Before March 2020, I had hoped to eventually take a course to learn more about online counselling in case I ventured into it at a future date. Little did I know that I would soon be plunged unceremoniously into telehealth thanks to the impacts of COVID-19. I am happy to report that it has been a fairly smooth transition, with special thanks to colleagues who researched digital counselling platforms and configured doxy.me and VPN access to our online records management for our team. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the transition to online counselling:
- Ethics first: For our team, this meant carefully revising our informed consent documents, emergency planning protocols, and intake process. We had to consider the additional risks, particularly around security and privacy, connected to telehealth and communicate these effectively to our current and new clients. I completed several extensive online courses that clearly outlined the ethical and legal considerations of telehealth. This training was invaluable, and I felt more secure in my practice after thoroughly reviewing these unique ethics.
- Find a community: Amidst the dubious benefits of working from home, such as sweatpants and fridge proximity, I struggled with being physically distanced from my vibrant and supportive team of colleagues. We continue to engage in regular virtual meetings, consultations, and ongoing group chats, which I deeply appreciate. One of the online courses also helped me connect with an online community devoted entirely to practicing online therapy – learning from others and sharing resources has helped immensely with improving confidence and decreasing isolation.
- Save your sight: For me, this meant ensuring that I’m wearing my blue-light blocking prescription glasses, trying to follow the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something 20 feet away), calibrating the height of my laptop to find the right angle for looking thoughtfully at clients without straining my neck, and adjusting the lighting in my improvised home office to a comfortable level. I also activated the blue light filter on my laptops and other devices.
- Reflect and appreciate the old, and new, office: As mentioned, I appreciate my colleagues even more now that we have been distanced. I miss other aspects of the old office – using experiential interventions in session such as a picture card sort task, having access to a large shredding unit for session notes, enjoying a comfortable and devoted counselling space without interruptions from a neighbour’s barking dog or an exuberant toddler, and in general delineating a clear boundary between work and home. However, I have also appreciated aspects of my new office, especially the lack of a commute through rush hour traffic, an ability to prep supper while I’m on my lunch break, and an opportunity to push myself and grow professionally. I am saddened at the circumstances that brought telehealth into my practice, but I am grateful for the privilege that I have in my work and the learning that this has brought into my personal and professional life.
Annelise Lyseng is a registered psychologist at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA