How to get the most out of online therapy

by | 5 January 2024

You’ve opted for online therapy. Maybe it’s more convenient? Perhaps it feels safer? Either way, you want to get the most out of it.

Many of us have gotten used to some form of online working since 2020. However, experiencing online therapy is different from attending any other kind of meeting. You are paying for a service. You need to ensure it works most effectively for you.

Invest a little time and thought into these simple tips, and I promise you will reap the benefits.

1. Get the tech right

Online therapy sessions can be conducted via computer, tablet or smartphone.  Obviously, you need a stable internet connection to make this option work, which can be enhanced by closing other applications.  Make sure your device is plugged in or at least fully charged.  

Usually, your therapist will use Zoom, Teams or Skype, but sometimes they will use a less well-known platform like Whereby.  Most of these platforms don’t require you to download the platform to make use of them.  If you’re having regular appointments, downloading the platform can make logging in quicker and more efficient.

In many cases, it won’t matter what device you use.  However, larger screens will mean you and your therapist can see more of each other, which might allow you to feel more connected.  Many therapists use non-verbal observations as much as dialogue to get to the root of the issue, so you might get more out of your therapy if you’re working on a laptop or computer.  This is particularly true if you’re working with a sensorimotor psychotherapist or other somatic therapist with a particular focus on the body.  Try to position yourself directly in front of the screen with little of the screen being wasted on the empty wall above your head. 

Another advantage to using a PC or laptop is that incoming calls won’t disturb you.

Most platforms allow you to conceal your own image if you’re uncomfortable seeing yourself on screen.  

Using headphones can help eliminate background noise and offer better sound quality, which can result in a better interpersonal connection.

2. Background – no need for an impressive bookcase!

Your therapist isn’t going to care about what’s in the background behind you.  They’re not judging your living arrangements or whether you’re having to talk to them from your kitchen or bedroom.  There’s no need to use a false background, which can be distracting when you move during a session as they tend to ripple when you move.

3. Privacy and emotional Safety is important for online therapy

Therapy can lead to emotionally painful subjects being discussed. If you’re worried about others seeing or hearing your vulnerability, you will find it hard to relax into the session and won’t get as much out of it as you could.  You need privacy for online therapy.  You need somewhere where you can’t be overheard but also where you can’t be seen by anyone other than your therapist.  

If you share your home with someone else, sessions will work best when you are in it on your own.  Even if there’s no real risk of being overheard, anxiety about this can restrict where the conversation might go.  The person you live with may be someone you would share most of your thoughts with, but even then, knowing they are in the house and can hear the conversation can affect how therapy goes for some people.  If there are subjects you wouldn’t openly discuss with your housemate, try to schedule therapy for when you’re alone.

Having a non-verbal child present can also affect sessions.  Parents naturally want to protect their children, so they tend to stay off upsetting subjects as they don’t want their little ones to see them upset.  

If you’re planning a session from work, do you have access to a room where you know you won’t be overheard or interrupted and other people can’t see you?  If you’re sat in your car, you’re going to be seen and overheard by passers-by.

4. Minimise interruptions

Think about face-to-face therapy.  You would devote the time exclusively and without interruption to the session.  Treat online therapy sessions with the same respect.

You want to be able to focus on the issue at hand and ensure the therapist is focused, too.  Put your phone on airplane mode, switch off notifications, put a sign on the door – anything that reduces the chance of someone trying to interrupt. 

5. Reap the rewards

If you have chosen the right therapist, they will be familiar with and comfortable delivering online therapy sessions.  Don’t be afraid to ask; if there is anything about their presentation or tech that makes you feel uncomfortable, say so.

Once you have the set-up right and got those simple basics sorted, you should be able to establish the kind of rapport with your therapist which is vital to effective counselling, just as it is in face-to-face sessions.

Once you have decided that therapy is going to be helpful to you, working online can be just as effective as working in person, provided you are properly prepared.  

Good luck.  And if you need any further guidance, please feel free to contact me.

Dr Naomi Murphy

Dr Naomi Murphy

Post Author

Naomi is one of the UK’s most respected forensic clinical psychologists. Recently appointed Honorary Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, she qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1997 and as a consultant clinical psychologist in 2003.