Living with mental illness: Is Skype therapy the future?

Mental health blogger Fiona Kennedy talks about her experience using Skype for therapy

We live in a world where technology is part and parcel of our everyday lives. Our kids are completely at ease with it, and can’t even fathom a day when google didn’t exist, never mind the internet. It has created incredible opportunities for learning, for communication, and has opened up huge possibilities in so many areas. One of these is therapy.

I’ve been trying something very new (to me at least) the last couple of weeks – Skype therapy. It’s something I’ve been hearing about increasingly the last few years, there’s even a service in Galway (Helplink Support Services) offering Skype counselling to Irish people living abroad. Having spent 6 years doing face to face counselling, I was really sceptical. Would there be awkward silences while we stared at each other waiting for the broadband to wake up? Would I even be able to engage at all?

Turns out my scepticism was entirely unfounded. Before starting the sessions, I met the therapist in person. This definitely helped, but having said that, once I got over the initial discomfort and misgivings about talking to someone on a screen, I don’t think it would have mattered if we hadn’t met. The same questions are put to me as they would have been if we were meeting face to face. I have to think about my responses in the same way.

It’s a little unnerving feeling like I’m sitting so close to someone given that the laptop is on the desk in front of me, particularly if I’m thinking about something challenging and am aware that they are watching, but it was a lot easier to put this to one side than I thought it would be.

Image: Shutterstock

There is also a very real and unexpected sense of safety to doing sessions this way. I don’t have to leave the comfort of home. I don’t even have to get dressed if I don’t want to. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to get there, how I’m going to get home, whether the bus will have me back out in time to pick up the kids... These are all really important factors as they give me a lot more flexibility around time. When I see someone in town, I’m pretty much limited to a 10/10.30 slot – any earlier causes problems getting the kids to school, any later means I’m late picking them up. It’s sounds like such a simple detail, but it’s actually huge.

It even changes those few minutes after the session ends. This used to be a particularly difficult time for me – I tended to leave my therapist’s office and immediately feel self-conscious. Could people see I had been crying? Or if I was still upset, where was I to go? There were many, many occasions when I had to just put my head down and try and get myself to the bus as quickly as possible, hoping that no one could see I was actively crying.

It’s quite a strange transition as well, to go from the safety of a small room talking about extremely private and often difficult aspects of our lives, to suddenly find ourselves out in the middle of the street with life going on just as it was before. There’s something very surreal about that experience that I can’t quite put into words, it’s almost like being disconnected from reality for a bit, and it can take time to reconnect.

The last couple of weeks, all I’ve had to do is close the laptop and walk as far as my kitchen to make a cup of tea. I don’t have to talk to anyone or meet anyone. I can allow myself the time to just sit and regroup, come out of whatever we were talking about and come back into today.

Image: Shutterstock

Engaging in therapy is challenging enough in its own right. Taking the decision to ask for help, then trying to find a therapist, find a time that works, figure out the logistics around getting there and getting home – it’s huge. And that’s all before you’ve even stepped through the door and actually started talking! Anything that makes that process even a little easier has to be a good thing. It also opens therapy up to people who may otherwise struggle to access it.

I realise this is something very new to a lot of people, and even 3 months ago I would have said there wasn’t a hope in hell I’d try it. But now? Well, if we don’t try something out, we never know how it might help. That alone is reason enough to give it a go.

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Fiona Kennedy writes regularly about mental health issues on her blog sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information at www.yourmentalhealth.ie

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