As a mental health professional, it's important to create a therapy space for yourself and your clients that is polished yet comfortable and conducive to the interactions needed for successful treatment. Much research has been done over the years on elements like comfort and privacy that can help inform the design of an effective therapy space. "A space should be something that supports you as you try to achieve specific goals…that means creating a calm and refreshing environment to balance the rigorous mental and emotional work of therapy," says Dr. Sally Augustin, an applied environmental and design psychologist.
Conversely, therapy space that in any way puts your clients on edge or makes them feel uncomfortable can have an adverse impact on their progress. Creating the right space for online therapy is just as important to get the most out of your therapy sessions. In this week’s article, we provide 5 tips for creating a comfortable and effective virtual therapy space.
- Choosing the right technology. Investing in your virtual practice is critical to establishing confidence in your ability to deliver care, and to offer a clear environment for your clients to openly engage in the therapeutic process - even when they are far away. Start by ensuring your camera is enabled and the resolution is acceptable (we recommend 720p display resolution or higher). Make sure your internet connection can support a video session and that the audio quality is clear and concise without degradation. The best position for your camera is at face level and centered so you are able to maintain eye contact. That may mean purchasing a stand for your computer or laptop. In session, the goal is to establish a relationship with new clients, to do this we suggest minimizing the appearance of multi-tasking . In addition, if you provide virtual therapy, choose a platform that meets the needs of your clients like Telemynd.
- Make your online therapy space calm and comfortable for clients. Set up a designated private space that is conducive to critical conversations. Use ambient light, calming wall art, and soft-colored walls in the background to keep distractions to a minimum. If your space doesn’t have good lighting, consider buying a ring light which is specifically designed to provide lighting for cameras and computers. And keep your office clutter-free, as that can give the impression of focus, clarity, and skill in your relationship with clients. You can also utilize a virtual background during your sessions if your space cannot be augmented.
- Privacy is an important ingredient to the therapeutic process. Clients should always feel safe during your therapy sessions, and since they’ll be sharing thoughts they usually keep to themselves, feeling a sense of privacy is key. Even though it may be tempting, don't do your therapy sessions from the car, or with others in the background. Close doors and windows in your workspace so it feels private for your clients to open up. And make sure your phone is turned to silent as ringing phones or alarms can disrupt the session.
- Eliminate negative distractions from your therapy space. Keep personalization to a minimum in the background (i.e., family photos, personal mementos) to help clients feel “at home” within the space. Keep background artwork calming and neutral; if the colors or images are too loud, too specific, or evoke sadness or violence, they may be disruptive to the therapeutic process. Other distractions to avoid: open doors or views of other rooms in your residence if you are working from home, or doing your sessions in anything other than professional attire (for example, PJs definitely give the wrong impression).
- Make the space comfortable for you! Don’t forget to get the right chair - since you’ll likely be sitting for extended periods of time every day, it’s important to find one that is ergonomic and comfortable for you. Some therapists sit in an armchair during an online session, and some prefer to sit in a more typical “desk” chair in front of their computer. Try them out before buying and choose what works best.
While there is no single right way to design an online therapy space, you can help ensure your clients have a comfortable therapeutic experience by creating a welcoming, private, and technologically-sound space for when they need to be emotionally vulnerable. What tips would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
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