If you’re new to virtual therapy or want your calls with clients to go smoother, brushing up on virtual etiquette can help. Over the course of the pandemic, telehealth—including virtual therapy—have become a new norm. Despite how quickly it became commonplace, we still struggle adapting the etiquette we take for granted in physical, designated spaces to virtual ones.
These suggestions will help your clients feel more comfortable and that your attention is focused on their care.
Do confirm that you’re licensed in your client’s state
Before you accept a client, confirm that their residence and physical location are in a state where you’re licensed. This bit of due diligence saves you both time and awkward moments like declining a call. More importantly, it prevents having to suddenly end a therapeutic relationship when it turns out you can’t legally work with your client, causing them distress.
Don’t call in from a distracting environment
Same as with in-person sessions, make sure that you’re meeting somewhere that no one can distract you. That means turning off phone notifications by using focus or snooze modes, and working somewhere private so you can focus on your client. Close other tabs or windows that could set off alerts that interfere with the call
Do use reliable equipment: camera, microphone, speakers, and connection
Reliable doesn't mean expensive. Make sure your microphone and speakers connect to your computer, and consider getting a camera that has at least a 720p resolution.
A strong internet connection is crucial for virtual sessions. The minimum internet speed to use UpLift is 3G, though we recommend faster. Dropped calls can be deeply frustrating for all parties in therapy. Moving closer to wifi routers or using an ethernet cable can give you more reliable internet.
Test that your setup works before a call so you’re not wasting session time troubleshooting. Low quality video and audio can break up a conversation, which can make it difficult for clients to connect with you electronically and emotionally.
Do mind your background
Keep your background clear of clutter or anything that could distract clients, like a busy window. Make sure you aren’t displaying anything inappropriate or even too personal, so that focus stays on the client. (If you’re using UpLift, you can also use the blur function to cover your background.)
Also make sure you aren’t calling from somewhere too dark, so that your clients can see you.
Don’t be late
Show up on time to start your session. Punctuality shows you respect your client and their time. If it’s your first time using a specific platform, piece of equipment, or specific location, you may want to test and practice joining a session so you’re prepared.
Do confirm your next session
Before your session ends, talk with your client about when you’ll meet next—especially if this is your first session with a new client. You should also discuss how frequently you’ll be meeting and your schedules. You may find a different time works better for you both.
This is a best practice even with in-person therapy but is especially important for virtual therapy, where email reminders often get lost in clients’ inboxes. Confirmation prevents missed sessions and cancellation fees for clients.
Don’t hold sessions where people can overhear
Though finding a private place to do therapy should be assumed, it doesn’t hurt to double check that your setting is as soundproof as possible. Check for ways that audio can leak, like thin walls. You may consider investing in headphones or white noise machines that can mask your clients’ audio (and ensure your sessions are HIPAA compliant).
Do check that your client can contact you
While you don’t need to be accessible at all times, confirm that your client has your contact information, such as your professional email address. You need to be able to reach each other to reschedule a session or if some other emergency happens. (UpLift clients can find their provider’s emails by checking their care team’s information.)
Don’t forget to use the mute button
Ideally, nothing will interrupt your session on your end of the call. If there’s an emergency and you need to speak with someone else or there are other loud noises, don’t forget to use your mute buttons after quickly and politely excusing yourself. Depending on the situation, you may also want to mute your client’s audio and to turn off their video to protect their privacy.
Do dress professionally
If you’re doing therapy from home or several sessions while seated in the same position, it makes sense to want comfortable clothing. Just make sure you’re still dressed appropriately, so clients feel comfortable and can focus on the therapy.
Check that your clothes aren’t sheer on camera and with your lighting setup. Also a helpful hint: some clothes that would be fine for in-person therapy can be distracting on screen, like bright or busy patterns.
Do pay attention to body language
You’re likely trained to notice your client’s body language—but what about your own? If you’re seated all day, get a chair that supports your posture and that you feel comfortable in. You don’t want your clients watching you readjust yourself or fidgeting throughout the call.
Another important note is eye contact. Appearing focused on your client is tricky with virtual therapy, even if you are concentrating. Your camera and your client’s face aren’t in the same position. Besides keeping your eyes from wandering, you may need to consciously look into your camera then back to your client on the screen to mimic real-world eye contact and connections.