The Online Workspace During Counselling.
In the essay, The Clinic Offers No Advantage over the Screen, for Relationship is Everything (2020) the clinical psychologist Gily Agar discusses the benefits of online therapy. The research on the effectiveness of online therapy found it to be as successful as in-person therapy. It Provided a space that constitutes a place of growth which may take longer than in a physical counselling room.
As Agar discusses the benefits and drawbacks of online therapy I can reflect on my own recent experience. Practical examples Such as a bad connection or seeing the white cat hair on my dark shirt just before letting the speaker (client) into my online room. Small adaptions to working online, for myself and the speaker.
At the end of one online session, I was staring back at myself and my background. In the left-hand corner of the screen were various books on the shelf. One caught my eye, The Gay Revolution by Lilian Faderman sitting proudly on my bookshelf. The question for me is; how much do I reveal about myself?
Working online, I was aware of the environment and medium I invite strangers (at first) to meet with me. For that first few seconds, I see a framed picture of the other person. Implicitly during a fifty-minute session, I seek to explore each area. Which happens, I have little doubt, with the person on the other side of the video call. It is not a deliberate ‘nosey parker’ way of being. Neither is it the start of an online house tour. As sessions progress the background may change ever so slightly. I do notice. Often either of us comments on it. Whether in my environment or the speakers.
Pets play a large part in our framed background. I know that my cat is absent one week or suddenly makes a guest appearance, offering little to the therapeutic relationship aside from a humorous interlude. Like the book on my shelf, the cat may influence how the speaker creates a picture of mine. One static and staring, the other moving and seeking attention. How do I as a counsellor frame my background?
Generally, I would argue that people make small judgements when we first meet another person. In my circumstances, the speaker is seeking counselling and meets me for the first time and makes that initial response in their consciousness of how they feel about the therapist; intimidated, assured or unsure. Working online, the speaker view me in the frame in a tiny part of my living space. It can as the therapy room is, presented as an expectation of a therapy space. A calming place is what I suggested is a place for the therapeutic relationship to begin. The speaker may see the book, plant as objects of my room. Indeed, I as an object as well. One to be acted on.
I did move the bookcase and left the plant. The tips of the brown leaf indicate it needs an intervention. I reflected that if a person was coming to counselling what impression do I want to project. Might they think, “yeah, he reads a lot and is knowledgeable” or “ that feels intimidating seeing those books!”. I don’t ask specifically about the environment only what worked and did not work for the speaker during the session. Therefore, am I overly concerned about something that does not come into the therapeutic relationship.
I would argue it does because in those 50 mins, like a therapy room. I want the speaker to be as comfortable as possible. To be able to share with another person what is affecting them to the extent of seeking counselling. I don’t want it to be an overwhelming experience because I know that, as we counsel from home, the speaker has had to negotiate this fifty minutes to meet with me in as much privacy as possible.
Agar (2020) points out that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy have created the therapy room as symbolic for creating an environment for therapy. I cannot recreate this wholly in the frame of a Zoom counselling session. I have apologised for the cat suddenly appearing and reassured that this has been fine. Perhaps the notion of what my background should look like is for me overthinking a subject the speaker is unaware of but that I should include in a reflective view with speakers at counselling. I’d be going through a lot of Dreamies and door wood to keep my cat out of the frame!
Agar, G. (2020) The Clinic Offers No Advantage over the Screen, for Relationship is Everything: Video Psychotherapy and its Dynamics in Weinberg H. & Rolnick, A. (Eds) (2020) Theory and Practice of Online Therapy, Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 66–78.