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Getting the Most Out of Online Therapy

Our top 8 insider tips that come from extensive testing and a therapist's professional experience

Last Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Getting the most out of online therapy

Online therapy has been around for years, but telehealth platforms have surged in popularity during COVID-19. Today, there are numerous online options for clients seeking support.

Online therapy offers convenient, cost-effective treatment for a variety of mental health issues. That said, no matter the therapist, positive treatment outcomes largely depend on your behavior and mindset. It’s not enough to show up each week and expect change to happen arbitrarily.

Good therapy requires both effort and intention. Drawing from extensive testing as well as professional experience providing therapy, here are our top 8 insider tips to help you get the most out of online therapy.

Top 8 Tips

Tip #1: Choose the right therapist
Tip #2: Make a designated time and space for online therapy
Tip #3: Carve out decompressing time after your session
Tip #4: Roll with technical difficulties
Tip #5: Be direct about your goals
Tip #6: Let people know you’re unavailable
Tip #7: Journal in between sessions
Tip #8: Remember that progress isn’t always linear

Let’s get into what you need to know!

Tip #1: Choose the right therapist

No matter your specific goals, good therapy can feel incredibly intimate. As a client, you share intense parts of yourself. You may divulge your deepest fears, traumas, hopes, and regrets. This information is sensitive, and it’s imperative that you feel safe when you reveal it.

You may need to meet with several different professionals before finding the right match. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Not every therapist works well with every client. Despite their credentials or expertise, you need to feel comfortable!

Here are some signs of a positive, therapeutic relationship:

  • You feel like your therapist genuinely wants to get to know you.
  • You feel pushed, but not so uncomfortable that it’s agonizing.
  • Time moves quickly in session.
  • You think about what your therapist says and find their guidance valuable.
  • You have the impression that your therapist “gets you.”
  • Your therapist maintains clear boundaries and is upfront about issues related to scheduling, fees, and other administrative tasks.
  • You feel like your emotions and thoughts matter.
  • You notice yourself growing, changing, and progressing.

That said, it’s not realistic to focus on finding a perfect therapist, either. Therapists are humans, and it’s important to remember that they might make the occasional mistake. If you feel hurt, talk to them about it. They are there to listen and support you.

If you don’t feel connected to your therapist – or if you feel stagnant – it may be worth considering a switch. Switching therapists happens frequently and you don’t have to worry about hurting your therapist’s feelings. The therapist will discuss the issue with you and offer referrals to other providers if needed.

(Since many of our readers are utilizing BetterHelp, we also have a guide with 7 tips specifically for finding the best BetterHelp therapist.)

Tip #2: Make a designated time and space for online therapy

The convenience of online therapy makes it an attractive option for anyone with a busy schedule. It’s also enticing for people who live in more rural areas or lack reliable transportation.

After all, as long as you have a reliable Internet connection, you can have a session anywhere. You don’t even need to change out of your pajamas!

That said, it’s important to emotionally show up for your therapy. This means setting a designated location for your sessions. It doesn’t matter where the location is – you might need to be flexible – but the space should be quiet, comfortable, and free from excess clutter.

Make sure you have whatever you might need during your session. Keep a box of tissues readily available. If you intend to take notes, grab a journal and pen. If you’re talking about particularly rough topics, you may want to bring in a comfort item like a soft blanket or comfortable pillow.

Having therapy at the same time each week creates a sense of consistency. This consistency honors the therapeutic relationship and also reduces the chances of you forgetting your session or scheduling another commitment.

Tip #3: Carve out decompressing time after your session

Traditional therapy automatically offers a transitional period. For example, before the session, you might think about what you want to discuss while sitting in the waiting room. During the commute home, you may reflect on what you shared. Depending on these transitions, you may spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour thinking about your session.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm for online therapy. There is no waiting room, and most clients jump online the moment they need to start their session. Once they finish the hour, they return immediately to whatever they were doing.

Therapy entails such a raw expression of emotion that it can be as exhaustive as it is healing. Processing all of those feelings can be undoubtedly overwhelming. That’s why transitions are essential for keeping you grounded.

