The blue light projecting from the computer screen pierces the pupil as it’s pried open. The cursor fiercely wanders over to Safari before clicking on the icon.
From one side of a screen, a young woman adjusts her glasses while getting a glass of water and prepares to sit at her desk for an hour. She logs on to her website, checking her virtual waiting room, ready to pluck her client into their session. Once they see each other, they begin to speak.
Therapist Therese Mascardo has been treating patients for more than a decade, partly from her office in Los Angeles, but usually from behind her computer screen.
“The quarantine experience can allow for more self-reflection and more self-awareness but not always,” Mascardo said. “Other times clients become consumed with keeping their lives going and caring for their kids alongside all of the responsibilities they have.”
Being alone, especially during the pandemic, can be extremely tough on the mind and the body, according to Mascardo. It’s hard to get help when people can barely leave their homes. This is why, she said, reaching out through online sources has been on the rise since the quarantine began.
“It’s better for my clients because of increased accessibility,” Mascardo said. “My clients can call me from their bed, their car or their office. It makes it a lot easier for them to go to therapy.”
But some patients were hesitant to make the switch. Some younger clients are more open to the idea of attending therapy online, while some older ones are not as comfortable with it because they aren’t familiar with technology.
Therapist Julie Kokesch has been primarily online since the beginning of 2020. She plans on switching to online therapy permanently.
“In the beginning, some of my existing patients quit therapy immediately due to the fear of their jobs being taken away and their unfamiliarity with online therapy,” Kokesch said. “Some patients were actually surprised with themselves on how much they’re opened up over online sessions in comparison to in person ones.”
Kokesch said patients adapted to online therapy and found themselves enjoying it more.
For some who have been accessing therapy in person before the quarantine, moving to online treatment has had its ups and downs.
Daniel Matekel has been going to therapy for more than two years and made the switch from traditional sessions to online when he began going to University of California, San Diego. Despite missing the comfort of a safe space, he is enjoying his online sessions from his bedroom as much as the doctor’s office.
“The way my therapist sets up her office is very cozy and very welcoming,” Matekel said. “It definitely puts me in a better mood than doing sessions in my room because I’m always working in my room doing school stuff.”
Matekel, who struggled with technological issues when he first started attending therapy virtually, said the separation allows him to focus more on himself and furthering his progress.
“Sometimes during sessions she would want me to close my eyes and visualize something, which can be uncomfortable for me because I know someone is just sitting there staring at me while doing so,” Matekel said.
Matekel said when he began the transition to online therapy, it was hard for him to find comfort attending sessions while having roommates.
“If my roommate and I weren’t on good terms, sometimes I would go out to my balcony and stand in the heat,” Matekel said.
A benefit of attending therapy sessions online, according to Macsardo, is not having to commute to each session. She said that some days her Los Angeles commute would take at least four hours.
“Switching to online therapy has saved me time, money and energy,” Mascardo said. “It’s allowed me to travel the world. I have been a full-time traveler since 2018.”
She never takes time off for vacation. As long as she has an internet connection, she can make online therapy work. By making more time for herself, she has made more time for her patients.
A therapist’s office tends to serve as most patients’ safe space. When COVID-19 struck, that safe space was taken away from many people, including Ashley Taylor.
“When doing online therapy you don’t have a guaranteed space to do it,” Taylor said. “When you’re in person, you’re in an office where no one can hear you and I can speak freely.”
Taylor began doing virtual therapy when quarantine began, but she has been going to therapy since late 2018. She found herself enjoying online therapy, although it doesn’t fill the void of a physical presence.
“It still does its job,” Taylor said. “Therapy is somewhere I go to vent, so it still serves its purpose.”
Psychology professor Allen Glass has taught more than nine different psychology courses at Pierce and a variety of institutions. He said that online therapy has its benefits, but he still feels that therapy is something that must be done in person.
“The great benefit of it is that it’s more accessible,” Glass said. “It’s easier to call a therapist rather than taking a bus or a train or a bicycle to get to where the patient has to go.”
Despite easier accessibility, people may feel more comfortable behind a screen because of reduced confrontation. But, Glass said, therapy is meant to be an experience that people are unable to get with friends or family.
“All nonverbal communication is diminished when looking at someone through a computer screen,” Glass said. “You’re unable to read how someone is really feeling.”
Glass said he doesn’t agree with people choosing to permanently stick to online therapy sessions.
“I disagree with it completely,” Glass said. “It might be more comfortable, but therapy is not meant to be comfortable.”
Therapy should be an in person experience, according to Glass. He said it is a “terrible idea” to begin therapy online for the first time without having met the therapist in person.
Despite her skepticism of virtual therapy sessions, Taylor said she was thankful for the alternative.
“I was just grateful during such a stressful time to have therapy at all,” Taylor said. “I really needed it and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to contact my therapist at all.”