Therapy from Home: Dress Shirt and Sweatpants By Eric Morris, PhD on 4/3/20 - 11:23 AM

The pace of change that we have all experienced since the pandemic began has been both staggering and destabilizing. In the span of two weeks, I went from running a full-time, successful private practice in a beautiful office to doing video sessions on my phone in my poorly lit basement. The logistics of the transition aside, my pervading sense of anxiety, worry and deep sense of loss have made it increasingly difficult to focus. I careen between my roiling emotions in search of a ballast, something to give me hope that normalcy will soon return.

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March break is a slow period in my practice, and I had been looking forward to an increase in clients (and income) when the World Health Organization declared that the Coronavirus had been classified as a pandemic. One of the first things I noticed was the cancellations spreading across my online booking system. There was also a nearly complete cessation of new clients contacting me. Within this unsettling context, I had to figure out how to transition my practice from face-to-face to online therapy in a matter of days. I had thankfully been using a software platform that allowed me to conduct secure video sessions through my existing client portal. I emailed my active clients and reassured them that I would be there for them and that therapy would continue, though strictly through a screen for the foreseeable future.

Before COVID-19 struck, I had been resistant to accepting clients who only wanted online therapy. I was worried that I wouldn’t be as effective, that the alliance would be harder to establish, and that I wouldn’t enjoy the work as much. While I am still acclimating to doing sessions on my phone, I have been pleased to see the familiar markers of a good therapy session: clients expressing emotions, gaining insights, and developing new patterns of thinking and behaving. I still feel connected to my clients through this new medium, but I do admittedly still struggle to feel comfortable with the process. I have faith that I will become more accustomed to conducting therapy online and it may even allow me to further expand my business once this frightening situation is over.

In the transition to online therapy, I have had to figure out a practical location to conduct my sessions. Walking to my office in the mornings with only dog walkers as my companions reminded me that I should probably not be leaving my home. That meant I would need to run my practice from home, where I live with my wife and three growing teenagers. Finding a room where the Wi-Fi was stable enough for a session proved surprisingly difficult and led me to try sessions in my wife’s upstairs office, my bedroom, and then finally my basement. I started out wearing nicer shirts during my sessions (while still wearing sweatpants) but have primarily let go of this pretense and now just wear clothes I find comfortable. Navigating the different online formats for sessions has forced me to become comfortable with Skype, Zoom, and therapy by phone.

Managing my own fluctuating emotions during this uncertain period has also been a struggle. Each morning brings new closures, growing red infection circles inching towards my province, and further suffocating restrictions on how we can live our lives (“Kids can go outside but don’t touch anything or play with anyone!”). I have needed to prioritize my self-care to feel grounded. Exercise, journaling, baths, mediation, practicing guitar, and reaching out to friends and family have helped me get through the days. Depending on how long this situation lasts, I may even finish the book I have been avoiding writing.

In the last few days, I have seen glimmers of hope. Slowly, my regular clients have been returning, giving me a deep sense of comfort when I survey my filling calendar. I am also acclimating to online therapy and can see some advantages (sweatpants). I still very much fear for the health of my family, friends, and society at large, both in terms of the health consequences but also for the lost jobs and economic stress. I take comfort in the idea that we are a resilient species, supremely adaptable and capable of overcoming enormous challenges when we work towards a common challenge. We will get through this; perhaps more aware of the gifts of good health, our loved ones, and our shared reliance on one another.

File under: Musings and Reflections, Online Therapy, COVID-19 Blogs