Online counseling (aka video counseling, virtual counseling, etc.) can be an excellent way to receive mental health care, and its use is growing for many reasons. If you choose to go this route, here are six steps to a quality video-session with your mental health provider:
First, ask your provider for their instructions. They should be able to tell you the following:
- Backup plans for technology issues and emergencies. This will normally be a phone number for you to call in case you have technology issues.
- Protocol for responding to interruptions, such as how you should respond if someone walks into your space while you are in session.
- Steps you should take to protect your privacy when meeting online with your provider.
- A way to test your technology and the video platform you will use for sessions.
Second, choose a fitting space for video sessions that is Private (no one can watch or listen to your meeting), Secure (it is unlikely that someone can remotely record or eavesdrop on your meeting), and Safe (where you are safe from the possibility of being harmed by someone else). Over expectations for a video meeting are that you dress as you would when attending a same-location-session, you do not drive or double task in any way, you do not record the session without permission from your provider, and you avoid distractions such as a phone ringing or a device sending a notification.
Next, use good technology: high-speed internet (video sessions use a lot of bandwidth), a fairly new device which helps to ensure adequate processing speed, and a quality camera, microphone, and speakers/headphones. (The way to determine if your technology is adequate for your video meeting is to test it out on the video platform which you will be using with your provider.)
Fourth, set up your camera and lighting. Your camera should be the same height from the floor as your eyes (eye level). This might require lowering or raising your camera and/or chair. During your video meeting, you should be looking in the direction of the camera and also should be able to clearly see your provider on your screen. Positioning your provider’s image on your screen directly below your camera will help achieve this. Your face should be well-lit using diffused and indirect light in front of you. Avoid overhead and too much backlight. Sitting facing a window often provides very good lighting for a video meeting.
Fifth, verification of identity and location. Providers often verify the identity of patients simply by having you hold up a picture ID to the camera. Providers will likely ask you for your current address during your video meeting in order to meet several legal and ethical requirements.
Lastly, resolving technology issues. The most common cause of technology issues is inadequate bandwidth. There are several websites that will allow you to conduct a speed test. Ways to improve your internet speed are to connect your device directly to your router using a LAN line (wire), positioning your device closer to your router, and to ensure that no other device is using the internet (streaming videos, music, etc.) at the same time as your video meeting. Audio issues can often be resolved by using a headset that has a microphone. Look for notifications on your browser to allow for the use of your camera, microphone, and/or popups. Become familiar with how to access the camera, microphone, and speaker settings on the video meeting program and ensure you have the correct camera, microphone, and speaker selected.