Have you been doing the teletherapy thing? I have, and you know what? I hate it!
I know, some people love it and would do it all the time if they could. But it’s not for everyone. I mean, I like my new therapist, but having sessions over the phone or via videoconferencing software is just not for me.
MAYBE IT WAS THE TIMING
So, I started with my current therapist, Jacqueline, in January of this year. And I have to admit, I was nervous about transitioning to someone new after working with Kim for two very productive years. This new therapist would have big shoes to fill, because Kim and I had a very good rapport. It may not be fair to compare the two, and I try not to, but it is normal.
But after only three or four sessions, COVID hit.
I, like most of us, never imagined the pandemic would last as long as it has (with no end in sight), so I wasn’t all that worried that it would affect my therapy. I figured we would have COVID under control within a month or so.
Of course, that didn’t happen. So, my therapy sessions started taking place over the phone, which was very hard for me. I HATE talking on the phone. I mean, I loathe it! I’ve been known to avoid making phone calls for months, and I don’t answer the phone unless I know who it is, I’m expecting their call, and there is no other way to contact them.
Or, as in this case, if it’s my therapist.
Needless to say, those phone sessions were less than productive. It was just too weird for me. There was a lack of intimacy, of coziness, no sense of safety in sharing my inner-most thoughts and feelings. Even though I was alone in our home office, there was no sense of privacy. It just felt too…what’s the word?…wide open. (I know that may not make sense, but I couldn’t think of a better way to put it.)
It felt like there was a huge existential chasm between us, and it seemed pointless. We had a few sessions, I canceled a couple times, and then something else new happened – we went virtual. And oh my, did I hate that! LOL
TESTING, ONE, TWO…
The video chats were way worse than the phone chats! I thought it would be better. After all, now I would be able to see Jacqueline’s facial expressions and catch some other non-verbals. But when it came down to it, I felt extremely self-conscious and I still didn’t feel “safe” opening up to her.
I felt like I was talking into the ether. There was a slight delay (as there sometimes is over the phone, as well), which meant we were constantly interrupting each other, and let me tell you – that did not help. And then, there was the whole do-I-look-at-her-or-at-my-webcam? thing.
I was overly conscious of my movements, too. Of course, when you’re on a video chat, you need to remain mostly still unless you want the other person to experience motion sickness. And you have to make sure you’re not sitting in front of a window, which will wash you out. The whole experience was anxiety-provoking.
It was awful and I dreaded each session. Therefore, they were not helpful.
SUCCESS, AT LAST
After three or four of these video sessions, I asked Jacqueline if there was any way her bosses would allow her to see me in person. She texted me later that day to let me know they said yes, which was fantastic. I’m not sure what I would have done had they said no. We’ve been having socially-distanced, fully-masked sessions in the conference room at her office for the last six weeks.
I have to say, it is definitely different from what I’m used to – there’s a stark contrast between Jacqueline’s warmly-lit, homey office and the bright, industrial feel of the conference room. But it’s much better than either holding the sessions over the phone or via video chat. And, while it may be a bit impersonal spewing my feelings in a large, open room, at least we can get a better read on each other.
I am the only client she sees in the office – she says the rest of her clients are quite happy doing the virtual thing, which surprises me. I thought for sure that most clients would be missing the intimacy of the therapy office, with its quaintness, comfortable seating choices, and white noise machines.
Guess I was wrong.
For me, in-person sessions are where it’s at. This roughly eight-month experiment in indirect therapy (that’s what I’m calling it) was necessary, and I can chalk it up to experience, but it was kind of a waste of time.
During our last session IRL (in real life), I was able to open up about some of my deepest fears, like that no one actually cares about me and the fear that I don’t make an impact even on my little corner of the world and the fear that I will be forgotten.
The worst one? That would be the fear that no one will notice when I die, until the stench gets too unbearable, at which time the authorities would come and find my decomposing body. (My roommate can’t believe I feel that way. She actually laughed out loud at that, seeing it for what it is – an irrational fear that is not going to happen. That made me laugh about it too, for the first time.)
In this week’s session, I shared some of the deepest, most personal doubts I have about myself, something I would never have broached either over the phone or during a video chat. And Jacqueline was able to guide me through it. Other topics included why I’m so rigid with myself and giving myself a break. I have no problem whatsoever giving other people the benefit of the doubt, but I have much less compassion with myself.
What can I say? I’m a work in progress.
For me, there’s just no substituting for therapy IRL. I’m a bit surprised about this, because I’m pretty much an open book. But I am now willing to dive into some deep topics in therapy and be very vulnerable, and this just doesn’t lend itself to virtual means of therapy.
Oh, and I’d been working with a new psychiatrist (at least, I thought he was a psychiatrist) all year and I haven’t even met him! His name is Tim, and he’s a Nurse Practitioner. I’ve only spoken with him over the phone twice and did one video chat with him – in nine months’ time! Here this guy is prescribing my medications, and the longest we’ve ever spoken was for about fifteen minutes during our first phone call. I can’t help but think that, if there was no such thing as COVID, we would have had a much more thorough conversation in his office and he would know me and understand my psychiatric needs a little better.
Now, let it be known that I heart medical professionals, including nurses of all stripes and physician assistants. In fact, I prefer NPs for my primary care. However, this is the first time I’ve had someone who was not an MD in charge of my mental health, and I have to say, I’d rather have an actual psychiatrist working with me. I didn’t even know it was possible that a non-MD could provide psychiatric care.
That being said, there’s been another change in my care: Tim, the psychiatric provider I never met in person, has now left the clinic I go to. The phone message I received about this said the clinic would contact me to set up an appointment with another provider, but after three weeks of silence, I finally called them. My next appointment is with an MD in two weeks. Via video chat.
I can’t wait.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Most people seem perfectly fine with teletherapy.
- I am not most people.
- My anxiety about talking on the phone verges on phobic.
- COVID is reframing every aspect of our lives, like it or not.
- I cannot seem to spill how I feel over the phone or on a video chat. In-person is where I rock it.
- Each of us needs to do whatever it is that works for us.
- I got to laugh at myself in an important way this week.
Previously Published on Depression Warrior