Online Therapy & Therapeutic Relationships
Online therapy has many benefits for both clients and therapists. However, some clinicians worry that the virtual format may limit their ability to form meaningful connections with patients. While establishing rapport remains challenging in telehealth, there are strategies therapists can employ to build strong therapeutic relationships over online platforms.
Lack of Nonverbal Cues
One concern is the lack of in-person cues that therapists rely on to gauge a client’s emotions and level of comfort. In video sessions, only the upper body is visible, reducing nonverbal communication. Furthermore, time delays and low video quality can disrupt visual contact.
Therapists must adapt by focusing on the client’s tone of voice, pacing, and language use to gauge their mental state. They may also ask more clarifying questions to ensure they fully understand the client’s experience.
Some clinicians fear online therapy limits their ability to observe clients within their natural environments. The therapist does not see how clients interact with family, pets, or surroundings.
However, therapists can learn details about the client’s home and daily life through discussion. They can instruct clients to give a virtual “tour” of their space using device cameras. Over time, the environment becomes part of the therapeutic picture.
Building Rapport Through Technology
Though online therapy presents challenges, several strategies can help therapists build strong connections with clients.
Therapists must establish trust through consistency. They can set specific guidelines for punctuality, availability and communication to build confidence in their reliability.
Therapists should also get comfortable using technology to foster closeness. They can convey empathy and interest through frequent use of the client’s name, affirmative nodding and smiling at appropriate times.
The therapist’s responsiveness, attentiveness and ability to actively listen remain central to developing rapport regardless of format. Through focused curiosity, open-ended questions and reflective statements, therapists can demonstrate they deeply understand the client’s unique experiences.
In summary, though virtual therapy transforms the way counselors connect with patients, with effort and ingenuity, therapists can still form the strong therapeutic alliances vital for meaningful treatment outcomes. By adapting therapeutic skills for the online context, clinicians can utilize technology to build meaningful relationships that improve client wellbeing.