When COVID-19 moved into Australia, the clinicians at our practice started to think about how this might affect our day to day work with our clients. Telehealth isn’t new, and we all have degree of experience with online sessions, but this has mostly been with adults. Face to face therapy with children is often a far more interactive experience than adult therapy, including different materials, lots more physical activity, and a lot of time spent on the floor.
When I realised we would likely need to move into the online space for our child clients, the first thing I thought of was when I have tried to have FaceTime calls with my own young children. Typically, that involves a lot of me looking at the ceiling and up their nostrils, whilst they say few words to me whilst simultaneously watching ABC kids. Not ideal, and definitely not a suitable or productive approach to therapy. I realised I needed to do some research, and have been excitedly trolling through literature, therapist blogs, talking to other therapists, reading training manuals and watching online therapy webinars since!
Through my research I have learned a few key things, and I wanted to share them with anyone was having doubts or feeling worried about if their child could still access their therapy if it was online.
- Parents can, and will often need to be involved. Be it as technical issues manager, sibling container, email coordinator, co-therapist, material supplier, or child-retriever (if they wander off to the bathroom and forget we were mid-session), parents will have an important role here. We also want to know how you are going with parenting under more stress or coping if your family is isolated – all these things affect children’s emotional wellbeing as well as their behaviour. Just like in face to face therapy, we can help with all this.
- It’s also important to know that online therapy with kids is not like a 50-minute FaceTime call. It’s often more structured. We will still be moving, we will still be using craft, drawing on a whiteboard, playing card and board games, or playing with soft toys, puppets, and dolls. Kids will have an opportunity to show their therapist their own safe spaces, their favourite toys, their favourite online content, their parent who often can’t come to sessions, and their pets
- Therapists will help their child clients adjust to a new way of doing therapy, but often kids surprise everyone – they are already comfortable with using technology and might even prefer it! The most common concern they often have is coming to terms with the fact their therapist doesn’t actually live at their office (if the therapist is working from home). It’s often us as adults who feel more uncomfortable, but this isn’t a reason to not continue with your child’s therapy. Continuity of mental health care is incredibly important, and as much as you are trying to protect them, your child is currently facing stress and uncertainty too.
We can and will be as flexible as we need to. If your child needs shorter or more frequent sessions, we can do this. If we need to up the amount of parent contact, we can do this. If you need any other accommodations, we will do whatever we can to support you and your children. We are still in this together, learning this new way of life and doing what we need to do to get through.
Olivia Boer is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Healthy Mind Centre Launceston, an allied health practice in Launceston, Tasmania.