Online counseling is now a valuable vehicle to treat mental health needs. Here's how to get the most out of the relationship.

We all want life to get back to normal, but some things will be different after the pandemic. Social upheaval always causes unpredictable changes and speeds up others already on their way.

Telehealth is one of those.

I created my online practice last year, and I quickly learned telehealth is good for families. Clients like the convenience of sessions from the comfort of their homes (or backyards—lots of people sit out back for some reason). They like not wrangling everyone into the car and fighting traffic. They like not being seen at the therapist’s office. (There shouldn’t be stigma about mental health, but many people still feel it.) Families also like that clinicians offer more flexible scheduling because we don’t have to leave the house, either.

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There still will be clinicians in traditional offices after the pandemic; many of my colleagues long for their old offices the same way parents pray to see the school bus each morning again. Online therapy will be more available than ever, though, so how do you get the most out of telehealth for you and your family? Here are some tips to help maximize the relationship.

First, ask yourself if telehealth actually appeals to you. Most of those in my caseload like it for the reasons listed above, but you might still want a clinician who you can sit in the same room with who can offer you a box of tissues. Double-check to make sure your insurance company pays for telehealth before you’re surprised by a big bill. Most of them do during the pandemic, but before that, many only paid for sessions in a physical office. Telehealth may not be advised if you’re thinking about hurting yourself. In a case of serious self-harm, your clinician needs to protect you and call for help if something happens during a session or if you report that you’re planning to hurt yourself. You’re at home, so relax. You don’t need permission to snack or drink; you’re not at work, school or even in someone’s office. Bathroom breaks are even OK, but don’t take the phone with you. However, don’t bring wine, beer or a joint to a session. We’re doing important work, and you want to stay sharp. Wear clothes. Trust me. Just. Wear. Clothes. Take advantage of the chance to put things into practice during the session. In the traditional office, we role-play and talk about different interventions to try at home. Since you’re already there, we run through it in a more realistic way. It’s useful for your clinician to see how you live. I’ve seen quite a few kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms via Webex. Kids love giving tours of their bedrooms, so I can see where they’re comfortable and how close their annoying little brother really is when they sleep. (I once stared at a couple’s bedroom closet for an hour; they were interacting so well that I didn’t interrupt to tell them. Lots of colorful belts, by the way.) Relax about the technology. Everything feels strange the first time you do it, and video meetings are no different. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, turn your microphone on. Finally, make sure you still feel connected to your clinician. For all the bells and whistles we can offer, the most important predictor of successful therapy is good rapport with a clinician who knows what they’re doing.

Carl Grody is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Online Family Counseling.