5 Myths of Online Therapy

 

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In an increasingly digital world it is hard to find a commodity that isn’t accessible online. If I run out of dog food, Amazon can have it to my door in two days (thank you Prime). If I’m hungry I can use GrubHub. If I owe a friend for the dinner bill, I use Venmo. All of these things have made my life more convenient, and come with little to no downside. It got me thinking: in a world where time is of the essence, and most things are available at my fingertips, why not create a business that offers therapy in a similar way?

Online therapy functions in the exact same way a traditional therapy session would, the only difference is, rather than having to drive to my office, you click a meeting link and are joined to the session instantaneously. No longer are you having to fight stressful traffic to get in your self-care, you can literally find a quiet space and start. What I’ve noticed as I continue to grow this model, is that while those who try and do online sessions with me love it, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what it is and how it works. I want to dispel those myths and help you see that not only is online therapy essentially the same, but the perks of this new model might make you wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.

So here are the most common myths about online therapy:

  1. It’s not legitimate: I’m going to be honest: when I first started hearing about online therapy, I had this thought too. Right now if you search online therapy you are going to see a lot of businesses that offer things like constant email and texting contact with your therapist. They use untested methods of contact to promote unrealistic expectations of what their services can do. THIS IS NOT WHAT I DO! What I am talking about is exactly the same as therapy in an office, only through a screen. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California, and I am doing this because I believe in the benefits of it and the accessibility. I use the same treatment style and methods I would as if we were in the same space. Safe and legitimate psychotherapy is available, just make sure you do your due diligence in finding a therapist.
  2. It feels impersonal: This is probably the biggest concern and also the biggest misconception. Once the session starts, and we begin our work, the screen seems to melt away. As a therapist, I am giving you exactly what you would get from me if we were in a room together, and I make every effort on my end to convey that to you during our time together. I recommend taking some time upfront in order to facilitate your own therapeutic environment: Make sure you are in a quiet and private space, make sure you don’t have anything else scheduled for the hour, and set your devices to “Do Not Disturb.” These things help ensure that you are having the same experience you would in a therapist’s office.
  3. I won’t actually accomplish anything: As with any type of therapy, the answer here is that you will take out what you put in. If you are coming to therapy because of your motivation to change, and your hope for something different, then whether the sessions are online or in person, you are going to get the same result. Choosing to be accountable to yourself will go a long way.
  4. The technology is unsafe: I host my sessions through Zoom, which uses encrypted services to offer HIPPA compliance. This means that every possible effort is being taking to make sure that your protected health information (name, date of birth, etc.) cannot be accessed or leaked, in the same way your records would be safe at a doctor’s office. Be sure to ask your therapist whether the video sessions are HIPPA compliant (Skype is not, doxyme is). As with any online contact, there are limits, but every possible precaution is taking to ensure safety in this area.
  5. My therapist won’t be able to read me as well: While there are limits to what can be seen through a screen, for the most part, I am getting a full picture when I see your face. Most of our emotion is shown in our facial expression, and posture can be noted without a full body image. If this continues to be a concern, the camera can be adjusted so that more of the body is shown, but I personally haven’t encountered this as being an issue.

Concerns aside, there are so many upsides to working with a therapist online! I cannot overstate the convenience. In California especially, traffic is an increasing problem, and a one-hour session can easily turn into 2-3 hours of your day if you are having to travel. The time and the added stress can often be counterproductive to the great work we do, and eliminating that is so helpful. Online sessions are especially great for people who own their own businesses or travel for work. Your progress won’t be interrupted by your own responsibilities, as you’re able to set aside a reasonable amount of time to prioritize self-care. During cold and flu season you don’t have to risk exposure to the germs of a waiting room, and immunocompromised clients don’t have to worry about added risk. Parents of young children can benefit as well, as sessions can happen during naptime or while kids are occupied with a game or movie.

If you’re curious about getting started, reach out and schedule a consultation. You can get a feel of whether or not it’s a good fit for you, and if it is you can get started on your progress right away. Visit my website to get started.

