Do you feel overwhelmed by the sudden shift to tele-therapy? Here are some practical tips to help you do it well.
Prior to the tele-therapy session
Take the time to think through a couple of basic preparations:
Practice with a patient advocate, peer support specialist or someone who will provide constructive feedback. They can help you remember to make eye contact, speak at a steady speed, avoid distracting movements, and focus on consistent engagement. Remember to look directly in the camera, verses at the person on the screen, to make eye contact. You may even want to create a learning lab where you can further refine your technique with a group of peers.
Create an FAQ document for patients and staff on how to effectively use technology. Make sure you are able to help clients connect without making them feel bad or inadequate about their understanding of the technology. If a staff member or patient is struggling, you may want to have them find a technology partner - someone they can call if they are disconnected or the technology continues to challenge them.
To learn more, see ONEcare Virtual Engagement Tip Sheet: Getting Your Environment Ready for Teletherapy.
During the visit
A virtual visit creates some challenges that will require adjustments to your check-in process:
At the beginning of each session, the client should confirm the environment is confidential and should share the physical address or location where they, in the case of a suicide threat or crisis. Add this information to your notes immediately at the start of every session. Virtual visits require you to think about crisis planning in a different way.
Build a connection contingency plan within the first few minutes of your session. If your connection is dropped, who will be the one to call back? If your client has a technology partner (discussed above), call the tech partner for support if you cannot reconnect. Plan so you can avoid having no plan to address the issue.
Virtual visits may also require updates to your therapy ground rules:
The client will need to verify no other children or adults are present in the room with them during the teletherapy session unless previously agreed upon. If you suspect there is a person in the room with the client, ask that the client scan the room by reversing their phone, tablet or laptop so that you can visually “see” the room and you will do the same.
If a child or someone else interrupts the client, let the client know that you will be silent until the person leaves.
Do not record a session without the permission of both therapist and client.
Tips for creating and sharing materials
Share your screen: Whether your style is flashcards, worksheets, games, toys, art, inspiring quotes, music, or whatever else, you can use screen sharing to reach visual learners. Organize your worksheets into folders on your computer to share during your live online session.
Sign-up for a book service: Books help therapists teach concepts, problem-solve, and help with identifying feelings and coping strategies. Consider subscribing to one of the online digital book services. Therapists can login into the book service, pick a book and present it during a live session via screen sharing. For hard copy books or other props, a document camera or whiteboards can contribute to your session. With a little some creativity, thinking outside the box, and figuring out the right platform, you can help patient engagement to soar.
Discover new apps: Look for apps that offer self-serve educational material, games, videos, and homework assignments. Spend some time doing research, ask your clients what they are seeing, and use peer-learning labs for testing.
Do not fall victim to poor engagement because of monologue conversations!
And please know, group work is possible! To do it well, you will need to focus on:
Smaller group sizes
Use of a virtual waiting room so other people cannot just show up in your session without you admitting them
Check in with each client by muting everyone through check-in and obtaining necessary information (call back number, current location, etc. – the items in your regular check-in process). Take this time to rename your patient for accuracy and privacy, as needed.
Blaze has other tips for successful online group work.
Give yourself a virtual high five! . Practice makes perfect! As you continue to refine your techniques, consider:
Email campaigns, an effective way to reach out to clients, especially if you are strategic about which topics you send to specific cohorts.
Seasonal campaigns, a way to engage clients who are at risk of holiday stress and seasonal blues.
Make on-line therapy a standing agenda item during supervision.
Develop a post visits tele-therapy feedback loop.
We hope these tips are helpful to you in planning and implementing your virtual health therapy sessions.
Keep an eye out for our next blog, the first in the Blaze Executive Blog Series:
From ZOOM to Zip! Supercharging Your Virtual Care Program.