Psychotherapist Ejiro Ogbevoen on how she changed her mind about zoom therapy…
I was convinced I would never offer counselling online.
This was a decision I made a few years ago during my training in counselling and psychotherapy which was based on in-person client relationships. At that time virtual counselling seemed distasteful and cold to me, I genuinely believed that technology could impact the experience of the therapeutic process and I was not having any part of that.
Being present with my client is the most important aspect of therapy, and to me, that meant being together physically in the same space, to share a connection and nurture the relationship, to look into the other person’s eyes, perceive the energy in the room, read between the lines, listen to what’s not been said and much more.
Fast forward to a year before the pandemic, I was working with a client who travelled a significant distance to meet with me. After a few sessions, we agreed to take our sessions online to make things easier on him. Since we had already established an in person connection and built a working relationship there was no hesitation in offering my client this opportunity. It felt like the right thing to do and it worked out really well.
I thought counselling with this client went smoothly because we had already formed a relationship in person, so the technology bore no impact.
Overnight, everyone moved online. I stopped.
Would I or would I not offer virtual counselling?
I had to reassess my position on this very significant issue.
One thing was entirely certain; I absolutely love and enjoy being a therapist. It gives me such a great sense of contribution to others and I wanted to keep giving, enriching my life and the lives of the people I work with.
Things were different, the virtual space had become the holding place for almost every relationship, I had two options, adapt and carry on or wait indefinitely for the resumption of face-to-face meetings. I decided to adapt and continue to offer much needed support.
Decision made, there was no resistance within me and it felt right.
Then I got excited.
I always fancied the idea of working from home; here was the opportunity and I grabbed it. I love and still enjoy the ease of ‘going’ to work.
The disappearance of travel time felt incredible. I do not miss being in traffic, though my office was less than a twenty minutes drive from my home.
‘How do you dress for work on Zoom?’ I get asked sometimes. It is important to me that I dress right, so I feel right for me. I dress complete – not half, in a relaxed formal outfit with fluffy socks to keep my feet warm.
Has technology impacted the therapeutic process as I feared many years ago? For me, the answer is an emphatic no.
Being present with my client on the virtual platform has proved very feasible. People have shown as much commitment to the therapeutic process online as in real life. While the therapeutic experience has not diminished in my opinion, it does require a different way of being, using an alertness that would not be available to me otherwise.
An observation I made early on with online counselling was the comfort with which clients experienced therapy from being in their own environment. They choose the most comfortable spot in their home, when they can. The choices range from the home office space, to the dining table, the couch, the bed and even the floor. The client does what feels right and good for them as they engage in the process.
While the above works for many clients, others who are unable to find a private space in their homes have used their cars as alternatives.
For many people, finding a private space in their homes could be challenging, for some impossible and a therapy office would still be the preferred option for privacy.
The following are some things I have to actively manage while working online.
Eye contact – Making good eye contact on a video call can be tricky. Our desire to look at the person on the screen as opposed to straight at the camera makes proper eye contact impossible, however, there is an intensity of focus that compensates for this limitation.
Technology – The sensitive nature of technology is something that needs to be consciously managed such as in those moments when the computer freezes or the internet connection drops on either side. I have learned to manage myself and support the client to do the best we can with what we have. People are very understanding and interruptions are accommodated in good faith.
Noise – We cannot guarantee the silence of other members of our household. Kids want daddy, the dog wants a walk and mum forgets the time and comes to check in. I appreciate the life of my client by engaging patiently with everything that shows up.
No-video calls – Some clients opt for no-video calls, which essentially is telephone counselling. I am happy to accommodate this request because for various reasons some clients feel safer without the camera on. I believe that my senses have had to adapt to counselling in this way. I listen intently, ask more questions for clarity and patiently wait on the client.
Silence – Silence in the virtual space seems longer to me, I have had to consciously manage myself to sit in the silence, not jumping to fill it, especially when I can see the client working within.
Therapy facilitates clarity, increases awareness, and inspires growth. In person client relationships are magnificent, real, yet therapy itself is intangible. In my opinion, a safe and secure environment can also be intangible. The core conditions in therapy – unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence, still applies when connecting with my client to create a therapeutic relationship virtually. Effective communication is vital, translated through the tone of my voice, my attitude and my choice of words.
So, I moved online. For now, I see no lure to returning to the physical space.