As New York City enters Phase II of its reopening, hundreds of thousands of office workers will be returning to work, barbershops and hair salons will reopen, and outdoor dining will be allowed. But even with masks and stringent sanitation procedures, it’s still true that maintaining physical distance is the best way to lower COVID-19 transmission. In fact, research has shown that “the major culprit [for transmission] is close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods.”
When I read that, my first thought was: hm, that sounds a lot like a therapy appointment.
In the past few months, our homes have transformed from places we eat, sleep, and relax when we’re not out in the world to multifunctional schools, gyms, offices, restaurants, playgrounds, and—with the rise of telemedicine—doctor’s offices.
At first, the additional stress and isolation due to stay-at-home orders made the switch to teletherapy—remote and virtual therapy sessions—difficult. Back when we were able to attend appointments in person, a therapist’s office could provide a safe space, and it was a big adjustment to switch from in-person appointments to virtual.
But after months of adjusting to the “new normal” and the increasing evidence that close-range face-to-face interactions in enclosed spaces pose the biggest risk of COVID-19 spread, it’s difficult to picture myself walking into a face-to-face therapy appointment in a closed room with another person for an hour, let alone taking the subway to get there. And yet those seeking treatment deserve access to care.
Just because in-person appointments might be available doesn’t mean it’s the right option for you. And while telemedicine is becoming more commonplace, typical American homes are not meant to be lived in 24/7 and trying to recreate a therapist’s office in your home with kids, pets, partners, family, and roommates around can be a daunting task. In my one-bedroom apartment, if I need privacy—especially for a phone or video call—I don’t really have it.
As we move from crisis mode to developing more sustainable, long-term solutions, it’s important to make the best decisions for your health and wellbeing—and that might mean normalizing teletherapy. So how exactly are you supposed to create privacy while using teletherapy at home?
I don’t know what it is about video chats, but when I don’t have headphones on, I find myself getting closer and closer to the screen and raising my voice, wondering if my computer speaker is picking up anything at all. Many of us can hear ourselves and others far more clearly when wearing headphones.
Using headphones with a microphone attached also allows the microphone to be closer to your mouth, reducing the need to raise your voice to be heard by the person on the other end. Your therapist will hear you, you’ll hear them and yourself, and you’ll be better equipped to keep your voice at a standard speaking volume and have some semblance of privacy for your teletherapy appointment.
In the past few months, I’ve taken calls with people who have been in their bathroom, a bedroom closet, their apartment building stairwell, and the park. While the size of a bathroom might make it feel more secluded, bathroom materials like tile and ceramic often cause echos and won’t afford you much privacy.
In general, cloth absorbs sound better than harder materials. After I read this in a kid’s science book as a child, I started to take my most private phone calls with friends under a blanket, hoping that it would block my secrets from eavesdropping siblings. But you don’t have to drape yourself in afghans to talk to your therapist. Taking your teletherapy call in a room with carpet or a rug or even sitting on a bed or couch might make you feel less like you’re shouting at your therapist through a bullhorn. Find a room in your house that feels comfortable for you, put a sign on the door that says you’re on a call, and stuff a folded-up towel or blanket in the crack beneath the door to wrap yourself in the ultimate cocoon.
For additional self care, bookend your therapy appointment with some sort of ritual—making tea, taking a walk, journaling—that will separate your therapy time from the rest of your day.
In my current living situation, there is nowhere to go for true privacy. The wall that separates the two rooms of my apartment is paper thin. My first telehealth appointment during the pandemic was with my gynecologist and I knew that my partner could hear everything because I heard him sneezing in the other room while I was on my call. While I didn’t mind that he could hear everything I was saying in that instance, it took a little while to get used to the fact that I was at a doctor’s appointment while someone was listening in the next room.
In a situation where you truly have no physical privacy, try to communicate your needs to those around you. If you share the importance of the situation and make an ask clearly and positively, chances are the other person will be more than happy to accommodate you. You could say something like, “I have an appointment today at three o’clock and it would make me a lot more comfortable to have some privacy for it. Would it be possible for you to walk the dog or take a stroll around the neighborhood while I’m on my call?” If the person you live with is unable to actually leave your home, maybe they could wear headphones and listen to music or watch television during your appointment.
It’s not necessary to share that you have a teletherapy appointment if you’re not comfortable disclosing that information. Everyone has the right to privacy, especially when it comes to our health. The people you live with should respect the need for your personal space, especially under the current circumstances.
While we hope you can find the privacy you deserve inside your home, we realize that not every living situation will afford you the safe space you need for teletherapy. If it is available and safe for you to do so, you could take a teletherapy appointment over the phone while you’re outside or even in the car. And if teletherapy at home truly won’t work for you, you can at least start working out a plan and finding a therapist now so you can attend in-person appointments when the time is right.
If you’ve hesitated to start therapy remotely, are wondering whether therapy is right for you, or you’re ready to seek treatment, know that teletherapy is available and you can use our matching service to find the right therapist for you.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.