Zoom has proved to be an invaluable tool for facilitating virtual therapy sessions throughout the Covid pandemic. Though, it is not without its shortcomings. While you may have thrived as a storyteller during your in-person therapy sessions, this switch to online counseling may have rendered your normally enthralling stories dull and lifeless. You may have begun to see your therapist’s eyes glaze over during your Zoom sessions, or even shifting focus to something off-camera. Though you’re physically miles apart, you didn’t expect the emotional distance between you and your therapist to be quite so expansive as well. However, as any artist can testify, new tools require new approaches.
Follow these ten simple guidelines and you’ll leave your therapist itching to unpack your problems next session.
1. Subvert their expectations.
Sure, your ex-boyfriend didn’t appreciate you. That’s obvious. Why would he? Your therapist will expect that. What they won’t expect is your weird proclivity to refer to him as “a disgusting little mudboy from the bowels of planet who-gives-a-shit.” Suddenly this story has legs. Consider me hooked!
2. Introduce new characters.
While it’s important to develop your key players (namely, your mom and your ex-boyfriend Ethan), don’t be afraid to throw in some side characters! Did the FedEx guy hold down your apartment buzzer for longer than he normally does? Do you think he might be mad at you? MENTION IT. Could you tell that the Walgreens cashier didn’t like you, even though they didn’t actually do anything to warrant that assumption? MENTION IT. These characters give your story depth; they’ll establish an emotional connection in a way your mom and Ethan never could. Or even tried to.
3. Cliffhangers are your friend.
It’s true that cliffhangers can sometimes come across as kitschy, or a cheap gimmick. However, we must take into account the medium through which our story is being told. Cliffhangers are to Zoom therapy sessions as binoculars are to the private investigator you hired to tail Ethan—tools of the trade!
4. Details, details, details!
Instead of “I got drunk and left some ill-advised voicemails” try “I put down half a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps and most of my roommate’s cooking sherry and left 14 voicemails on Ethan’s cell as well as one hypersexual voicemail on his mom’s.” Notice the difference?
5. What’s happening off-screen is just as important as what’s happening on-screen.
A vase shattering, an urgent rap at the door, Ethan’s precious little cast iron skillet clattering to the kitchen floor— if you have the opportunity to utilize any of these off-screen disturbances during your session, don’t hesitate to do so. If you do, your therapist won’t just be interested in your past, they’ll be interested in this shit-storm you call your present.
6. Stay away from tired genre tropes.
Emotionally unavailable parents, pandemic stress, the unyielding existential dread that grows with each passing day, serving as a constant reminder that not only will you age and die, everyone you know and love will age and die—YAWN. This is BORING. You have to remember: therapists hear different variations of these sentiments every day, multiple times a day. Capture their interest by standing out. An unfounded yet paralyzing fear of horses? I’m intrigued. A sudden desire to pick up cross-stitching? Now that’s fucked up: tell me more.
7. Avoid adverbs whenever possible.
Your heart wasn’t “badly broken,” it was “SHATTERED!” You weren’t “crying uncontrollably,” you were “SOBBING.” Like a little bitch baby. Are you a little bitch baby? Ethan didn’t “relentlessly gaslight” you. he just “asked why you were harassing the passersby outside his apartment two years after you two had broken up.” Strong verbs evoke strong emotions; really invite your therapist into the emotional hellscape that is your life.
8. Increase the stakes!
“…and they were ROOMMATES!” Remember this? Four words that took what could have been an inconsequential story and elevated it to one of love, loss, betrayal, boundaries crossed, hearts broken. Those little details are important, they add dimension to your story and heighten the consequences. “I ruined Thanksgiving” is a lot different than “I got drunk and showed up uninvited to the first Thanksgiving Ethan and his family celebrated since his grandfather passed, insulted his grandmother’s potatoes au gratin, then threw up in the guest bathroom.” Don’t sell yourself short!
9. Use their first name.
People love hearing their own name, even people with a master's degree in psychology. Here are some examples you can try out in your session: “Hi, Deb,” or “Not so good, Deb,” or “I feel like I’m crumbling in on myself, Deb.”
10. Show, don’t tell.
What’s the point of therapy? That’s right: to become intimately attached to a licensed professional in a way that makes them feel both uncomfortable and a complete failure on a professional level. How do we do this? We invite them into our now. Why wait to regale your therapist with the story of how you egged Ethan’s car? Call them while you’re doing it and let them be a part of the story. Because, in the end, there’s only so much you can say to your therapist to get them to understand that, at your core, you are garbage. But by showing them—live—what you are truly capable of, they will be unable to shake the feeling, even after the call has ended, that there is something deeply, intrinsically wrong with you—like, on a fundamentally human level. You’ll be dying at your core, but they’ll be dying for MORE!