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Moody Kids

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In what I hope has been the long awaited return of my posts, I want to share some of my thoughts on moods. Moods are so subjective and nuanced, and without proper verbiage can be nearly impossible to convey. We even create new words to cover the complexity that exists in the realm of moods. Hangry is a personal favorite. I’m not just hungry, or just angry. I probably also have some annoyance about the delay of satiation. Hangry encompasses that overlap in such a perfect conjoint way. At this point I will admit that I have not yet seen the new Pixar film (bad therapist!), but I have been told it does a great job of navigating this in a fun and understandable way…more on that when I see the film!

What compelled me to write about moods today is a continual observation of parents. Most adults have a pretty good grasp on identifying their emotions. They can distinguish between happy, sad, tired, angry, overly stimulated. They let others know, “I’m having a bad day. I need a break.” They are competent communicators in this way. So where are they falling down on the job? Their expectation of their children to not have varying moods.

Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember feeling like I just needed time to myself and a day to do nothing. But being a small person and (like most kids are) at the whim of my parents, it was not always likely that the day’s activities aligned with my current mood. I was much more introverted then, and I needed time and space to refuel. When I did not get that time (due to school, extracurricular activities, social obligations, siblings who also had all of the above), it would often lead to a full on meltdown. I know for myself there was no external cue that signified buildup to this break, it would just happen one day. This led to my being labeled as “moody” and “emotional.” Now to be fair both of those are true, but that’s because I HAVE moods and I HAVE emotions!! Are we not all moody and emotional? Yes, but as adults we are more likely to caretake to these emotions (Hence, walking into work and proclaiming, “I’m having a bad day, I need a break.”)

So how can parents alleviate the stress of seeing their child go into full meltdown mode?

  1. Label their emotions for them: “You seem tired today.” “Do you feel upset with mom?” “You must be angry at your brother.” Kids learn language from us, and unless we give them a label, they may not even understand the feeling that is happening within them. Having a word for it reduces their internal anxiety.
  2. Create an opportunity for space: Not all children are social. That may be difficult for social parents to work around, but expecting your child to be the same as you is going to be difficult in more ways than this, so do yourself a favor and plan for breaks on your calendar.
  3. Learn who your child is as a separate person: It is easy to make the “mini me” assumption, but believe it or not, that little human is a completely unique being in his own right. Ask questions and discover that awesome personality, don’t make assumptions based on a few shared traits.
  4. Embrace the moods: We all have them. We are subject to external factors all the time, and none of us are going to live in a bubble. Anticipate that there will be reactions, and worry less that your child’s meltdown is a reflection of parenting. It isn’t.

Photo obtained from flickr.com Creative Commons

“Conscious Uncoupling”

If you spend any amount of time online, you may be aware that there is a new trend in divorce called “conscious uncoupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow coined the term when she announced her split from her husband of ten years, Chris Martin. Her message stank of superiority. She concocted an image to appear as if this decision came after long discussions over eco-friendly glasses of red wine. Forget the passé divorces with hostility and hurt feelings, this is just a mutual decision to no longer exclusively be with one another. Just this morning, Jewel echoed this sentiment with the, “tender undoing,” of her own marriage. I take great offense to this new wave of happy dissolutions, and I am worried that there are not more people outraged by this. My problem is not that I don’t believe that they are telling the truth either–it’s that I believe they are.

What does it mean if we can now leave a marriage, not when we have hit rock bottom, but when we are bored? Both of these highlighted instances shine a light on an epidemic in our culture that we no longer believe anything worth having is worth fighting for. We now have admiration for couples who say, “It wasn’t that bad, we are still good friends and will continue to be in each others’ lives. We are simply choosing not to protect the one thing we took vows to protect.” Poof, it’s over. And what message does that send to their children? It says to me and most likely others who hear it that there is nothing sacred about marriage anymore. It says that when things are hard, don’t do them. What was once entered into after consideration, is now the reverse. We have unconscious coupling because there is no consequence to the exit. I am not anti-divorce, but I am anti-not trying. I often tell the couples I work with that my bias is for the marriage. I have yet to see a problem insurmountable, as long as each individual is willing to take responsibility for his or her own role in the problems. If you are still civil enough to “remain best friends,” (a quote from Hilary Duff’s press release regarding her divorce), why can you not be civil enough to look inward and find a way to consciously stay together for better or for worse?

