Tips for a seamless online counselling session
Here are some tips to get the most out of your online counselling session:
The screen is your consulting room.
Background: Make sure the background is appropriate. What appears on your screen should be as important as the decoration in your consulting room.
(For Zoom users there is an option to select the background image. Check Video Setting (bottom left) > Virtual Background).
Light: Light is the most important factor. If your face is slightly in the dark you compromise the communication and openness with your client. If possible, face a window rather than have the window behind you. Clients are often unaware of that and might need your gentle prompt or guidance.
Body position: Pay attention to how much of your body appears on the screen. You both want to read body language as much as possible, so make sure that on both screens you can see the upper part of the body.
Prepare for plan B:
Technology is not 100% reliable. Let the client know your alternative solutions in advance (e.g. facetime, whatsapp) and agree on what you will do in case there is a loss of connection. In instances of poor connectivity, you may mute the sound on the screen and continue talking via your mobile phone. It works very well.
Distractions at your end may convey to your clients that you don’t hold their session with enough regard. This is an unprofessional management of the online counselling setting. If you work from home, as many of us do when they provide video counselling, it is essential to ensure pets & children are taken care of before you begin.
If interruptions occur on the client’s end, check in to see how it affects them and if they would like to do anything about it.
Handle tech challenges with charm and humour
Technical issues can be daunting and frustrating. However, appropriate and humoristic self-disclosure about your struggling with the tech issue can actually strengthen the therapeutic alliance.
Make the relational process more explicit
Online counselling may compromise the essential aspect of non verbal communication between the client and the counsellor. Counsellors need to be aware of that and continue to convey to clients that they are seen even when we don’t share a space with them. You may need to make a conscious effort to do both: notice and reflect back (“I can see the expression of sadness on your face”) and also clearly express your experience. An example of this is nodding, or saying statements such as “that made me feel really worried for you”.
Reflect on the medium and process
For some clients, this not-so-intimate medium can be perceived as a compromise on the quality of the relational process and how they are seen and understood. It might be useful to check in with them at the end of the first session: “How was it different for you?” “Did you feel that anything got lost in the process?”.