Telling your most private personal thoughts to your laptop screen is a curious experience, but that's what I've been doing for the last two months. Zoom therapy, perhaps once called Skype therapy or counselling-via-video link, is now more popular and accessible than ever.
You can virtually attend traditional sessions with psychologists in your own country, or find a therapist or counsellor who happens to be on the other side of the world via an app like Talkspace.
Naturally, this technology-led form of counselling thrived during lockdowns across the planet. Now that one-on-one real-life appointments are possible again, Zoom therapy is one of the Covid-era changes that will follow us back into normal life. Unlike social distancing, working from home, and constant hand sanitising, it will be something that outlasts the pandemic.
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My therapist is from Colorado. I sought out an American professional psychologist because I believe therapy is one thing that Americans (still) do right. In New Zealand, the assumption is that if you're in therapy, you're sick. In the United States, you're in therapy because you want to improve.
The desire to be a better, more enlightened version of myself is what drove me to Zoom therapy. Seven sessions later, I'm sticking with it because it's an hour a week where I get to be completely self-serving. I can voice my confusions and fears and have their legitimacy mirrored back to me. This is something we should ALL be doing, but don't – Kiwis are still stuck with the pride that our own lives aren't "bad enough to need help".
Zoom therapy works for many reasons. You can engage with a therapist or counsellor via e-mail and messaging first, making it easier to find the right fit (rather than blindly going into physical sessions to see a person you don't know anything about, and may not get along with).
A 50-minute session doesn't take up half your day with transport and other logistics. Because you're doing it from the comfort of your own home, there's zero shame in attending a clinic-like setting or the need to sit tightly in a waiting room nervously awaiting your name to be called. The availability of therapists in different time zones also mean you don't have to keep telling your manager you have a doctor's appointment during traditional work hours – you can find a professional available during your nights and weekends.
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In a Zoom therapy session itself, I find it easier to reveal my true feelings than in real life therapy. I'm completely unfazed by the impression I'm making on my therapist (yes, trying to impress your therapist is a thing) as I'm never going to bump into them at Countdown. Speaking freely and honestly somehow seems more doable when it feels like you're just talking to yourself out loud. There's also zero small talk in your session. Every dollar you're spending feels like you're getting the goods you're paying for.
Zoom therapy also forces you to be respectful of when it's your turn to talk, and your turn to listen. This is particularly useful for Zoom couples counselling. Unlike when you're all in a room together, technological hindrances (e.g. time lags and occasional sound outages or screen freezes) mean you can't interrupt. It's rude (and often impossible) to interject during a video call. You simply have to wait for the other person to stop speaking, which gives you a masterclass in really hearing what someone else has to say.
Afterwards, you can decompress from your own living room, rather than having to get in the car and brave rush-hour traffic in an emotionally-heightened and sensitive state. Trust me, that's the hardest part about real-life therapy: going from the safe space of a therapist's office (when vulnerability is expected), then literally being thrust back into the harsh conditions of the real world in an instant.
It's not all smooth sailing via Zoom. Some of the standard exercises you'd do in real-life therapy seem a little weird through your computer screen. Every session of mine begins with a grounding exercise; a form of mindfulness or guided meditation. It's a strange feeling to be sitting in your home office with your eyes closed knowing someone can see and talk to you on the other end of a video call. Additionally, it's easy for someone from your household to walk in on your session, the dog might start barking, or – in my case – you'll need to quickly run to the front door because the courier has come a-knocking.
Naturally, Zoom therapy comes with a hacking risk, which might be a concern for some. I haven't heard of anyone being Zoom bombed during a meltdown yet. Your confidentiality is guaranteed between you and your licensed therapist, but there's a tiny chance someone else could be listening in too. I am rest assured my emotional challenges aren't interesting enough for a hacker to care about.
Traditional methods of therapy will be back, and indeed there are many techniques (e.g. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, or EMDR), that can't be done over video. With therapy now made easier, however, there are fewer excuses not to work on your mental health. Therapy is something every human (with financial means) should do. We all carry around a lifetime's worth of experiences that need validating. I can confidently say it's entirely possible to do this in your pyjamas on your own couch, and not on somebody else's.