How to Maintain Focus and Present-Moment Awareness during Telehealth Sessions

By Joanne Bagshaw, PhD

Working with clients via telehealth therapy platforms has many advantages, particularly in terms of maintaining accessibility for treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for therapists new to using telehealth, particularly those who are seeing clients full-time, the shift to online therapy may bring an awareness that telehealth therapy feels different and requires more effort to remain present. For instance, it’s more challenging to stay present to the emotional experience of your client when you’re not in the same room together.

It’s also easy to become distracted by noises coming from either inside or outside your own house. Your client’s home may be filled with distracting sounds, too. So, your client may also find it challenging to stay present for similar reasons. And of course, both therapists and their clients are impacted by the stress of the pandemic.

As therapists, we can make sure that we, and our clients, are present and engaged in therapeutic work during telehealth therapy sessions by making sure that we pay attention to our own bodies in session, and teach our clients to do the same.

If you begin to notice your attention wandering, bring your attention to the bottom of your feet, and notice the sensation of your feet on the ground. Notice your breathing for one or two cycles. Once you’ve brought yourself back to the present moment, invite your client to do the same when the timing is right. Chances are, if you’re tuned out from your feelings and experience, your client has too, and they will appreciate you noticing and bringing them back into the session, and in connection with you.

Joanne L. Bagshaw, PhD, is an award-winning professor of psychology and women’s studies at Montgomery College. She is also an ASSECT-certified sex therapist with a private practice in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Joanne writes the popular feminist blog, The Third Wave for Psychology Today.

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