Helping Patients Avoid Distractions During Teletherapy Sessions

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services have increased significantly. For mental health practitioners, teletherapy has become an essential method for treating patients while keeping all parties safe and healthy. Although the technology was ready and available to easily deliver individual and group teletherapy sessions, most professionals were untrained in how to properly conduct sessions remotely. As a result, many therapists have had to deal with unexpected ‘surprises’ that tend to crop up during telehealth sessions. 

Although these ‘surprises’ tend to occur because of unexpected distractions, they can negatively impact the therapy experience. For the best results when it comes to therapy, both the professional and the patient need to be fully focused on each other. By attending therapy sessions online from home, patients have numerous distractions that can lead to inattention. However, therapists are not immune to distractions either. Therefore, it is up to the behavioral health professional to set the tone and manage their teletherapy sessions.

Meeting Fatigue, Multitasking, and Distractions

According to a DrFirst survey, 44% of Americans have used telehealth services of some kind since the start of the pandemic, but the majority have admitted to not paying attention fully during these sessions. In general, this lack of focus is due to multitasking and distractions. Because video calls have become so common in the workplace–and as a way of connecting with loved ones, people are getting used to multitasking during them. This may be fine for casual calls, but is definitely not suitable when it comes to telehealth. Practitioners need to encourage patients to set aside time and anything distracting during sessions to avoid the temptation. 

Some of the most common distractions reported in the survey were:

  • Texting or checking emails
  • Browsing the internet
  • Scrolling through social media
  • Eating snacks or even a meal
  • Playing video games
  • Exercising
  • Driving a car
  • Smoking and drinking

There are numerous other distractions that can also occur when attending a therapy session from home, such as being interrupted by family members, getting phone calls, or simply being unprepared for a video call.

How Patients Can Avoid Distractions During Teletherapy Sessions

A successful teletherapy session depends fully on how prepared the therapist is. Unfortunately, both patients and therapists are vulnerable to distractions, so the practitioner needs to be the one who sets the tone for the experience. By managing the session in a professional manner, the therapists can take control of the situation right from the start. Mental health professionals can set certain ground rules to better manage the most common distractions, ensuring their patients get the treatment they need–even when they are managing that care from a distance. 

Here are some tips to help you manage smooth and successful teletherapy sessions every time you meet with clients:

  • Familiarize yourself with the video call technology or use a  behavioral health EHR with integrated teletherapy features that include individual and group video chat capabilities. 
  • Learn about all the features and important tech aspects of the platform you use to make sure you understand and can guide your patients, who may not be as tech savvy, in using it.
  • Ask your patients to turn off all other video tools (such as Zoom and Skype) during your session to avoid interference.
  • Avoid connection issues by asking your client to make sure nobody in the household is streaming on other devices, and to avoid any software installs or updates while in session.
  • Request that your patients close any other browsers or website tabs while in session to ensure that their connection isn’t slow and that they aren’t tempted to browse the internet.
  • Opt for a neutral background or plain wall that doesn’t have too many distracting elements during your calls so your clients’ focus is solely on you.
  • Make sure to wear professional clothing in plain solid colors and avoid clothing with busy patterns or jingly jewelry.
  • Limit your background noise and ask that your clients take the call in a quiet and private environment as well.
  • Communicate with your patients in advance to share these tips and suggestions so that they are prepared and set up correctly before your session begins.

Use the Technology to Your Advantage

Teletherapy can be incredibly beneficial to both mental health professionals and the clients, especially during the current physical distancing limitations that are still in place in many states. It is also a helpful tool for those who serve rural communities where behavioral health services would otherwise be unavailable. As a therapist, you can improve the experience for yourself and your patients by using the technology available to you. EHR teletherapy solutions have been designed to be user-friendly for both parties. Features such as scheduling tools, appointment reminders, and secure messaging can be used to help you better prepare for–and communicate with–your clients during online teletherapy sessions. Consider all of these options to provide better “remote” care and clinical outcomes. 

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