At the very least, give yourself five minutes before and after each session to decompress. Use this time to meditate, journal, or take a walk. Honor these transitions as necessary parts of your entire therapy process.

Tip #4: Roll with technical difficulties

If you have ever sat in a frustrating Zoom work meeting, you understand the inevitable perils of technology. These difficulties ordinarily feel irritating, but the sensitive nature of therapy can heighten your frustration.

At times, these issues might make online therapy feel awkward or uncomfortable. It’s unnerving to share a crucial, difficult detail only for your therapist to tell you that you were muted!

Aim to be flexible. Awkwardness in therapy doesn’t mean therapy isn’t working. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t continue doing deep work.

Keep in mind that most technical issues aren’t anyone’s fault. Therapists don’t want to deal with them, either! They want to give their clients full and undivided attention.

However, if you believe the issues are significantly impacting your treatment, let your therapist know. Most therapists offer various communication methods for holding sessions. If something isn’t serving you well, your therapist will be happy to work with you to determine a better solution.

Tip #5: Be direct about your goals

This suggestion is important for all forms of therapy. Therapists can be intuitive to your needs, but they are not mind-readers! They can’t always tell if you’re dissatisfied.

If you don’t have specific goals when you start treatment, that’s okay. Wanting therapy is a good enough reason to seek therapy! However, your therapist should collaborate with you about what you want to work on.

Many people enter therapy because they want to “feel better.” What does “feel better” mean to you? Do you want to have more meaningful relationships? Better self-esteem? Effective coping skills for managing anxiety or depression?

Remember that therapy is about meeting your needs. Your therapist’s job is to support and guide you. Make it a habit of checking in with yourself to see how satisfied you feel with your treatment. The more direct you are in what you want to work on, the more your therapist can tailor treatment to meet your needs.

Tip #6: Let people know you’re unavailable

Your therapy hour should be sacred, and that means limiting all potential interruptions. Giving yourself this hour is a fundamental part of self-care.

Avoid distractions during online therapy

Before your session, tell your spouse, kids, coworkers, or roommates that you will not be accessible. If you have pets, put them outside or in another room. If you’re concerned people won’t respect your boundaries, consider leaving the house.

Ideally, you should also turn off any notifications on your phone or laptop (depending on which device you use for the session). Alerts can quickly become distracting and might derail your focus.

Tip #7: Journal in between sessions

Many people struggle to know what to talk about when they arrive for their sessions. For example, even if you felt stressed all week, you might not know where to begin.

Journaling is beneficial for your mental health, and it can help you get the most out of your therapy. There isn’t a right or wrong way to journal. However, it helps if you commit to writing regularly. You might want to start by setting a timer for five minutes each day and writing whatever comes to mind.

You can also consider writing about:

  • Moments when you feel angry or upset.
  • Insights or specific patterns you notice about yourself.
  • Negative interactions with other people.
  • Your dreams at night.
  • Experiences of being triggered to engage in impulsive behavior.
  • Feelings you have about therapy during the week.
  • Fears you experienced.
  • Certain symptoms that you’re experiencing.
  • Any other related thought or feeling that you might want to discuss.

Tip #8: Remember that progress isn’t always linear

We often don’t achieve goals in a straight, predictable line. At times, therapy can be messy. You may try to resolve one issue only to realize you need to focus on something else. Or, you might be working towards one goal when something unexpected happens.

If you want to get the most from your online therapy, you have to be kind and patient with yourself. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’ve been stuck in certain cycles for years.

At times, it may even feel like you’re moving backward! This is also normal. Insight can be painful, and it’s sometimes challenging to think about the work ahead of you.

If your progress concerns you, talk about it with your therapist. You may benefit from having more sessions. Your therapist might also recommend other treatment approaches like group or couples therapy or psychiatry.

Final thoughts

Online therapy has numerous advantages. It’s flexible, affordable, and accessible to nearly everyone. Good online therapy doesn’t just happen arbitrarily, though; it’s a collaborative relationship. The more you’re willing to put in the effort, the more you will gain from the process.