Relational Therapy During a Pandemic
During these unprecedented times, we’re spending more time with our families and loved ones than ever before. This can be a great opportunity to bond and improve relationships but on the flip side, it can bring to the surface struggles in our relationships. Relational therapy is a proven method for improving relationship quality. But, is it possible to have a quality therapy together during the pandemic experience online? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
As a marriage and family therapist, I am trained to work “relationally” to balance viewpoints and shift patterns of interaction. Whether with a couple or several members of a multigenerational family, I often work with more than one client in the room. In my office, I am able to notice nuanced forms of communication (body language, etc.), deflect and re-frame heightened emotion, and use my own body positioning to influence the events of a session. During this pandemic, however, I’ve found it challenging to do everything I am used to during a therapy session. Like many of us, I’ve had to adjust my methods in order to find success from a distance.
Challenges have included trying to focus on more than one person on screen, interrupting clients during conflict, and managing powerful moments while my face is frozen or my audio is delayed on the clients’ device. I’ve had clients bang their heads together trying to get everyone on screen at the same time. Some clients wander off to other parts of the house or pass me around like a hot potato. Any way we slice it, online therapy is not a perfect medium for working “relationally”.
So, what can we do to help make online relational therapy possible? After 4 months of trial and error, I have some recommendations for making the most of this virtual therapy experience.
Some clients prefer to use their phones to access online therapy. Typically, that works out great for an individual session. However, for multiple people, I would suggest using a laptop, desktop, or tablet that can stand on its own. Using these types of devices allow clients to sit further away from the device so that more people can fit into frame. This enables the therapist to read body language and understand how each client is relating to one another during session.
Usually, I let clients know who I hope to meet with so clients can make the proper arrangements. However, clients may forget and schedule something else during a session. A common scenario I’ve found is a teenage client running around the house looking for mom or dad, so the parent can be involved in the session. If you’re a parent and not sure if the therapist wants you to be part of the session; simply ask. Knowing when sessions are occurring and who is expected to participate is key to successful treatment. Alternatively, if you know you’ll be busy during your child’s session, send a quick email to let your therapist know you’re unavailable.
A private location is best for a good session. With relational therapy, privacy is not the only criteria to consider. I recommend attending a session in a space with plenty of seating for everyone who will be joining. This way, one person isn’t standing while others are sitting. I’ve found myself looking one client in the eye and another in the belly button.
Technical difficulties are bound to happen in these situations. Whether WiFi cuts out, the screen freezes, audio isn’t synced up with video, etc., it can be challenging to have sessions online. When you are in an online relational session, important moments can be missed if we don’t allow for it. If you’re waiting your turn to respond, count to 3 in your head to give everyone just a little extra time to catch up if the connection is lagging behind.
Following these recommendations can help improve your virtual relational therapy experience. If you’re considering relational therapy during COVID-19, know that it is possible and impactful if you prepare yourself to be successful.