Online therapy: a stumbling block

A Column by Anouk Saenen

Since we are not supposed to go outside for anything other than the absolutely necessary errands, people with a mental health issue have lost their therapy sessions. A lot of psychologists are now offering online therapy via skype or a regular telephone call. So, has mine. Online therapy isn’t the same as regular therapy. It does not have the same effect.

For people like me, with an anxiety disorder, the corona time is extremely hard. The fact that we don’t know when this will be over is the worst. You would say that this would be the perfect moment to start working on the road of recovery with lots of therapy and assignments to make this time easier. But the psychologist offices are closed, which means you either have no therapy, or a form of online therapy. Let me tell you the difference between these two types of therapy for anxiety.

During a regular therapy session, I would come in and give my therapist a hand. Something we cannot do anymore. We would sit down and start talking about my week. My therapist reads my body language and can tell if I’m telling the truth or if I am lying – I mean everyone lies sometimes. For example, in therapy some will say that they are doing fine while they are not. When the session is over and I would walk out he would give me hand again and sometimes give me a pat on my shoulder, to show me that he is proud of the progress I am making.

During an online therapy session, or in my case via a phone call, I pick up the phone in my own home and say ‘hello.’ My therapist will ask about my week and I will tell him how it went and how I am doing. And well, that’s it. We talk on the phone. My own therapist said that he can’t tell if I’m lying or telling the truth and that pat on the shoulder or a small smile is, obviously, out of the question.

Can you tell the difference? Because I certainly can. Tons of small moments of eye contact, body language reading and a smile are missing. You are in your own home and not in your therapist safe office, where only he can hear what you are telling him. And for me, someone with an anxiety disorder, that is hard. And I can imagine many others need those small moments of recognition; I need contact and safety.

In conclusion, this form of therapy is in no way the same as normal therapy. And for me personally, it doesn’t have the same effect either. The safe space and contact are missing, which makes it harder to speak openly about whatever I feel. Luckily, I have been in therapy for 3 years and I just had one of my last sessions. I have learned how to function without a weekly therapy session and constant contact. I have the tools to grow from here. But there are many that aren’t nearly as far as I am on the road to recovery. I can only hope that they will make it through this time, without throwing away the progress they have already made.

April 23, 2020