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Virtual Fatiguing Effect of Online Therapy

The ‘social distancing’ of therapy has been a significant shift in practice for many therapists. As therapist, our craft and skill is founded in being present with our clients. Present for many of us has been structured as close proximity, and being able to use all of our sense to notice emotional and physical shifts and changes within our client. 

Face to face therapy provides:

  1. therapists the safety of their office space

  2. physical presence

  3. able to observe the whole person

  4. notice all physical non-verbal communication

  5. notice facial non-verbal communication

  6. present felt connection to client

With the shift in practice to virtual therapy, many therapist are sharing with me their experiences of feeling fatigued, tired and struggling to stay connected and focus with the clinical work.

Nina Barlevy, PsyD, a clinical psychologist shared “I’m such a people person, so it was tough for me to feel a real connection when I was just messaging with people,” she says. “Plus a lot of people just stopped responding, and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to really build a relationship. It actually turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.”

Virtual therapy creates a new clinical structure that challenges many therapists to work in a realm outside of their comfort area. This new platform of practice is confronting and even stretching many therapists abilities in developing a therapeutic ‘attunement’ and ‘connection’. This leads clinicians to question their effectiveness, skills, abilities, and all of this causes tiring, empathic strain, and compassion fatigue.

Virtual Fatigue Effects Might Include:

  1. Physical or emotional exhaustion (or both) feelings of sympathy or empathy

  2. Dreading taking care of someone and feeling guilty about it

  3. Feeling irritable, angry, or anxious

  4. Headaches

  5. Difficulty sleeping

  6. Isolating

  7. Feeling disconnected

  8. Reduced sense of accomplishment or meaning

  9. Struggle making decisions

  10. Problems in personal relationships

If you are a therapist and you are suffering these signs, I want you to know you are not alone. So many therapists during this time of COVID-19 are experiencing this and this is not a reflection of your skills, abilities, and effectiveness as a therapist. We are living in new realities, which have shifted all of us into having to relearn our crafts from new mediums. We are learning to sharpen different senses, that might not have been our primary clinical senses during face to face therapy, but now we require these specific senses to be our dominant, because of the modality of technology we are using.

Here are some suggestions I am shared with the many therapist I supervise:

  1. If one hour virtual therapy sessions are to tiring, and you are noticing difficulty with focus, concentration and tracking, then shorten the session time for your sessions.

  2. Find out what your optimal concentration time is for your sessions

  3. Take mini breaks in-between each session

  4. Don’t schedule back to back sessions

  5. Chose a break from your computer screen and use your phone instead

  6. Practice being a mindful practitioner when conducting virtual sessions

  7. Ensure you increase your self care and physical activation.

  8. Lessen the number of clients you see in a day, so slowly increase your tolerance and resiliency

  9. Ensure you are getting proper and adequate sleep.

  10. When the day is done, shut down all technologies so that you can have a technology detox to recharge back up for the next day

  11. Engage in fun and stimulating interactive games, rather than the TV

  12. Engage the outdoors, being that you have spent significant time plugged in within you home or office.

To all my therapist colleagues, wishing you strength through these times, as you care for other in need!

Be well


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