While the country is starting to open up again after an extended period of stay-at-home orders, not everyone is ready to take the risk. For many people recovering from alcoholism and substance use disorder, the situation is particularly dicey. After all, alcohol and drugs can have a severe impact on your physical health. Many chronic illnesses brought about by addiction can put you at high risk for complications from the coronavirus.
Nonetheless, you need to continue with your treatment to stay mentally healthy and avoid relapses. Many support groups and meetings have continued online to great effect. But what about individual therapy?
Individual therapy is incredibly important for your continued recovery. It is where you can share your struggles, vent, and do impactful work on yourself. Your therapist will probably see you online. But is online therapy really a worthy alternative?
There are a number of reasons people are skeptical about online therapy. The main qualm is that your therapist cannot read your body language without you in the room. However, there are also benefits, and many people have found online therapy to be as helpful, if not more so, than traditional therapy.
Let’s take a look at the various factors which determine the impact of online therapy.
Any good therapist will tell you that they often get more information from your body language than from what you are actively telling them. They can detect when you are misrepresenting something, even if you do not realize it yourself. They notice how your body reacts to certain statements, what makes you retreat into yourself, and what draws you out.
This is probably the most commonly cited problem with online therapy. Even if the therapist can see you, their view is limited. Furthermore, you can see yourself and, consciously or unconsciously, curate what your physical appearance is communicating.
However, contrary to what most therapists have assumed, body language can play an even bigger part in online therapy than it would in an office. The main reason for this is that therapists will regularly check in with what their clients are experiencing physically. You become more aware of how your own body is reacting and have to relay this to your therapist.
Sure, there are things you will miss or even specifically leave out, but even in person you curate your physical reactions to a certain extent. When your physical responses become an active part of the therapy process, there is a whole level of data to delve into.
Another important factor is that you as the client feel more comfortable with certain physical responses. Responses you would repress or block out in person. This is particularly useful when discussing sexuality. Clients who would avoid allowing themselves to experience physical arousal at all costs in person can let go in the safety of their own homes.
The physical distance can make this feel not only more comfortable but safer as well, for both the client and the therapist. Therefore, issues which you might never raise in person can become a crucial part of your therapeutic journey.
This is not to say that online therapy is necessarily better in terms of the physical than in-office therapy. However, each has its pros and cons, and the lack of in-person body language doesn’t have to make therapy worse.
Other issues with online therapy
Body language is not the only difference between online and traditional therapy. It is the most clear-cut factor, but there are other considerations.
Most pressing is the lack of privacy some people worry about when it comes to having therapy at home. This is especially problematic in relationships where abuse is taking place. You might not feel safe enough to share openly even if you are alone in a room. The possibility of someone else hearing your session can paralyze your ability to be vulnerable.
If this is true for you, it may be best to find a way to see your therapist in person, safely. Make sure that their office is sanitized after every session and that hand sanitizer is available. Wear a mask and be careful not to touch your face. Wash your hands thoroughly after the session.
Another more mundane factor is technical issues. People who struggle with technology can have a tough time getting used to video calls. Also, a poor internet connection can make the session choppy. This can be incredibly disruptive and, for some people, unsettling.
Try to ensure that your internet connection is stable before any sessions, and ask for help if you have trouble with the technological admin.
Online therapy is crucial in the time of COVID-19, especially for recovering addicts with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions. It is a somewhat different experience, but it certainly has its benefits, and can be as good as, if not better than, the alternative.