Parenting

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I’ve come across several articles recently on the topic of parenting. This morning my cousin posted a link to this one on Huffington Post, in which the author discusses the idea of making long-term parenting decisions versus short-term. She writes, “What makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different from what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40 and beyond.’ She is absolutely right. I can vividly remember times where I thought my parents were being so unfair. Right before high school, they decided to pull me from public school, and place me in an all-girls Catholic school, where I knew no one. I truly believed this was child abuse. I was 14 years old. At 26, my outlook has changed significantly. I cherish, not only the quality education I received, but the psychosocial growth that occurred in having to step outside of my comfort zone and create new relationships in a new environment. This skill serves me well on an almost daily basis–therapists meet new people often, and have to create relationships very quickly. I had to build that muscle, and it was very uncomfortable in the beginning.

I imagine that was not easy for my parents. The whines of a 14 year old girl can be bone chilling, and they had to put up with a lot of complaining. They did not back down. They knew that at 14 I was not capable of making long-term life decisions, and they did it for me. They were parents who parented. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear a parent give in to a child’s demands. Parents emit fear in front of their children, and worry constantly about their child’s present level of happiness. I can tell you that there were several months where I was unhappy. Nothing about starting over is easy, but I got over it. The short-term unhappiness was far outweighed by the long-term benefit of the choice they made to hold firm. I learned disappointment and fear, but I also learned that I can start fresh, I can make new friends, and that no matter how hard it seems in the moment, things always get better. I don’t know that I would be the same person without having gone through that journey.

It seems that the fear based parenting takes place today because the parent-child relationship is primary. Parents put the wants and needs of their children so high that they forget about their own needs and the needs of their partners (if they are lucky enough to have a partner in parenting). Any threat to the parent-child relationship is a breakdown of the primary relationship, and that can be frightening. Who will mom turn to if she has not continued to cultivate the relationship with dad? She needs the child’s happiness as validation, which is an unhealthy place to parent from. I can speak from experience in saying that a child’s happiness is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. The overindulgence that leads to daily “happiness” is what also leads to lack of coping skills in the real world. If we want to have trust in the future generations, we need to know that they can handle a multitude of emotions without having a breakdown, or without having to turn to medication. Strong parenting, and life experience will facilitate that.

 

If you are having trouble with parenting, feel free to reach out: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com 

Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr

Dear Jacqueline,

Dear Jacqueline,

As the holiday is fast approaching I have a question concerning my 12 year old son.  Long and short of it is he has been estranged from his father now for 1 1/2 years and the holidays are a hard time for him.  He doesn’t hear from him for months (mind you he lives 2 miles away) except on holidays he gets a text message saying ” Happy Holiday Love and miss you”.  My son will always respond the same but knows he then will not hear from him until the next holiday, which makes him sad and angry.  I have thought about taking his phone on the holiday, blocking his dad’s number, etc.  Any advice would be appreciated. 

Thanks,

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

            It sounds like this is not only hard on your son, but you as well. I imagine that as a mother you are left feeling pretty helpless in this situation, and wanting to protect your son from feeling hurt. I am also imagining that for your son the text message feels like a beacon of hope, which leaves him feeling even more disappointed when he realizes his dad is returning to old patterns.

            At his age (at any age in childhood actually), he is likely placing blame on himself for his relationship with his father. The best thing you can do is validate his feelings (“I know it hurts when he lets you down.” “I’m sorry he is not being the father you need.”) and assure him that while it might not feel like it, that it is not his fault, and the outcome of the relationship with his dad is not a reflection of him not being a good enough son. This is a big weight that he is likely carrying, and knowing that you understand him and are there for him will be a great support. If he is not already, I would also suggest counseling so he has an extra outlet for these emotions. And the fact that you are willing to reach out sets a good example for him that it is ok.

            Good luck with the holidays, and I hope everything goes well.

~Jacqueline