It’s not just work meetings, family quizzes and social catch-ups with friends that switched from face to face to online when coronavirus lockdown and social distancing rules were put in place.

What is online counselling?

Counsellors have swapped their therapy rooms for counselling via videolink.

Online counselling means they’re still there for people struggling with their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. It’s a safe and non-judgemental space for people to be heard and supported.

While many counsellors have been offering therapy online for years, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted to take the step to speak to a therapist in this way.

Now more people are seeing the benefits of online counselling, say our members, and some are even preferring it to face to face sessions.

Familiarity of surroundings

“Clients are used to coming into 'our' area when they step into our therapy room,” says counsellor Suzie Pinchin. “To go from that to having their session from their sitting room or kitchen at their home can be a shift. I’ve felt confidence with the familiarity of their surroundings has enabled them to relax more,” she added.

If you’re considering online counselling, some of our members have shared tips that might help you make the most of your sessions.

How to find the right therapist

You can find BACP-registered counsellors and psychotherapists who work online using our Therapist Directory. Their profiles also explain what issues they can help with and any specialisms they have.

Denise Freeman recommends asking a potential therapist for a free consultation via video.

“Finding the right therapist is key to having a good online experience,” she says. “I offer all potential new clients a free ‘video’ consultation.  It allows them the opportunity to test out the platform, ask questions and to meet me, in the way that we would be doing, during a session.”

You’ll be able to discuss with your therapist how sessions will work and talk about a contract, payment and cancellation fees.

Test the technology

Lockdown has prompted a crash course in video-conferencing for many of us.

Before you have your first session, it’s a good idea to test your technology. Check your camera, microphone and see if you need headphones. Make sure your wifi’s working ok – and shut down any other apps you have on screen.

Jennifer Park recommends aiming for as stable an internet connection as possible. “It sounds obvious but being able to talk freely without glitches or big pauses will be very positive for the experience.”

You might want to test your equipment and internet connection by contacting a friend by the platform you’re going to use.

Your therapist will agree a backup plan with you in case the technology fails.

Indira Chima adds: "Ensure your device is fully charged or plugged-in as video calling is battery draining."

Find some privacy

“It’s important you feel heard, but not overheard. This is key,” says Simon Coombs.

Find a quiet space and time for your session. This may mean you tell people in your household you have an important meeting for 50 minutes and can’t be disturbed.

Some therapists say their clients have sat in their parked cars for therapy sessions, as it’s the only private space available to them.

Headphones are often also recommended for privacy.

Vasia Toxavidi adds: “If you want you can put a soft low music close to the door so as to prevent the noise coming through as much.”

Talk to your therapist if you have children at home

Denise Freeman says that some people aren’t having therapy as they’re worried it may be a problem if they have children at home.

She says: “Therapy now has a ‘new normal’ and is becoming more innovative and adaptable.  I’ve worked online with both couples and individuals who have children and we have found ways to make it work.  Talk to your therapist if this is a concern.”

Find a position that works

You may not be seeing your therapist in person, but you will still be face to face if you can have your device at eye-level. This can help with the connection with your therapist.

Sitting with the light, such as a window, facing you also helps. If the light is behind you, you’ll end up in darkness and your therapist won’t be able to see you.

Get comfortable

“Make sure you're sat in a comfortable position with good lighting and seating,” says Lauren Street. “This will help you to feel more relaxed and focus on the therapy session.”

Jackie Rogers adds: “Have a glass of water nearby during your session and those important tissues! It may be helpful to have a pen and paper to hand, in case you want to make notes of anything your counsellor has said.”

Try to focus on your therapist rather than your own image

Now you’re ready to start your session, it may feel a little different to seeing your counsellor in person at the start.

“Unlike face to face sessions, in online therapy you'll be able to see yourself as well as your therapist,” says Lauren Street.

“You may become self-conscious about this so try to focus on your therapist or somewhere else on the screen to take the focus away from yourself.”

Use your space so you feel safe

Sometimes it can be good to have something in the room that you can focus on and that makes you feel safe, if you’re finding your session difficult.

Chloe Goddard McLoughlin says this can be done “holding a pet or cushion, or working with your therapist to identify and focus on a safe object inside or outside their window such as a tree or a plant”.

Take time out after your session

“After face to face counselling you will have the journey back home, or wherever you’re going, to enable reflection and grounding,” Jackie Rogers says.

“However, when you are having online counselling, all of a sudden you’re back in your normal surroundings. This can feel quite surreal or jarring, so it really is important to give yourself that little bit of extra time for you.”

She adds: “Make sure after your session you have a moment or two to ground yourself. Whether that’s by doing some breathing exercises or taking a short walk.” 

Accept the change

Speaking to a counsellor via a video conferencing platform may not be how you imagined having therapy.

But Vasia Toxavidi says even if you may find it different at first, it can be possible to accept the change and see the positives.

“People don’t like change too much but at the same time they are very good in adapting and adjusting,” she adds. “If they change their perspective and stop catastrophising about what could go wrong with the change, they can flow easier into the new situation.”

Talk to your therapist about any fears or concerns

Don’t forget that if you’re having problems with this new way of working, you can talk to your therapist about it.

Jennifer Park says: “Any fears or concerns can be worked through with the therapist. Discuss and process anything that may cause discomfort for you.”

You’re doing amazingly

And our final words come from therapist Eve Menezes Cunningham, with a reassuring message for anyone trying online counselling.

“Know that you're doing amazingly … be gentle with yourself and honour how well you're doing.”

Find a counsellor or psychotherapist who’s working online with our Therapist directory.