Three Actions Therapists Need to Take Now to Improve Therapy Sessions

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It will be years before we fully understand how the coronavirus pandemic has changed society. But one thing that is certain: teletherapy is here to stay. Last spring, teletherapy became a lifeline for clients during the lockdown. Almost a year later, therapists and clients are still seeing benefits to this mode of treatment. It’s convenient for clients. It has expanded access for those who have transportation barriers or who face community stigma. And most important, research is finding that symptom reduction and client satisfaction rank about the same for teletherapy as for in-person sessions. Yet despite the widespread adoption of telehealth tools in the past year, obstacles for therapists are still prevalent. Very little formal training exists that is specific to mental health providers. Telehealth has unique policies and procedures above and beyond in-person visits. Technology issues can derail a session. And there are a host of legal risks to navigate. Continuous improvement is at the heart of what we do. In the spirit of continually improving how we serve clients, here are three video teletherapy best practices therapists need to incorporate into their teletherapy sessions now.

#1 – Set Your Sights on the Setting

Creating the right ambience is just as important on a video platform as it is for in-person sessions. Dress professionally and be on time. Remove visual clutter and physical distractions from your practice space. And don’t overlook lighting—it should be adequate without being harsh. Always position your camera so that light sources, including windows, are in front, rather than behind, you. Pro tip: always look at your camera, not your client’s face, to show engagement. Keep in mind that positioning the camera too close to your face can make a client perceive that you are in their space. It may also cut off nonverbal cues, like hand gestures.

#2 – Know Your Technology You may need to pull double duty as IT support, so make sure you understand how your technology works before diving in. Start by ensuring your internet connection is fast enough to support video conferencing. Test your video and audio connections before every session. And always create a back-up plan with each client during your first session. Even with preparation, technology and internet connectivity can fail without notice. You and your client should both know what to do when this occurs so that their care is not interrupted.

#3 – Protect Patient Privacy Teletherapy presents a host of risks related to the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards. At the most basic level, sessions need to be conducted in spaces that are free from interruption. You will also need to ensure that your device has a lock and is not used by any members of your household. From a technology standpoint, all text messaging, email applications and videoconferencing platforms must be HIPAA compliant.  All emails, text messages, instant messages, chat history and clinical records will need to be preserved and stored in the client’s file. Mindfully uses HIPAA-compliant video and email platforms, and all Compass Point therapists have access to these tools.