Its May and you’re starting to realize that quarantine is the new way of life. You’re finally familiar with your teletherapy tech, found just the right spot in your house where your internet mostly functions reliably. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, your clients are starting to get with the program and are showing up on time, remembering to put on pants, and have stopped walking around with you in their hand. Most people couldn’t have anticipated we were going to be working from home full-time for months. Maybe you weren’t prepared for your clients seeing into your home, or having to throw your cats off the computer every few minutes.
Adjusting Your Home Space
Like most of us, I don’t think my home is always representative of the kind of therapist I am. It’s considerably less chic than my office and has fewer feel-good essential oils and diffusers. My house is often cluttered with cardboard boxes, cat toys, clothes, soft blankets, and so many terrariums. Not exactly the soothing oasis I create for work.
I sometimes wonder how clients picture my life outside the office. We are intentionally vague about our personal lives, which helps clients focus on their issues, but also leaves a lot about us to the imagination. Personally, I’d like to keep them guessing, and not disclose the significant gap between my office, where scents of pine and soothing lavender abound, and my home, which features significantly more clutter and chaos.
I’m fortunate that I was planning to offer video therapy a few days a week in my practice, so I had already bought a few “hide the home” essentials. Luckily, Amazon is still delivering, so if you’re still looking to up your home office game, the world is your oyster. I’ll level with you. My router is in the basement, so that’s where my internet is the most reliable. In my basement, I not only have the regular assortment of stored goods, but also my workbench, an assortment of tiny greenhouses for starting seeds, and a tub of chickens. Yep, I live in the country. As you can see I have a few obstacles to overcome before I can actually “see” clients.
Once you’ve picked a location that is private, as quiet as you can get, and has a good internet connection, there are a few essentials to craft a mini oasis in the midst of your home. I’ll leave out the obvious, such as a sturdy table for your computer and coffee. The two most important things to pick up are a light system and a photography backdrop. I spent too much time looking into lights for video therapy and ended up getting overwhelmed, so I’ll save you a little time and stress.
Photography lighting can be insanely expensive, so it’s fortunate you’re not gunning for cover of National Geographic. We’re looking for a light that can be moved around to improve the visibility and quality of your image on camera. It decreases shadows, improves how your skin looks and creates a more uniform, professional image.
Most of these lights are LED or fluorescent, and are able to highlight and outline your face. Think of it as a polishing light that helps you be the focal point of the video. Ring lights are popular right now, but again they have a range of prices. Set a price range you’re comfortable spending, then find one that suits your fancy. I went with a smaller ring light on a tripod that sits behind my computer and plugs into the USB port. I could definitely upgrade to a bigger light, but for now, I’m pretty happy with it. And I haven’t had any negative thoughts about how I look in session, which I think is a glowing review of the ring light.
Selecting Your Backdrop
The next essential purchase for high-quality video therapy is a photography backdrop and stand. Make sure to assess the space you have, and by that I mean find your measuring tape. The last thing you want is a 10-foot wide stand crammed into an 8-foot office. Most of these stands should come all folded up and packaged neatly. You’ll be able to extend them to the height you’re comfortable with. I decided to go with a stand that has clips to attach the backdrop rather than one that rolls up or velcros. Mostly this was a convenient choice over anything else. The stand I picked was the right height and width for the backdrops I chose.
When you’re starting to look at backdrops, be sure to pick fabrics that will steam easily and won’t retain wrinkles. Fabric and polyester and pretty easy to keep smooth, but vinyl creases like crazy, and comes pre-wrinkled from the packaging. If you find one you love, but in a fabric that wrinkles, my advice is to find a distributor that will ship your backdrop rolled up. It should decrease the amount of steaming you’ll have to do upon arrival. I picked out a solid color and a picture backdrop initially, and I have to say, I’m incredibly pleased with my virtual office space. My backdrop has an image of a room with clean, contemporary furniture, a coffee table, and some sunlit windows. I’d suggest something that feels like a good fit with your therapeutic style and looks realistic. Or, go rogue, and get a backdrop of something wildly improbable (cough, Tiger King). Trust your instincts. There are backdrops for every taste and budget.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Let’s recap Video Therapy 101. If your house is a bit of a mess, or you want to maintain your privacy, this is for you. Find your best internet connection, add a table, computer, and a hot cup of coffee. Select a photography light in your budget to illuminate your face. Measure your space, pick the right size of photography stand. Get in touch with your inner decorator and select a backdrop of office space, wall texture, or outlandish setting (seriously, still kidding about this one), and check the fabric to reduce wrinkling. All that’s left is to test your space.
The biggest issues I’ve had involve spacing between the table, my computer, my chair, and the backdrop. Most video therapy programs should have a “test video” button so you can see yourself before joining a session. I always take a minute to check that my computer video isn’t going beyond the boundaries of my photography background and that I don’t have spinach in my teeth (that’s very important). I also check with my clients to see how the experience has been for them in terms of video quality, sound, clarity, to see if there are improvements I can make. With these tips and a great sense of humor, you’ll ace video therapy, and maybe even stick with it after the quarantine.
Katie Hido is the owner of Gray Cat Counseling, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has been in the field for over 5 years and currently specializes in communication skills and adult attachment therapy. Her practice focuses on helping adults struggling with corporate burnout and issues with connection to improve their boundaries and quality of life.
Katie has a Masters in Philosophy from Duquesne University, concentrating on phenomenology and existentialism. She took that perspective and decided to use it to help others cope with issues such as time, death, and existence. Katie completed her Masters in couples counseling from Duquesne while working with children and teens in a residential treatment facility. She worked with adults and teens in a substance use facility, then provided therapy at a community agency.
Katie trained in Emotionally Focused Couples therapy and used those skills to work with couples and to build a behavioral health department for her local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Currently, she is focused on building up Gray Cat Counseling and promoting her blog, as well as wrangling her many cats, reptiles, and chickens in rural Western Pennsylvania.