6 tips to help you thrive as a virtual therapist

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Transitioning from in-person to remote care can be challenging if you’re new to the space. In the last installment of our Social Work Month series, Natalie S., LCSW shares some practical tips that have helped her thrive as a virtual therapist.

This is the fourth blog of a four-part series celebrating Social Work Month. Check out Natalie’s first blog on how the pandemic inspired her to become a virtual therapist.

By Natalie S., LCSW, AbleTo Therapist

Now, when I first made the switch to virtual therapy, there was a bit of a learning curve to overcome. I had to be resilient, take initiative, and seek out solutions when necessary. But I quickly got into a rhythm and developed practices that have helped me thrive as a virtual therapist. I wanted to share a few of these tips to help you make the most of your experience, and ultimately, the patient’s experience.

1. Practice self-care

Self-care is the number one tool that will help you thrive as a social worker. It could be as simple as taking five minutes to step away from your computer to take a walk or grabbing a fresh cup of coffee. For me, exercise helps keep me energized so that I can give my best self to my patients. I also make sure to practice self-awareness as a part of my self-care routine. If something’s troubling me, I acknowledge it, accept it, and reach out to my support system — family, friends, colleagues, clinical supervisors, etc. Try out different self-care practices until you find what works best for you and your schedule.

2. Build a healthy work-life balance

Since you’re working from home, you definitely want to establish work-life boundaries. It can be challenging, but you have to be able to make the switch from “therapist” mode to “at home” mode when you’ve met with your last patient. Otherwise, you’ll think about work, after work, which can be taxing and eventually lead to burn out. If possible, try to have a separate space or room for your office so that when the day is over you can unplug and leave the “office,” which is critical to protecting those work-life boundaries.

3. Invest in technology

There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with a faulty camera or connectivity problems in the middle of a session. Invest in a decent camera, reliable laptop, and high-speed internet to reduce the number of technical issues (at least on your end). Whenever I get any of my patients on the screen, the first thing I do is ask them if they can hear me and see me. Fortunately for me, being at AbleTo has been a game changer in this respect. We’re given extensive technical support and all the equipment that’s needed to ensure a smooth experience for both the therapist and patient.

4. Find creative ways to engage over the phone/video

Sometimes, therapy isn’t always a “talking” session. We know from in-person practice that even working on a puzzle or coloring activity can be just as therapeutic for that session. It’s possible to translate that same experience in virtual therapy and it’s our responsibility to find creative ways to build that rapport. At AbleTo, we have evidence-based interactive worksheets we can send to patients to express their thoughts and emotions, on their own time.

5. Verify location and patient’s safety

Whenever you’re providing virtual care, a patient’s safety is the number one priority. You want to make sure to verify their address at the beginning of each session. Try to avoid speaking with them while they’re driving and reschedule the session for a later time when they’re stationary. If they’re in a different location, record that specific address. It’s important that you take down this information for all your patients, not just for those who are considered high-risk or have chronic conditions. This way, you can still keep them safe even though you’re not physically next to them — i.e., helping them navigate emergency resources or having those emergency resources come to them.

6. Create a safe space

When the patient is confident in your confidentiality, they’re more likely to open up and feel safe enough to be vulnerable with you. Let them know that you’re in a place that’s quiet with no interruptions, where no one around you can hear your conversations. (And if your environment doesn’t reflect this, try to make the necessary adjustments.)

Being HIPAA compliant is fundamental in creating a safe space. Reinforce to the patient that their materials and anything you discuss is private. Make sure they know you take their health and privacy seriously by informing them of the protocols you have in place to protect their information (password for computer, locked cabinets, etc.).

Join our community of clinical social workers

Our team at AbleTo is always looking for compassionate clinical social workers who want to make a difference in people’s lives. We’re actively hiring for both part-time and full-time therapists in all 50 states. Check out our career page to learn more.