Five Relationship Building Strategies to Use During Your Online Therapy Sessions
By Diana Parafiniuk, founder of E-Therapy
Special education as we “know it”, or should I say “knew it”, transformed before our eyes last spring. Educators from general Ed to SpEd had to quickly learn a new way to deliver curriculum and therapy online using a remote platform. Establishing rapport and building relationships with your students during online therapy sessions can be challenging when you are at a distance. It is important to start out on the right foot and help your students feel safe and inspire and compel them so they want to return.
Since many of you are searching for the “Cliff Notes” version of the art of teletherapy, I have compiled a list of five key relationship-building strategies for those new to the online therapy delivery model. These strategies support positivity and help you build relationships during online therapy sessions.
1. Be natural and bring positive interpersonal habits into your online therapy sessions
Check in with your student using casual conversation at the beginning of your teletherapy session, just as you would if you were onsite. Things like:
- Praise them for being on time and being present
- Notice their energy and take verbal note of it
- Ask them how their week is going
- Ask about homework you may have assigned and how it went
- If it is a holiday, ask them how they celebrated
The idea is to be as “casual” as you would be if you were in person. Bring as much humanity to your session as you can. Make it a safe space.
During the therapy session, allow for bathroom and water breaks. If the session seems sluggish or slightly “off”, be sure to encourage your student to keep moving forward with their exercise or session. This will help keep them on track and let them know they are supported. Some days they may require more empathy to move forward than others, try to tune in and be aware of it.
2. Bring your own flair and personality to your sessions
As much as it is important to “be yourself” and bring your own personal charm and flair to onsite therapy sessions, it is equally important for teletherapy. Find ways to bring levity to your sessions by bringing a sense of humor and fun stories that encourage the student.
Bring your sessions to life by adding silly hats, accessories, or even outfits that get a fun reaction from your student. Let them know you care enough to take the time to do this for them. These kinds of small actions go a long way towards increasing connection and curiosity for future sessions.
3. Do session “audits” with your student
After each therapy session, check in to find out what your student liked about their session and what they would change if they could. Let them help you shape the sessions so you can meet the student where they are. Help them see that their input is important and being heard. This helps them feel more accountable as well for their therapy – always a win!
4. Allow for “breather breaks”
If your student seems particularly quiet or stressed, take a breather break. This is simply a mini “breath break” when you stop and take 5 deep, slow breaths together. Stand up and stretch if this is available to them. Shake out your hands and make circles with wrists and ankles to help the flow and energy increase during the session.
If you are in a speech therapy session, invite them to do some verbal exercises and mouth and face exercises that are fun or silly. This helps them refocus and realign.
If they are late or delayed in responding during a session or late to the session by a few minutes – be sure to let them know they have time to re-group, or re-energize if they need it. Everyone has less than productive days! These acts of understanding and “tuning in” to their life and experience will go a long way.
5. Incorporate play and everyday creativity into your therapy sessions
Always have some fun exercises in your back pocket. Use fun characters and stories to create a playful experience for your younger students.
One of my favorites is to create a new word-of-the-day that helps inspire the lesson that day. Choose a word or phrase that the student can think on for the remainder of their day. They are not only inspired, but maybe they’ll learn a new word or phrase they can use!
Use movement to help the student get settled into the online space. Have them review their school supplies, make sure their computer battery is full, adjust their screen brightness if needed, etc., so they develop good readiness habits from the start.
If the student needs an exercise to relax, or center themself during your session, offer them a mindfulness exercise. For example, make a glitter jar. Once they have one, they can bring that to future sessions or keep it at their desk. These items are nice to have when a student needs to pause for a mindful moment. Here is a fun recipe I like to use.
These are just a few ideas to help you build strong relationships with your students during online therapy sessions. At E-Therapy, we thrive on keeping our sessions lively and impactful. Tips like this help build the relationships needed to develop a strong foundation for fruitful teletherapy and continual student progress.
Good luck in your new distance learning endeavors, and let us know if we can offer any more tips or advice. Please share your success stories from your distance learning relationship building in the comments below.
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