to put your work away or clear off your work surface.
- Go for a walk around your home or around the block before and after therapy, as if you are commuting to your session.
- Take a moment to reflect on your week, and what you might want to share with your therapist. You can take it a step further and set an intention or agenda for your time together.
- Do a small journaling exercise, consider using one of these prompts, or just jot down some of your feelings.
- Get up and stretch to connect with yourself and your body.
- Grab water or tea to drink during your session, and put it in your favorite cup or mug.
- Practice mindfulness or a breathing exercise. We have a mindfulness exercise here that you can try with a cup of tea or any beverage.
During your session
We encourage you to treat your teletherapy session just as you would an in-person therapy session. Since you may be joining your teletherapy session from your home, you may notice a desire to check your messages, lay in bed, or eat during your teletherapy session. We encourage you to hold off on these activities during your teletherapy session to focus your full attention on your therapy goals. Your messages will still be there after the session!
It’s also important that you and your therapist are able to see each other during video teletherapy sessions. We recommend avoiding backlighting whenever possible, as many devices automatically adjust lighting to darken faces when a strong light is present.
Technical tips to make your connection smoother:
- If your internet upload speed is less than 5 mbps you may experience poor connection quality during your teletherapy session, so do some testing with a friend before your first session.
- Try to be as close to your wireless router or modem as possible to optimize internet speeds.
- Keep the area around the internet access point free of obstructions and try to join teletherapy sessions in the same room or an adjacent room to your wireless access point.
- If the video or audio quality in your teletherapy session begins to suffer, try muting your audio, and calling in to the teletherapy session from your phone for audio. This can lighten the load on the video call and resolve the lag.
After your session
Depending on what you covered in your session, the thought of returning to work or the rest of your day in general may be overwhelming. If you are able, set aside 5-10 minutes after your session to reflect on your conversation and what that means for your next day, week, or month.
Many of the activities we shared above to prepare for sessions can be great for decompression after sessions as well.
Setting Yourself Up for Success in Therapy
From beginning to end, we want your time in therapy to be smooth and productive. As our Head of Clinical Programs, Katrina Roundfield, Ph.D., said, “Therapy is an hour a week dedicated to you and your needs and that, in and of itself, is radical.”
We encourage you to make sure that this radical act of self-care is filled with all the care and attention that you deserve.
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at [email protected] or by phone at (415) 202-5159.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.