In the next few blog posts I will be talking with you about “presence” in online counselling. When I am counselling online my aim is to give the client the sense [as much as is possible in this virtual setting] that we are in the same room together. I provide information about what my office looks like and how it is set up, comment on the weather or what I can see or hear outside my window. I do this to provide my clients with some way for them to enter more fully into the online counselling experience.
An important part of each session is the session ‘opener’. It sets the tone for the session and provides a transition from everyday life to counselling. It is just like those first moments in any in-person counselling session. Sometimes there’s chit-chat as I greet my client, give them time to get settled in the room, and then, once they are ready, we can begin to work.
Here’s a couple of session starter examples:
“Hello <client name> [smiling and gesturing a ‘please come-on-in’]. It’s a lovely sunny spring day. I trust that you too, have been able to enjoy spring today. My two office chairs are set up and waiting for us, positioned so that we have a view of the garden. “
“If you were here with me at this very moment you would notice that it’s a grey day outside….the kind where you want to stay inside and curl up in a comfortable chair…..I have a comfy chair set aside especially for you.”
I am quite deliberate about what I talk about in the session opener. I intentionally aim to match my words [mood, pacing, tone, etc.] with the client, their issues and the work we are doing together. It’s not just about setting the scene visually for the client. If, for example, I am working with someone who is stressed I might say something like “have a seat and take a few deep breaths before we begin….that’s right…breathe deeply…take your time….just breathe ….let go…breathe”.
I may also further set the scene by talking more about the process of online counselling and how the client may be feeling about it. Here’s an example.
“Sometimes when people share so much of themselves, especially when they don’t really know the other person, it can feel a bit ….I think scary is the word I am looking for………You may be wondering if it’s okay to say how you feel (both positive and negative feelings), and you might be worried about how I’ll respond. I want you to know that it’s alright to express all of your feelings (happiness, sadness, anger, grief, joy, pain, worry…). I want this to be a safe place for you.”
I always try to end with an invitation like this “And now, I invite you to get comfortable, and begin when you are ready.”
Next time I’ll talk about how to continue to convey “presence” throughout the session.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC is an affiliate counsellor with therapyonline.ca.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA