Due to the UK lockdown, therapy sessions are now taking place across online platforms such as Zoom. Here, one writer describes what it’s like to tell a screen about her most intimate feelings.
The last time I saw my therapist in person, I was carrying a Poundland bag of tinned fish. Those stockpiling food had apparently forgotten that the discount store sold tinned goods – and there was one right by Jackie’s* office.
It was Monday 16 March and, just after I left the house for my appointment, Boris Johnson had asked the public to avoid all unnecessary journeys – the first hint that lockdown was coming. I spent the three-tube trek across London analysing the sensations in my throat, convinced I was about to cough and send ripples of terror through the carriage. When I arrived at the concrete council building where Jackie holds her sessions, I rang the buzzer with my knuckle, and afterwards pumped sanitiser into my hands from the bottle in the waiting area.
My therapist’s chair was a foot further from mine than usual. They were being careful, she told me. The usual polite preamble at the start of my hour-long session lasted a full 20 minutes. Perhaps she was compensating for the two metres between us, but Jackie was more animated than usual. Like me, she was concerned about the government’s apparent slowness to bring in measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
I began seeing Jackie last year, after the breakdown of a long-term relationship. A few years previously, I’d been referred to NHS Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) following a low period that had begun with being made redundant. After months on the waiting list, I opted for the easier-to-access online version of the treatment but, without face-to-face contact with a doctor, I struggled to engage. When I changed jobs in 2019, I was fortunate enough to be able to pay to go private for the first time and found Jackie, a counsellor, after doing some research online.
On Monday 23rd March – the day that lockdown officially began – my weekly therapy session switched to Zoom.
“Can you put your headphones in?” I asked my flatmate as it approached 7pm. I knew it wouldn’t it be possible to be vulnerable while talking at a screen via a patchy 4G hotspot, with a friend on the other side of a wall so thin we could hear each other turn over in bed.
At 6.58pm I clicked the Zoom link Jackie had emailed me and there she was, sitting in a chair in what I assumed to be her living room, with a cream leather sofa in the background. There were no trinkets or pictures on display and I half-expected to hear children or a partner milling around in the background – but didn’t.
“Natasha! How are you?” she asked.
Talking to Jackie on a piece of software originally designed for business meetings wasn’t as stilted as I’d feared. Our dynamic was largely the same and, when I had only seen one other face for over a week, talking to someone about my thoughts, feelings and experiences felt like even more of a privilege than usual.
Jackie told me that her fears about her other clients hadn’t yet come to pass and that many of them had actually managed to put their differences aside to focus on practicalities, or else had shifted their priorities in ways she hadn’t expected. But she also said that, during lockdown, people seemed less willing to explore longer-term issues in their lives or dig in to relationship-defining problems. Her clients, understandably, were focused on the makeup of their new day-to-day – supermarket shopping, work, childcare, the news, the rules. I was no different.
My anxiety over lockdown, and the broader reasons for my feelings, were far from a puzzle to be solved. No probing was required to understand why I was laying awake feeling so anxious I couldn’t breathe. Jackie told me she and her supervisor felt it was important to respect clients’ wishes to press pause on overarching talking points. That’s not to say that discussing what’s happening in the moment is a waste of time, or that those discussions can’t give way to more in-depth ones as lockdown progresses.
If you’ve been considering therapy, Zoom or phone sessions are nowhere near as alienating as they might sound. In some ways, there can be something comforting about being in your own space while sharing feelings that might be difficult to talk about.
One thing I’d recommend, though, is finding something relaxing to do immediately after your session. It took me almost falling asleep to a friend on Houseparty straight after one session to realise how important the tube journey home had been for letting what had been discussed settle in my mind.
Looking to start therapy remotely?
Both the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) have directories of therapists on their websites which allow you to search specifically for telephone or online counselling.
You can make contact with therapists via phone or email, and search for someone in your local area who you could also see in person at the end of lockdown.
Relationship counselling charity Relate also offers therapy via telephone, webcam and live chat.
*Name has been changed
Images: Getty, Unsplash