What Color is Your Wallpaper? Why It Matters
So, you’ve invested in great equipment. You’ve tested your internet and have activated your account with TheraPlatform. You’re no longer confined to a brick-and-mortar office. You’re ready to go virtual!
Before you book that first client, there’s one more thing to consider: your therapeutic environment. When you open that video connection, what will your client see? And hear? Who and what is around you? These things are critical not only to a pleasant experience for your client but to the very nature of the therapist-client relationship.
First Impressions Matter
When you first meet your client, he or she is entering the space where their therapy will occur. It is akin to a new client entering your office. What they see, hear and feel when they enter the space matters. You want your client’s first impression of you to evoke feelings of confidence in your professionalism and ability to help them. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Contrary to popular belief, going virtual doesn’t mean you can do therapy “anytime, anywhere.” The fact is, the same rules for protection of privacy and confidentiality apply whether you are face-to-face or screen-to-screen.
To bluntly answer the question that everyone asks, no, it is not appropriate to conduct telehealth services in a coffee shop or on the beach or anywhere else where you cannot control access to your therapeutic space. It’s surely tempting but the risk of violating your client’s privacy rights is high…too high.
The strength of the therapeutic alliance is based on rapport and privacy. Your client is hardly likely to be able to fully and confidently engage with random folks walking by in the background.
As the therapist, it is your responsibility to ensure that the client is able to engage with you privately without intrusion from others. This means closed doors, no unwanted intrusions, no passersby.
Just like seeing people walk by would be off-putting for a client, what they see when they see you on screen can make or break a session.
Take a look around your therapy space. What’s on the walls? Very “busy” wall art can be distracting. Décor speaks to who you are. Where are the windows? Windows can create glare.
A good strategy is to try and view the space from the client perspective. You can simply turn your camera around or even use your smartphone camera. Look at the space with a critical eye. If you were the client, would you be focusing on the therapist or on the bizarre wall-hanging behind them?
Ambient sound is something that we tend to acclimate to rather quickly. But, your client is entering a new space with you. What your brain tunes out may be a huge distraction for them.
Take a moment and sit quietly in your therapy space. Close your eyes. What do you hear? Of course there will be some background noises such as whirring air conditioners, maybe a clock ticking or the occasional truck passing by. Anything beyond those soft sounds may be jarring and distracting for a client.
The solution is to control for the things you can: turn phone ringers off, keep the dog and little ones out of the room when you’re in session, turn off background music and those babbling desk fountains. Those things are normal parts of life, yes, but in a therapy session, they present significant distractions. Your client needs to be focused on the task at hand and not your giggling, ridiculously cute baby.
When you take a moment to examine your space from the client’s perspective, you gain perspective on the client’s experience. You’re preparing the best possible space for your client to have the best experience possible. Remember, it is in that space where the healing will happen. Let that be your guide.