Remote therapy can sometimes get a bad reputation for failing to capture the “true essence” of in-person therapy. There is validity to this argument, and I do accept that remote therapy can never be the same as in-person. However, I also think that a lot of remote therapy setups just aren’t optimized, and if there were to be, the experience would be significantly improved for both clients and therapists.
In this post, I am going to share some tips for therapists working in the mental health field to optimize their remote therapy. In my opinion, the onus is really on the therapist to ensure the remote therapy experience can be the “best” it can be. Clients have a few areas they can choose to upgrade if they want to, but since the therapist is the service provider, it should be on them to make sure the service is “optimal”.
That is, of course, if you even care to do so! I like technology, computers, and the internet, so this topic is interesting to me. I’m not at all suggesting therapists who don’t bother “to optimize” don’t care, I’m just sharing what I’ve done to optimize things on my end. And hopefully, you find it helpful and/or valuable.
I am also an Amazon Affiliate and may earn a commission from purchases made after following a link. I am primarily recommending products that I have bought and currently use myself. If you’re in a rush, you can check out my full “kit” here on what I use to optimize remote therapy.
This point can’t be stressed enough; you should plug directly into your modem for internet access. It’s fairly rare nowadays to have internet service that is too slow for video-to-video calls. The research on remote therapy doesn’t focus on these subtle details, but it should, as I would have to assume it would be a factor in its effectiveness.
There’s no limit to how long ethernet cables can be, so plug it in! You can check out various lengths of ethernet cable on Amazon here.
But I get it, this isn’t always an option and could require a minor home renovation. If that’s the case, I would recommend going to a computer hardware store (I’m a big fan of Canada Computers) and letting them know you are doing video-to-video calls for work. This way, you can create the best WiFi connection that technology has to offer in your home.
If you’re a self-employed therapist, this is a business expense 😉
Webcam & Video
Once your internet is optimized, it’s time to take a look at some of the gear you’re using. First up is your webcam. There’s no need to go really fancy here unless you plan on becoming a content creator or full-time streamer.
Fortunately, high-end webcams have dropped in price considerably over the last few years.
I personally own and use the Logitech BRIO Webcam with 4K. The only step above this, in my opinion, is using an actual “proper” camera, like a DSLR. But that gets expensive really fast and the increase in cost won’t be noticeable on the other end (i.e., your clients).
The Brio webcam offers three different width angles which can come in handy when delivering therapy remotely. It allows me the opportunity to pull something out like a whiteboard when doing general psychoeducation or collaborative problem-solving with clients, which is a nice break from just seeing my face.
Headphones & Audio
I am hesitant to rely on wireless headphones for my remote therapy sessions. If you have a bunch of back-to-back sessions during the days or evenings, remember to always make sure your headphones are charged is just an unnecessary worry, in my opinion.
And similar to the internet, wireless will never be as “good” as wired in. I don’t want what I hear to not match up with what I see due to a slight lag in a Bluetooth connection.
The pair of headphones I use go up to 18 feet / 5.5 metres. These are great for my standing desk setup and for when I want to move a bit between sessions and forget I’m wearing wired headphones.
Headphones are really inexpensive, and since you’re just listening to someone talk, you don’t need to worry about the particulars of quality. And if you’re currently relying on a speaker for sound (i.e., hearing your client), these will make your online session sound way smoother as it reduces feedback and echo on both ends.
Microphone & Voice
This is arguably just as important as the webcam.
Built-in laptop microphones or microphones on your headset pail in comparison to more professional models.
I use the Blue Yeti USB Microphone and find that it offers a significant improvement without a huge investment on my end.
If look closely in the picture above, you can see that the microphone is being held by an extendable arm (bottom left). I use this one here as it allows it to “float” above my desk and free up space to take notes.
I also recommend getting a foam cover for it to stop dust from getting in as it will help prolong its life and can keep the audio quality from degrading over time.
Clinical Note Taking
I still use pen and paper for my clinical note taking. In fact, I think I prefer it, as I do this for things like daily to-do lists. I just find that there is something different for me when I put pen to paper.
