How One Supervisor Prepares Her Supervisees To Conduct Tele-therapy

Therapist Imposter Syndrome

It was just last year, March 2019, that I flew from New York to Chicago to present my final capstone project to complete my Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Northwestern University. I had earned my degree remotely, slightly unsure about what, exactly, I had signed myself up for, but quickly becoming extremely grateful for virtual classrooms. They not only offered flexibility and autonomy, but they completely changed my concept of relationship building, as I formed real, strong bonds with many classmates and professors. 

Yet, despite learning to become a therapist through a remote graduate program, there was no doubt in my mind that I only ever wanted to conduct therapy live and in-person! Well, two weeks into quarantine in New York and that sentiment seems like a cute, perhaps even naive, notion. 

Almost overnight, we’ve all had to adapt to HIPAA-compliant telehealth platforms and virtual meetings. It’s been easy to see how those in the Motivo community have a leg up. Supervisors and supervisees who have already adopted tele-supervision into their workstreams have unique skills, bolstered confidence and relevant experience to draw upon to take them forward, continuing the important work of supporting and helping others. 

We spoke with Motivo supervisor and expert in the telehealth field, Thommi Lawson, Ph.D., LPC, ACS, BC-TMH

Thommi runs a fully remote private practice and is licensed to conduct supervision in 3 states: Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Thommi shared how she supports supervisees during times of crisis and as they transition from in-person to virtual therapy sessions. From providing detailed Zoom training to wearing a signature item of clothing, her insights are invaluable in this time of transition and FFTs (aka F***ing First Times, as coined by Brené Brown in her new podcast.)

How are you supporting supervisees who are still “new” in the field and may feel nervous to conduct therapy virtually? 

Know Your Platform Inside & Out 
I have intentionally spent time walking them through the basics of Zoom, particularly how to do screen share and use the whiteboard feature. Confidence using the tool translates to confidence in the ‘room’!

Consider Ethical Issues Ahead of Time 
I discuss some basic ethical considerations, particularly protocols such as having a plan B if technology fails or having a release of information in place if you deem the client has suicidal or homicidal ideation. 

Prepare & Plan Activities 
I provide supervisees ideas/worksheets/videos for various populations to help engage their clients, particularly those who may be resistant.

Create a Transition Ritual 
I believe that if the therapist is well, the client will be well, so I spend extra time on self-care and best practices. I want them to carve out a dedicated space to work.  When work is done, I have encouraged them to not re-enter that space and to create a ritual of transition. Even something as simple as lighting a candle is helpful make the move from chill mode to work mode.    

Dress for Success
I have also suggested having a work uniform that mentally prepares them for work mode. For me, it is my signature red cardigan – yes, inspired by Mr. Rogers!

Most of us have never lived through a global pandemic. As pre-licensed therapists struggle to know how to support others through something they are also going through, how do you attend to feelings of imposter syndrome? 

Find Your Peers, You Aren’t Alone
I encourage my supervisees to connect and have peer supervision. They need a safe place to normalize their experiences and feelings with others who are in similar positions.  

Keep Up With Self-of-the-Therapist
During supervision, I work with the supervisees in identifying the triggers and affirming them.  

Create Unique Treatment Plans
I also ensure they have resources to help them with their most challenging clients. Today, I had a supervisee who is concerned with keeping an 11-year-old engaged for a 30 min session. We spent time reviewing his treatment plan and identifying tools and approaches that could meet his needs and be delivered virtually. Who’s up for a game of charades?

Closing thoughts

Our work as clinicians is so essential to helping people maintain healthy minds, bodies and souls right now. One way I have also learned to cope is by leaning deep into the acceptance of what is, having gratitude for all I still get to do (and the technology that makes that possible), and remembering not take myself so seriously! I can only imagine the face my client saw as I watched my dog puke all over my bed while I was in a remote session last week. I shared what happened, we laughed about how we definitely weren’t in the office anymore, and continued on with our work. 

Are you a supervisor with tips for supporting those who are new to tele-mental health? Let us know! Email emily@wearemotivo.com to share your ideas.

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue

Emily Donahue holds a Master's in Mental Health Counseling from Northwestern University. She works as a limited permit therapist at a private practice in Brooklyn, earning her clinical and supervision hours for full licensure. She has a special interest in women and alcohol use and her dream is to meet Irvin Yalom one day.

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