Artwork by Maisie Mannering
There is something quite surreal about being reduced to tears whilst opening up to a complete stranger about some of your darkest moments… as you sit in your tracksuit bottoms at the same dining table you have eaten at since childhood. But these are the unusual realities of therapy sessions conducted on Zoom, which I’ve been having since the start of January.
I’ve been to see two therapists before, for slightly different reasons. Both of these periods of therapy consisted of less than ten appointments, as I was able to explore the issues I was experiencing to the point where I no longer felt the need to continue my sessions. Like a vast majority of the population, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown(s) whipped up a frenzy of new problems for me, and beyond general boredom and the constant impending sense of doom, I knew something just wasn’t right with me. I considered therapy a few times throughout 2020, but every time I looked into it therapists were only offering sessions via Zoom, and so I was determined to wait it out until I was able to speak to someone in person. The thought of trying to replicate the positive experiences I’d had with therapists in their tidy, spacious, welcomingly clinical offices in my own home seemed impossible. Of course, with the seemingly endless cycle of lockdown-relaxed restrictions-another lockdown, I realised by the end of the year that I could be waiting for a very long time.
I’d firstly like to make the disclaimer that I am receiving therapy privately, which I am aware is an incredible privilege to have access to. I’ve only ever received private therapy, as I know that the lack of funding put into mental health resources within the NHS has led to lengthy waitlists, leaving some people waiting months just for a referral. I know there are people who are struggling a lot more than I am who deserve a spot on those lists, so I do not want to take up another valuable space when I know I am fortunate enough to be able to pay for therapy.
As I am receiving therapy through a centre which houses many therapists and counsellors, my first session was a quick Zoom consultation to try and pair me with someone who would be a good match in regards to what I was experiencing and what I was trying to achieve. In order to do this, the consultant asked me to lead her through a whistle-stop tour of my childhood, family life and mental health struggles so far, which wouldn’t have been so daunting if my Mum wasn’t sat downstairs at the time. She knew that I was having my consultation and whilst I realistically knew she probably couldn’t hear me speaking, I couldn’t help but panic that her ears would prick up every time she heard me say the word “Mum”—all good things, don’t worry (I know she is reading this).
I was able to swiftly pick a therapist who sounded like a suitable fit for me, but who also happened to have availability at a time on a Monday morning when I knew that I would always be home alone. Whilst I was relieved that I wouldn’t be caught crying/ranting/awkwardly stumbling through the complex workings of my subconscious by a family member, I was still incredibly apprehensive. Starting to speak to a new therapist is nerve-wracking enough, but the added strangeness of trying to delve into these messy inner thoughts whilst staring at my laptop screen made the experience feel even more foreign. Before my first session, I found myself pondering the logistics. Where shall I sit with my laptop so that I feel relaxed, but not too relaxed that I instinctively curl up into a ball as if I were watching tv? Do I need to put a bit of makeup on? What can I wear that is comfortable enough for me to be wearing around the house without looking like I’ve completely hit rock bottom? I ended up sitting at the dining table, with no makeup on and wearing a sweatshirt (which sounds like a very mundane guess on Cluedo).
I’m someone who struggles to speak candidly about my feelings sometimes as I don’t like being vulnerable, so I feared that the additional barrier of not even being in the same room as the person I was confiding in may pose a problem in how effective I’d find these sessions. In actuality, whilst the initial ten minutes of trying to convey my emotions to a tiny green-glowing webcam felt alien, I settled into the process quite quickly. I picked a wonderful therapist whose style perfectly matches my needs, and I honestly don’t think my sessions would have been any more effective in an office than they have been at home. I’ve already noticed the beginnings of a positive change in myself, and I’m feeling optimistic about the process.
Of course, therapy on Zoom as opposed to in an office has its own unique benefits: if I have a hearty sob, I don’t have to worry about tears dangerously blurring my vision on the drive home; I have my house’s familiarity as a safety blanket whilst I’m talking about things that make me feel uncomfortable; and I am also able to stay in my pyjamas until literally five minutes before my session. Conversely, I have experienced the obvious drawbacks of mouthed “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” ’s, the awkward 3 seconds of smiling as both parties try to leave the meeting, and having to run upstairs to grab my laptop charger after keeping an eye on it’s dwindling battery whilst simultaneously trying to explore my negative internal voices.
Perhaps if I hadn’t previously received therapy in person, diving right into such a personal and intimate experience with only a collection of pixels to guide me might have been too disarming to work. And there is something to be said about seeking emotional comfort online, after almost a year of relying on the internet for communication, entertainment and distraction from the pandemic. I’d already been indoctrinated in the powers of Zoom for quizzes, parties and general catch-ups with friends, so being able to access help for my mental health on a platform that has hosted so many of my other precious social interactions—which in some ways are an equally vital lifeline—seems like a natural progression.
My positive experience with therapy on Zoom obviously won’t be the case for everybody, and I can imagine that some people may find it challenging to open up to someone when you’re physically separated. I for one am glad I took the plunge, and I honestly think I would still be happy to receive therapy in this way even if offices were open. I hope that those who are desperate to speak to somebody in person are able to do so soon, but perhaps finding new, more accessible ways to receive therapy is a positive step forward that can continue to evolve post-pandemic.
Written by Olivia Cox