I also use a mechanical keyboard, and anyone who knows what those are like knows they can be loud and noisy. A lot of keyboards, however, can be really soft and quiet, so that’s definitely an option and yours may already be like that.
But I like to take quick notes on paper during sessions and then type them in at a later time.
You can also use a tablet that has an electronic pen, as many of the popular therapist software can “synch” up with them, so you can digitally write notes in “real-time”, and save the extra step of inputting them after.
I am still considering this personally. I think when I develop more of my skillset around clinical note-taking (i.e., more precise and condensed) I will upgrade.
Sound & Echo Reduction
If you do make the upgrade to a more professional microphone, you’ll start to notice it can pick up the fine details of your voice. Part of these details is the sound waves echoing around your office/room.
The decorative hexagons in the background of my office pictures aren’t just a display of my taste for modern art, they actually serve a purpose. They are acoustic panels that “absorb sounds” and minimize the echoes that a microphone can pick up.
If you’ve ever noticed an echo in your office or when you’ve recorded your voice, you can consider getting basic acoustic panels like these, which don’t “look pretty”, but will get the job done.
Or you can just hang up bulky blankets in certain areas of your office to help absorb some of the sounds bouncing around. The more furnished your office is the less opportunity your voice has to “bounce around” off the walls, ceiling and floors.
Lighting for your face will drastically improve your client’s experience by seeing a clearer picture of you that is more vibrant.
Here’s a before and after picture demonstrating the difference:
I also use a “backlight” on my desk. This is a light that shines on the wall behind my desk and monitors. This helps reduce eye strain as it takes some of the “load” from the monitor glare.
In case you’re interested, here are the links to the two lights I use:
- Face light for webcam
- Desk light to reduce eye strain
- This also has USB charging ports, very convenient!
This is where things get a bit “geeky” (although for some of you reading, I’m sure a lot of this has been geeky), but I think your monitor is worth upgrading if you’re going to be a remote-only therapist.
The most important aspect in my opinion; however, is the refresh rate.
The refresh rate (measured in Hertz or Hz) of a monitor can play a role in reducing eye strain for some people. A higher refresh rate means that the monitor updates the image on the screen more frequently, which can reduce the flicker and motion blur that can contribute to eye strain and headaches.
The standard Hertz of most monitors is 60hz. Laptops almost always have a 60hz refresh rate, unless we’re talking about high-end gaming laptops. Once I upgraded to using a 144hz monitor, with the ASUS TUF Gaming Monitor, I find it almost uncomfortable to look at “regular” screens now (first-world problems, I know…).
If your budget allows, going above 60hz will likely be a noticeable improvement for your eyes.
There’s a reason all esports competitors use higher than average hertz monitors, and it is because it gives them a performance advantage.
Your background is a fun opportunity to present a more “professional” or “therapy-ey” (is that a word?) feeling to your clients. I actually got the couch in my background off of Kijiji years ago. Sometimes, people just want to get rid of their stuff when they are moving and you can find some great deals on gently used furniture.
I also use two salt lamps behind the books on my two shelves to give a bit of background light. This can help me “pop” out a bit more on screen. I’m not a photographer or professional producer, but I picked up a few tips from YouTube while researching this stuff.
If you’re a “nomad therapist” who likes to travel, you can consider getting a foldable pop-up background, almost like a portable wall divider. This will help keep your background consistent and look a little more professional.
But if you’re in something like an RV or a camper, you likely already have a mini office set-up, too. And to those of you living life this way, good on you! (And, I’m jealous).
Or, you may be traveling to different and unique locations and can be outside during your appointments. If that’s the case, even better!
You can click here to check out my complete “kit” for optimizing remote therapy.
Continue Reading: The Benefits of Remote Therapy for Therapists
There’s a lot of opportunity for therapists to optimize the remote therapy experience. The best part, in my opinion, is that it isn’t even a big upfront investment.
If you were to get all the gear suggested in this post, it would still likely be less than one month’s rent for an office in a busy city. And it will last for years.
Of course, there will be technological advances, like virtual reality getting better and better, but having that become the norm for remote therapy still feels to be in the distant future.