Prior to Spring 2020, many school-based therapists never dreamed that one day they would provide services online. Then, all of a sudden, every therapist was a teletherapist – ready... or not.
At DotCom Therapy, we've been providing teletherapy services successfully for over five years. We have established many best practices in the field, and strongly believe in working together to creatively solve problems, which benefits our students, clients, their families, and us as therapists. It seems that the theme of 2020 has been “we’re in this together” – so, in that spirit, here are some of the DotCom Therapy teams’ top tips for those of you who are new to teletherapy:
Top Tips for Teletherapy
1. Be Flexible
When I ask therapists what they would tell a new teletherapist, “be flexible” almost always comes up. Teletherapy provision within itself is a creative solution, and teletherapists have to be flexible and think creatively to come up with solutions. Just this morning, I saw a therapist on Instagram talking about how she was seeing students and during the session, she found out that one student wasn’t able to use mouse control on her platform. The therapist quickly thought of a solution and color coded the options, allowing the student tostill make choices even though they didn’t have control of the mouse.
2. Be Yourself + Be Positive
This tip seems especially important this year since 2020 has been such a crazy year. Educators feel it. Families feel it. We all feel it. In order to have good participation and buy-in for teletherapy sessions, we have to be positive and confident in our approach with our students. For example, if we log into a session and say “Well, I don’t really want to do this. I hate teletherapy.” – our students will likely buy into that and won’t want to show up or try hard. Instead, if we lead with “Hey! I’m so glad you’re here today! I know this is different, but we can still work together to target your goals and help you make progress!” – our students will likely have a much better attitude about therapy and will feel more supported.
3. Communication is KEY
One of the things most different about teletherapy vs. traditional school based therapy is that you are working with a facilitator. If your student is seen in the home, this is likely the parent or another guardian. If your student is seen while they’re at school, this might be a paraprofessional, another teacher, etc. It is so important that you work with your facilitator to help your students make as much progress as possible. A facilitator can help prepare materials for your student to use, cue or prompt your student as you direct, and even be trained to implement carryover strategies in between sessions. They’re an incredible resource for your sessions, but having clear and frequent communication is key to a successful therapist-facilitator relationship.
4. Prepare Prior to Your Sessions
Another important thing to think about when providing teletherapy services is to make sure that you are prepared for your sessions. We do this in-person as well, by setting out your student’s folders and writing down their goals for the day. In the same way, you want to make sure that you are ready for your virtual sessions, but teletherapy preparation does look a little different. Make sure to communicate physical materials needs to your facilitator ahead of time so that they can have what you need ready. Pull up any online resources that you will be using and have them ready with the tabs open. Screen any websites or videos you plan to use to make sure that there are no ads (especially ones with inappropriate content). All of this advanced preparation will help your sessions run smoothly and your students stay more engaged.
5. Don’t Overcomplicate It
Technology and the Internet provide endless possibilities of things you can do in therapy sessions. My advice? Keep it simple and do the things you’re comfortable with. If you want to make a Bitmoji classroom, make one! If you want to use virtual backgrounds, do it! But if you want to just hold up flashcards and read the physical paper copy books you have in your office, that’s okay too! Just like each in-person therapist is different, teletherapists all have different styles. As long as your students are engaged and making progress towards their goals, that is what is important and you are doing a good job!
2020 has been a hard, crazy year. We’re all learning and growing. Supporting each other is important all the time, but especially right now. If you are new to teletherapy, I hope you feel encouraged as you read through this post. Please know that you are doing an amazing thing by supporting your students during this time.
Nicole Pounds, M.S. CCC-SLP is a Speech Language Pathologist and Director of Clinical Outreach at DotCom Therapy.